“The Americans”

This post was written by Nina Abrahams, a participant on the Onward Israel Negev Service Corps summer 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. Nina is volunteering at a women’s shelter.

“The Americans want to know when Zumba is?”

This question was asked by one of the young women to her Madricha (counselor in Hebrew) at the women’s shelter I am volunteering at with my new Yahel Service learning friend. The two of us “Americans”could not contain our laughter as the young girl asked her Madricha this in Hebrew, so she would not get in trouble for asking this during a different activity. Zumba is one of a few initiatives we brought to the women’s shelter as an outlet for these very young women to express themselves and let out steam in a healthy manner.

The shelter is a temporary safe haven for women between the ages of 13-24 who need immediate safety in crisis situations. These girls have undergone unthinkable abusive, physical, and/or sexual violence and need a place and people to turn to. The shelter provides this safety while helping these girls figure out their next steps. Some girls may be able to return home after two months, while others may go to a boarding school. The usual stay for most of women is two months, but it varies case by case. One of the women at the shelter has been there for 5 months. She is going to see her family for the first time next week in nearly half a year. She is excited. I am nervous how she may react after so much time.

The temporary nature of this shelter means that there are constantly new women coming in and leaving the house. New cliques emerge, and as the the director said, “some girls are weak and some are strong”. This means bullying and problems continually ensue and need to be prevented and stopped on occasion. The shelter is also open to any women in the country within the age range. This means there is a lot of diversity within the women at the shelter, which also causes social issues within the home. One of the women is Ethiopian. She is made fun of because of the color of her skin by other girls. She just smiles and does not react. Another women identifies herself as a lesbian. She is often harassed by other girls. It is terrible and so awful to see cruelty between the girls. I can catch the gist of what is happening most of the time because they speak very fast in Hebrew, so sometimes I feel like I cannot be helpful. We try our best to work with what we have.

Zumba has been fantastic. No words necessary. No language barrier. Just dance. My friend Alex creates fun routines and I dance along no matter how ridiculous we look to encourage other girls to join in. As someone more reserved, I find it easier to connect to the girls who are on the shyer end as well. I try to work with these women to participate in Zumba, other activities, and just engage in conversation.

I feel that our presence as “the Americans” is positive even though we do not fully understand everything that goes on and every comment said for better or for worse.  We have added English as another language spoken in the house, which will be helpful for the the women when they return to school. We are two more faces of stable women who are there to support and help them with needs within the house. We are there to tell them they are awesome. We are there to wish them Happy Birthday. We are there to learn with and from them and show them they are significant by letting them lead Zumba sessions. We are there to wish them the best of luck and tell them they can do and be anything because they are amazing and powerful as they leave the house to their next steps. We are there to remind them they are beautiful and can live a normal healthy life.

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