(photo credit: )
Not every day does a group of journalists from around the world have the opportunity to experience a unique natural phenomenon adapted for the disabled, during a trip to a beautiful country like Israel. This time, a group of overseas journalists, guests of KKL-JNF, had special luck at one of the loveliest natural scenic sites in Israel, Nahal HaShofet Park at Ramat Menashe. During their tour of the park's trails, which are specifically adapted to the needs of the physically challenged, the group encountered dozens of handsome young soldiers of the "Golani" Unit - the pillar of the Israel Defense Forces infantry - dressed in white T-shirts with rifles slung over their shoulders. "This is an educational field trip during our military service," the visiting journalists were told by Yonatan, one of the platoon's soldiers who "volunteered" to explain. Facilities for the disabled have an eerie fascination for soldiers and for Israelis generally, many of whom have injured relatives and friends.
The warm encounter with the soldiers - most of whom have no contact with foreigners, particularly journalists - was an unplanned and enlightening part of the trip to the country's north - which the journalists began with their tour along the trails of the verdant forested Menashe Park. "This is the first encounter for foreign journalists initiated by KKL-JNF," explained Ze'ev Kedem, Director of KKL-JNF's Fundraising Division. "The viewpoints we show them during the tour week will enable them to choose for their own audiences, stories from amongst the multiple layers of Israel's history, culture, mentality and development. What they will see here, in Menashe Park, is not the same Israel that they imagined back in their home countries, traditionally "the ugliest country" as Mark Twain wrote. The fact is that if there is one organization which has transformed the face of this land - it is KKL-JNF."
The guests were greeted by Shlomo Brandt, Director of Menashe Park and Hannah Livne, Scenic Landscape Architect, who planned the layout of the park's roads - with imput with citizen's focal groups, some of whom are physically challenged. These two hosts received awards for KKL-JNF for the Nachal HaShofet Park project at the Agro-Mashov 2008 Exhibition. The final project is a great international success, as most of the park's terrain is accessible not only to wheelchairs, but also to the visually-impaired, whose walk is safeguarded by specially surfaced, curb stoned paths and handrails.
Hannah Livne and Shlomo Brandt led the tour through the park, explaining the enormous investment in the conceptual plan and the cooperation with regional residents and the disabled, to ensure that the park fulfills its goals as a biosphere park based on sustainable development as a natural setting, within a tapestry of settlements and open space. "We began working here ten years ago, when the river stream was completely inaccessible owing to thick undergrowth. We developed the area with minimal damage to the landscape, to the indigenous natural woodlands and scrub. We also found a novel way to facilitate the continued flow of water along the stream all year round, and not just during the winter and spring. It is heavenly to see and hear running water here in the heat of the summer."
Hanan Erez, Head of the Megiddo Regional Council, a partner in the Nahal HaShofet Park, spoke proudly of the strategic cooperation between the regional council, member communities and KKL-JNF, that succeeded in transforming the entire area into a biospheric park that will also earn UNESCO recognition. "What we are doing here is an ongoing public process, growing from grassroots and not a result of superimposed, distant statutory rulings. It has international significance with increasing global realization of the need to protect open spaces and natural assets." This park is an example of the cooperation with KKL-JNF with help from Friends worldwide, especially JNF America and JNF Australia, where the public is fully involved, together with responsible and interested parties like the Nature Preserves and National Parks Authority and central planning authorities.
For more information, please visit our website at www.kkl.org.il/eng or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org