By Laura Kindler, Community Representative
Avrum Azulai, Director of Health, Education and Welfare at the Megiddo Regional Council, proudly boasts, the Megiddo School attempts to be more than just another school. It aims to educate its students to values of social awareness and commitment as well as values of humanism and citizenship. Our school operates a class for Down Syndrome youth which currently consists of 7 boys and 5 girls aged 14–21.
Through Jewish Agency Partnership 2000, the Jewish Federations of St. Louis and Greater Atlanta are partners in this project.
The Down Syndrome youngsters learn in an integrated program called “Yahad” in Hebrew, which literally means “together.” They study a wide range of subjects together with healthy students. For instance: art, dance, music and sports are enjoyed together. Also classes discussing current events and citizenship.
This integrated framework helps the youngsters with Down Syndrome to strive for higher goals, develop better self images and confidence. It also enables them to learn new skills and interests. At the same time, it encourages children without special needs to learn to accept and relate to those that are “different” from themselves.
Drorit Avraham of Kibbutz Dalia helped to establish this program. She recognized the needs from raising her own son. The benefit to these special children would be matched with the benefit of the community.
The program places the students in various workplaces within the kibbutzim and moshavim of the region, where they will gain experience in new skills to prepare them for adult life and the best possible tools to enable them to live as independently as possible.
The program provides a variety of vocational experiences ranging from working at an army base, kindergartens, kibbutz kitchens/dining rooms, animal farm, hothouse, industry and Elderly Center.
Recently, the Jousa army base which is in the Megiddo region, won a prize from “Yated” the Down Syndrome Foundation of Israel for its involvement in the work of Life Skills training.
Yoni excitedly tells about his work at the base. We wore uniforms just like all the soldiers. We helped to prepare the meal. Then we all sat together in the mess hall. The soldiers liked our cooking.
David and Yosi work at the belt factory in Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. When I arrived, I saw the youngsters busy at work. I went to pick up one of the belts they were packing in boxes. Both boys were very alert and responsible. They yelled out to me, over the terrible din of the machinery, “NO, HOT.” Then they handed me a pair of protective gloves. The two enjoyed their work so much that they even want to come on their vacation days. The factory staff had only praise. The kids work hard and are pleasant to be around.
Naomi’s mother, Sarah, described their program to me as a blessing. It allowed her daughter to live at home, but help her acquire the skills to enable her to become a productive and independent citizen. This year when Naomi graduates she will go on to do “National Service” as a kindergarten teacher’s aide.
Sarah shares with me stories about how raising a daughter with Down Syndrome has changed her life, for the good.
Sarah says, “When I was 21, Naomi’s age today, I read the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I guess I was still young and na?ve. It seemed to be an interesting but curious piece of science fiction. “Social Stability” required all men and women to be designed in uniform batches.”
“With the birth of Naomi a year later, I realized Huxley was trying to warn mankind that each individual is unique and must be recognized and revered as such.”
“Doctors were recommending that I place Naomi in an institution, that I change her eyes and mouth with plastic surgery. Basically recommending that I have no expectations.”
“Today I am happy to say I did none of the above. My daughter is a happy and giving individual. She enriches those around her. Her trusting and cheerful nature is felt and returned in kind.
“Kindergarten children flock to her to get and give hugs. Naomi definitely has a place in our society.”