Blinded terror victim, 13, is an Etgarim 'hero'

Two years after losing his eyesight in the terrorist attack on the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, 13-year-old Oran Almog will be one of the "Etgarim heroes" who will speak Monday night during the organization's 10th anniversary celebration at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium. Almog, who lost five of his close family members in the attack, is one of approximately 5,000 members in the organization, which offers competitive sports, recreational activities and educational programs for physically and mentally handicapped individuals as well as for victims of terror and trauma. This past July, Almog was the youngest competitor to sail his own boat in the first world championship for blind sailors, which took place in Italy. "For the first time since I was injured, I understood that my challenge in life was not blindness, but sailing. Suddenly I understood that I could do everything even without seeing. I began hearing sounds I never heard before, to smell smells, to listen and to feel people. I discovered in myself forces I didn't know existed," Almog said in a statement released by Etgarim in anticipation of the anniversary celebration. The organization specializes in over 20 outdoor sports activities, including diving, sailing, water skiing and rock climbing. Another member of Etgarim who will speak at its anniversary celebration is Orel Galula, a handicapped young woman who has participated in Etgarim activities since she was 12. Galula volunteered to join the IDF, becoming the first IDF officer in a wheelchair. Following her lead, seven additional youths with physical disabilities joined the army. "We called on the handicapped public to leave the handicapped clubs and go out into nature and into society at large," organization chair Yoel Sharon told The Jerusalem Post. "These are types of sports that push people's abilities to the maximum, strengthen their self-esteem and self-image, and influence their abilities in all areas of life." Etgarim is widely recognized today in Israel and abroad and receives support from a number of government ministries. The organization, which caters to all ages, also works with adolescents at risk. Last week it was awarded the Schwab Foundation's award for social activism, which will be officially announced at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland in January.