Annual Ilan fund-raiser launched at Beit Hanassi

Ilan's annual "March of Prutot," the Israeli equivalent of the March of Dimes - established when the pruta was Israel's lowest denomination coin - was launched on Monday at a ceremony at Beit Hanassi with significant contributions from the President's Discretionary Fund and from Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. Ilan and other social welfare organizations suffer most from the government's budgetary cutbacks, Ilan director-general Shimon Tzuriel said. Ilan's summer camps project was saved only by the intervention of the prime minister. This enabled some 600 mentally and physically challenged youngsters to spend a summer vacation on a kibbutz and to enjoy rafting, sailing and even rappelling, just like regular children, said Tzuriel, underscoring that the devotion of volunteers gave parents and siblings time out for themselves without fear or guilt. Established in 1952, Ilan is a voluntary organization that cares for 15,000 children born with developmental disabilities due to cerebral palsy and other neuro-muscular disorders. It was initially founded to help children who were victims of a polio epidemic, but continued its work when it realized that there were so many other disabled children in need of help. It operates in 41 branches across the country. President Moshe Katsav, who praised the dedicated work of Ilan volunteers, noted that the strength of any society is measured by the manner in which it treats the weakest sectors in its midst. People associated with Ilan, he said, were doing humane, ethical and essential work. This year's campaign focuses on twin sisters, Maya and Ella, who are identical in looks, but not in development. Their mother, Jo Franklin, told of their premature birth in 1999. Everything seemed normal in the early stages, but then the parents noticed that Ella had developmental difficulties and was not progressing in the same way as Maya. After having Ella examined and tested, the family came to the conclusion that what could help her more than any medication was love and support. She received both not only at home, but also at Ilan's Spivak Kindergarten in Ramat Gan, where she was given constant encouragement, physiotherapy and self-confidence. Today, Ella is in a regular kindergarten, preparing to enter first grade. She is a cheerful, happy child, who quickly made friends on the basis of her personality. Her disability didn't seem to bother anyone.