A different type of child care

SOS Children’s Villages ensures troubled children maintain their youth in a healthy manner – and offers them hope for the future.

By
January 26, 2012 19:30
SOS farewell party for volunteers

SOS farewell party for volunteers 521. (photo credit: Courtesy/Joram Seela)

When taking a tour of the well-manicured grounds at Arad’s Neradim Youth Village with its director Mati Rose, one has to have a lot of patience. This is because the scores of young people who call Neradim home are constantly coming up to greet him with warm, affectionate hugs.

Neradim is one of two youth villages that the international organization SOS Children’s Villages runs in the country. According to SOS Israel National Director Ahituv Gershinsky, the organization operates over 500 youth villages in 130 countries, reaching over 500,000 children who have lost or are in danger of losing parental care.

A total of 108 young people aged six to 23 live at Neradim, while approximately another 100 live at Megadim, SOS’s northern branch in Migdal Ha’emek.

Rose has been the director at Neradim for over a decade and readily says how gratifying it has been to change the lives of so many children for the better.

The organization works in direct coordination with the Welfare and Social Services Ministry. When a family crisis involving children occurs in the Arad area, a municipal social worker notifies SOS to be on call in case its services are needed. In certain situations, a child might become orphaned following a tragedy, while in other cases a child might need to be removed from a home due to domestic abuse. Rose says that “even if it’s 2 a.m.,” if he gets a call from a social worker, he needs to be prepared to send a professionally trained SOS staff member to relocate the child to the village’s emergency shelter unit.

For the next six months, the child remains at Neradim, where all options are explored in conjunction with the ministry to find the most suitable permanent solution. During that time, the child lives and attends school on campus.

In some cases, if the authorities deem it safe, the child returns home. In other cases, the child moves in with extended family or into another appropriate setting.

According to Rose, however, in about 40 percent of the cases, the only solution is for the youngster to move into Neradim full-time.

When that occurs, the child is transferred into a fully furnished home in the village, which he or she shares with a group of other children, and begins attending classes in the Arad school system.

Each home in the village has a “mother” who oversees the children’s well-being. All of these mothers are single women, mostly in their 40s or 50s, willing to take on the responsibility of essentially raising the children. In some cases, the house mother already has children of her own, and they join her in the home and live alongside the SOS children. According to Gershinsky, a relationship develops in which the house mother “feels that all the kids in the house, whether they are biological or not, are her own.”

Meirav Almedvi, who has served as the house mother at Neradim’s youth home for 14- to 18-year-olds for over two years, concurs. In addition to the 15 teenagers living with her, she has two small children of her own. Almedvi – who is busy preparing a hot lunch for her charges as she speaks to The Jerusalem Post – says that she treats all the children in the house as if they were her own.

“When they go out on Friday night, I give them a curfew, like any mother would,” she says. While she admits that sometimes her job is difficult, as it’s not always easy working with teenagers, she feels great satisfaction serving as their caretaker.

“While I am responsible for fulfilling these children’s needs and showing them a sense of love, I feel like I get so much love back in return, which makes it such a meaningful job,” she says.

Her responsibilities as house mother also include making sure the teens get up for school in the morning and are fed breakfast.

When they are at school, she shops for the home, picks up any necessary medication from the pharmacy and then prepares lunch for when they return. In the afternoons, she is on homework duty and makes sure the teens get to their extracurricular activities – or in some cases, therapy sessions – either on or off campus.

Gershinsky admits that being a house mother is an intense experience, and he seeks to hire only women willing to commit for at least five years because of the attachment that goes along with being the children’s main source of support and love. When Almedvi has a day off, she is replaced with an “aunt” who assumes all of her responsibilities in running the household.

In addition to the housing units, the village has plenty of amenities, including sports fields, a petting zoo and a computer lab. Most of the facilities are maintained by volunteers known as shinshinim – post-high school students who defer army service for a year to give back to their communities.

Gershinsky insists that while his young population enters Neradim under difficult circumstances, it is the goal of SOS to make sure that “these kids feel no less significant than any other kids at school.”

That’s why, he adds, “SOS doesn’t accept old, used clothing as handouts, and we don’t take leftover food. While we can’t provide every luxury in the world, these kids go to school feeling good about themselves.”

Rose says that while the youth village is not designed for the religious sector, his staff is respectful and ensures that all of the children living there have their religious needs met. He adds that the village places a high value on Jewish identity and that the children take part in meaningful field trips throughout the country.

In addition, he has begun a Holocaust studies program on campus, which includes a trip to Poland for the 11th- and 12th-graders. When the children return from paying tribute to those who perished in the Holocaust, he says, “they come back with perspective – that their own personal situations could be a lot worse.”

Most recently SOS Israel launched a new, community-based program outside of the village to assist at-risk youth who are still living at home but might be in danger of losing parental care. The program includes services to strengthen the family, such as parenting courses and counseling. In some cases, Rose says, it provides low-income families with basic needs like food, or appropriate clothing for the children to wear to school.

While the youth village is heavily funded by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, he says several programs, including the Holocaust studies program and the community- based program, are funded in full thanks to private donors and foundations.

As the tour comes to a close, Rose receives one more hug – this one from 18- year-old Kobi, who is on his way to the Dead Sea; he works as a waiter in one of the more prominent resort hotels there.

Kobi has been living at Neradim since the age of five and has high aspirations as he prepares to enter an IDF combat unit in June.

“This is my home,” he says proudly. “I love it here.”

Rose says that like Kobi, many of Neradim’s youth overcome their obstacles to achieve great success both in their army service and in life.

“We instill in these children a sense of volunteerism,” says the director, proudly describing how Neradim youth serve as volunteer medics in Magen David Adom and in the Civil Guard.

“Most importantly we teach these kids that they can grow up and become something in life,” he concludes. “After just a short time living here, they see that they can succeed and become people who contribute to society.”


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