This post was written by a Hannah Roberts, a participant on the Repair the World Onward Israel Service-learning Program in Be’er Sheva. The group members are encountering social change initiatives in the Negev region and receiving training to be leaders when they return to their campuses in the fall. Hannah is volunteering at a women’s shelter.
As part of my volunteering at the women’s shelter, I work with 7-9 year old kids for three hours in the afternoon. We play games, draw pictures, make crafts, and have some English lessons. As part of an English lesson we had the children draw a family tree. We taught them the words for family members in English and asked them to help us with the words in Hebrew. I was a little nervous about this activity because family is a difficult subject for some of the children, but we decided it was important.
One little girl was having trouble figuring out what to draw. One of the staff members at the shelter gave her examples of what she could draw: her mom, her brothers and sisters, and her friends.The staff member told the little girl to draw people that she loves. As she started to draw I noticed that the people on her page were very small and crammed in the corner. I asked her why, she told me that she needed a lot of room. I let her finish her tree without asking any other questions. When she was done she showed me a picture of 12 women.
These were the 12 women that lived in the shelter. She told me which children belong to each woman and so, understood that originally the people of the shelter were a part of different families. She wrote on the top of the paper “mishpacha” which means family in Hebrew. It was striking to me to know that this little girl felt the shelter was one big family. Furthermore, it was powerful that this idea came from a 7-year-old girl. The six volunteers from our program met with a social worker recently to discuss how to handle the emotions of working in the shelter. The social worker mentioned how it is difficult when the children leave the shelter after being here for a while because the staff and volunteers and other families become attached to the children and the children become attached to everyone else. However, she made it clear to us that that is not the only difficult part about children leaving.
When the children leave it is another transition for them, another change and another time when they leave people that are a part of their lives. In thinking about the family tree, when that little girl leaves the shelter, she will feel as if she is leaving her family, yet again. It makes me so happy to realize that there are such strong connections between the people in the shelter, yet it makes the process of the families leaving, what I always assumed to be a happy time for them, that much more difficult to leave.