Ziplines, hanging bridges, ropes courses, wall-climbing, field trips, arts and crafts with natural material. Children with special needs fully participated in all these fun camp activities through summer camps organized by the Etgarim organization, at Keren-Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund’s Field and Forest Center in Tzipori, Israel.
The camp, attended by about 3,500 campers, was held in collaboration with KKL-JNF’s Education and Community Division and made possible by support of the joint organization’s friends in Germany.
Campers between 9 and 21 years old came from throughout Israel and from a variety of population sectors: children with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities, and from diverse societies, ethnicities and religions. Joining them were hundreds of dedicated volunteers.
“Our mission is to enable children with special needs to experience the same things as any other kid does,” said Avner Balkany, 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.”
Etgarim aimed to build the facilities for all the challenging activities that take place at an altitude. The highest climbing installation set up this year in the camp reached 82 feet.
Navigating from branch to branch while secured by a safety rope brought the campers among the treetops. The relatively low facility was almost 33 feet high. Climbing either one was a true challenge and required a lot of courage.
During camp, counselors guided campers through various activities such as water play using different containers, balancing activities, shooting hoops and creating mosaics.
“We have a special connection with these guys and there is an enormous sense of satisfaction,” said Moshe Kahalani, a KKL-JNF counselor and trainer. “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, which enable experiential learning alongside field activities. A team of professional trainers guide the campers in educational activities and tours around the area.
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 campers 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 their 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.”
Compiled by AJT Staff.