Children and volunteers from the Kav Lachayim association for special needs children headed off to Lahav forest in the Negev for a fun day of activities in nature, including tree planting in celebration of Tu B'Shvat. "Just like all the other kids planting trees today, so are we - we want to plant and we can plant," said Tahel Cohen, 11, from Beer Sheva. Her twin sister Tohar added: "It's great fun to go out into the forest and enjoy nature".
The event, sponsored by JNF-KKL Germany, was held as part of Education Appreciation Week to raise awareness of the activities of the KKL-JNF Education and Community Division. "120 years ago when KKL-JNF was established, its leaders realized that it is impossible to cultivate land without cultivating hearts, and that is exactly what we are doing today", said Education and Community Director Sar-Shalom Jerbi.
Kav Lachayim is an association that cares for children with complex physical disabilities and rare syndromes. "Our goal today is to give the children a feeling that they are no different from any other child in the country," explained Aviel Nahaliel, Kav Lachayim's national operations manager. "We are involved in financing lifesaving operations and medications, and holding social and experiential fun days. Everything we do is aimed at improving the conditions of children with disabilities in Israeli society".
About 100 children and 100 volunteers attended the event. Noah Ohana, aged 18 from Ashdod, explained what motivated her to be a Kav Lachayim volunteer: "There is great satisfaction in giving, in the smiles of the children and their love. It is truly the most meaningful volunteering work possible".
Ben Levi, aged 26 from Jerusalem, benefitted from Kav Lachayim as a child and now as an adult, he continues to volunteer in the association. "You never leave a home," he explained, "I received so much here as a child, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to give back myself".
The expansive Lahav Forest covers an area of 7,400 acres in the northern Negev. KKL-JNF began planting the forest in the early 1950’s, and over the years, it has added nature trails, picnic areas, hiking routes and heritage sites.
KKL-JNF holds a variety of activities and fun days specially adapted for people with disabilities throughout the year. On this day, fun activities for special needs children were held in parallel at three other sites around Israel: Hula Lake Park in the north, and the Ilanot and Rosh Tzippor Forests in the central region. One thousand volunteers in total were on hand at these events.
"Every day like this fills our hearts with satisfaction and joy," said Dudu Ashkenazi, KKL-JNF Education Division Director of Training and Projects. "It is very important to plant trees, but the goal, first and foremost, is for participants to feel the forest and enjoy it".