We have been in Gedera for almost four months now, working in different areas and on different projects. We have become acclimated with our everyday schedules and have a greater understanding of our new home. This week, however, marked a new chapter for us as we embarked on our very own project here in Gedera. After months of observations and meetings with community members and the like, we decided that contributing to the already existing community garden would be most beneficial. Our idea was to set up weekly activities in the garden that would provide the youth with structured activities and also encourage integration.
We decided that there would be no better way to kickoff our weekly event then throwing a Hanukah party in the garden on the first night of Hanukah. We had two arts and crafts projects, a seedling seminar, fresh pita cooking, Hannukah sing-a-long, homemade menorah for candle lighting, and Sufganyot (Hanukah Doughnuts). Everything was set up for a great evening; the only thing left to worry about was the turnout.
We had spent so much time preparing this event and coincidentally another Masa program, Eco Israel, just so happened to be joining us on that day to see what Yahel was all about. We spent the morning talking to them and showing them around our neighborhood; Eating Ethiopian food and sharing laughs. We tried to make them feel as comfortable as possible but lingering in the back of all of our minds, we knew we had to have a successful afternoon.
Three o’clock arrived and it was showtime. Slowly kids from the neighborhood, and even adults, began to show up. The activities went as planned, the turnout was great, and the execution was precise. Still though, I had my doubts as to whether we were actually making a difference or if we were just throwing a party and giving out some free doughnuts. Then, one of the girls from Eco Israel who I had just met that morning and had no more then two minutes of conversation with, walked up to me. “I just want you to know that I am so proud of you guys,” she said. Proud of us, you don’t even know us, I thought. She continued saying that “if I saw an advertisement for Yahel, I wouldn’t believe that a program can actually accomplish social change, but you guys are proving that it can.” I was flattered and felt great but was still skeptical because she had just witnessed one of our finer days. Minutes later, I overheard a group of Eco Israel participants discussing how they love the program they are on, but they feel very connected to the work of Yahel as well. So for their last 45 minutes in Gedera, they became Yahelnikim. They walked up to some of the kids and tried to get to know them. The kids laughed at them for mispronouncing Hebrew words and talking with a funny accent. They exchanged their feelings on Justin Beiber and Tupac. One kid sat on a seesaw across from a local Gedera kid and went up and down, laughing at each other.
For those 45 minutes, I got to see how lucky I am to spend five months in a little town in the middle of a little country in the middle east. And with time winding down, it reminded me to make the most of every minute I have here. Treat every 45 minutes like it’s the only 45 minutes I have here.