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Ropes course among the trees at Etgarm Camp in the Tzipori Field and Forest Center.(Photo by: YOAV DEVIR KKL-JNF)
Special needs children soar among the treetops
“It’s fun to participate in the activities and get to know the guides and other campers,” said Yinon Ravivo, aged 17, sixth time at camp.
Zip-lines, hanging bridges, ropes courses between the trees, wall-climbing, field trips, arts and crafts with natural materials…here, children with special needs could fully participate in all these wonderful activities.

The Etgarim summer camp took place from 7-11 July 2019 at KKL-JNF’s Field and Forest Center in Tzipori. The camp, attended by approximately 3,500 campers, was held in collaboration with KKL-JNF’s Education and Community Division, and was made possible thanks to the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Germany.

“Our mission is to enable children with special needs to experience the same things as any other kid does”, said Avner Balkany, the CEO of Etgarim. “Nature is an open space for adventures as well as individual and group activities, and the children gain life lessons when they succeed in doing something they didn’t think possible”.

Scaling up to 25 meters!

Etgarim has strived and worked hard to erect the facilities for all those challenging activities that take place at an altitude. The highest climbing installation set up this year in the camp reached a height of 25 meters. Navigating from branch to branch while secured by a safety rope brought the campers among the treetops.  The relatively ‘low’ facility was…10 meters high. Climbing either one was a true challenge and required courage.
Over the week, the young campers also participated in various activities at stations set up by the KKL-JNF Education and Community Division. Counselors guided students through various activities such as water play using different containers, balancing activities, shooting hoops and creating mosaics.
Moshe Kahalani, a KKL-JNF counselor/trainer, explained: “We have a special connection with these guys and there is an enormous sense of satisfaction. Everyone can discover their strengths here, and thanks to the teamwork, the entire group succeeds together”.
The Tzipori Field and Forest Center includes sports and recreation facilities, sitting areas, tents, and outdoor classrooms, all of which enable experiential learning alongside field activities. A team of professional trainers guides participants in educational activities and tours around the area.

Here, volunteers give and receive

Every day about 400 campers and 300 volunteers came to camp. They came from all over the country and from all population sectors –– children and youth with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities, from all societies, ethnicities and religions,  aged between 9 and 21 years old. Joining them were hundreds of dedicated volunteers, who came to give of themselves with all their hearts, and were in for a lot of love and a deep sense of satisfaction in return.
One of the volunteers, Ilya Marin from Jerusalem, was an Etgarim camper. Now, she works as a software engineer at Intel. While standing near the climbing wall and helping kids reach the top she said, “A kid who manages to reach the top of a climbing wall gets a sense of ability and understands that he or she is capable of succeeding on his/her own. They also learn that there is no shame in asking for help. Etgarim has been an important part of my personal success. They gave me the confidence in my ability to succeed in life. I remember myself as a kid, participating in this activity, and today I am proud to have the opportunity to help other children”.
Zeev Wagshal, the Etgarim Camp Director, said that for the youth, meeting the volunteers was an important part of campers’ experience: “They deal with a significant number of difficulties here and experience many successes.  This helps them in various aspects of their day-to-day lives, from studying to employment”. 

Enthusiastic feedback from the camp:

Meir Apriat from Akko, aged 9: “This is my first time at the Etgarim camp and I enjoy it very much. The most fun is the zip-line, even though it was a bit scary. I couldn’t believe I could do something like that but I found out I can!”
Ilana Cohen from Akko, mother to 18 year-old camper Yaakov: “It is a special mother-son experience to be out together in the forest. This activity takes me years back, to when I was young. There is no doubt I would have climbed those trees together with the children if I only I would have brought the right shoes”.
Shalgit Heiman, Tzipori Center Guidance Coordinator: “When you look at these young adults you understand just how much our work is important, they go through amazing experiences here which empower them”.
David Ashkenazi, Director of the Training, Facilities and Special Education for the KKL-JNF Education and Community Division: “You can’t come here for a visit and not get excited about what you see. This is another reminder that the forest belongs to everyone”.

This article was originally published on the website.
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