Empathy without Words / David Korolnek, Yahel Social Change Program Participant

I just started working in Gedera’s school for the developmentally disabled. I am coming in during their physical education block twice a week for two hours and I’m working as an extra staff member, extra set of eyes and body for the students aged between 12-23.

It was intimidating to walk into the school at first. The students don’t speak English and they act very differently than most kids. But in the end it’s an easy push to do it, because I know how important and meaningful this work is.

I started working with two young students. I watch them, tell them stories, talk to them about my day and my life. They don’t speak, but I know our relationship is developing. In the beginning they wandered off and might even put her head between her legs. Now we make more eye contact. I feel like I can read them by their demeanor and they actually communicate a lot, but not with words.

There was a moment where one student took my arm and wanted to hold it as we stared into the street together. We stood together for 15 minutes and just smiled and laughed. I don’t think we were staring at anything in particular, but we connected and it was nice.

I signed up for this project, because I wanted to do meaningful work in a community that I feel connected to. My mom did work similar to this and so did my father. My mom taught ESL in a high density immigrant neighborhood and my father served as a school trustee and worked on a special education committee. They’re both retired now.

I believe that the only way a society can be judged is by how it treats its marginalized, and a society needs empathy to do this work. It’s not just about progress for economic want. Empathy is necessary to address real human need. And it offers me a great lesson in how important humility is, in receiving that support.

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