As part of my commitment for my placement at Melabev with Skilled Volunteers for Israel (SVFI) I agreed to write about my placement experience and so this memoir includes the important part played by the people at Skilled Volunteers for Israel.
From the day I made an enquiry on the website to the day I left Israel I was kept informed and supported by the people at SVFI,
My initial Skype interview was with Marla Gamoran (whom I unfortunately did not meet because she was not in Israel during my stay) but her enthusiasm and welcoming manner put me at ease and made me feel optimistic about this adventure I was planning to embark upon. The organization requested a very reasonable fee for all the work they put in. I was sent a detailed handbook to prepare me for the experience. The people at SVFI answered any questions I had very quickly and they gave me support in finding the best places for accommodation that were within my budget.
SVFI’s Terry Hendin was my local connection in Jerusalem and met with me the day before I started at Melabev and orientated me about the club members and various dedicated staff who run the Melabev Memory Club in Talpiot- a center that operates for English speakers. There was a great deal of information to take in and Terry’s love for this project shone through.
During my stay people from SVFI constantly kept in touch and they also put me in touch with a previous volunteer who met with me at a coffee shop during my stay. Towards the end of my stay I met with Judy Gray who did an exit interview about my experience. Judy took the photo outside a coffee shop near where I was staying in the German Colony of Jerusalem. I was presented with a certificate acknowledging my volunteering and Judy swopped my white SVFI bag for her turquoise one when I mentioned that turquoise was my favourite colour!
My contact with all of the above mentioned women connected to SVFI left me with a feeling of support and genuine concern for my wellbeing. They also inspired me with their love for their work and Israel as well as their energy and Intelligence. THANK YOU EVERYONE AS SVI.
My Placement at Melabev
From the moment I walked into Melabev I was welcomed and introduced to many new faces which included Melabev’s professional staff, volunteers, the young women doing community service instead of army service and about 100 club members. There were three rooms that formed the club experience for people in various stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia and each room had a weekly programme suited to the needs of the club members. I was asked to experience all three rooms and decide where I preferred to work but ended up working wherever there was a need because it was the time of year when there were staff and volunteer shortages before a new batch of community volunteers joined after the religious high holy days. It was a pleasure to arrive early and work for the full day even though I was not required to do so. I enjoyed a 45 minute walk each morning but used transport in the afternoons due to the extreme heat.
The day started with Kitchen duty where meals, designed to be nutritious and to encourage people to eat (specific colours and flavours) were dished up. Each room was set up differently and made to look attractive so that it was a very welcoming place when the club members arrived.
The highest functioning room was set up so that club members could choose their own seating and help themselves to food that was put in bowls in the centre of the table. Toast, crackers coffee and tea was served to each person according to preference.
In the middle functioning room (which contained almost twice as many people as the highest functioning room) club members were guided to a seat according to their preferences or to place them with other suitable or familiar people. There were wheelchairs and walkers to organize and many people with specific dietary needs that needed to be attended to.
The room for the lowest functioning members contained the largest number of people and was set up like a coffee shop when everyone arrived and there were beverages and cookies available. There were also magazines and activities on the table. Participants had their breakfast meal later in the morning when everyone had arrived.
Throughout the day there were constant activities and the rooms often needed to be rearranged to meet the requirements of the differing activities and therapies. Tables to be moved and people who could not walk were helped to the appropriate place. Every day contained a music activity and I was reintroduced to many songs I had not heard for a long time. There were also exercises and dance/rhythm activities that could be done sitting down. Games were chosen according to the level of the group and the interests shown by the participants. People came in to give talks, do gardening and to keep club members informed about aspects of significance to the upcoming Holy Days. The middle group also had morning davening (prayers) every day. The higher functioning group played more challenging games, discussed topical news and had lectures/discussions about literature and music.
Most of the Melabev staff were multi-skilled and fulfilled a number of functions. Staff were prepared to help out wherever necessary and I soon learned how to fit in with the different needs as they arose. In my first week (of four) my body ached from the physical aspects of the job and I also struggled to learn names while moving frequently between rooms.
My favourite room was the middle room where I felt most able to make a difference. The higher functioning room ran fairly smoothly and the room for the lower functioning people was well staffed most of the time and a high amount of physical energy was required to keep people satisfied and safe. When any of the club members became overwhelmed they were gently spoken to or taken out of the room to a quiet space with low lighting and fairy coloured lights designed to help them relax. In the lower functioning room there were a number of people who liked to walk around for much of the time and they were observed and led back to the room from time to time. Although the outer gate was locked the aim was to make people feel free within the premises. The staff in the room with the lowest functioning group could not relax their attention for a minute and yet seemed calm, relaxed and up-beat at all times.
Melabev has a computer programme to help with cognitive skills and the person who comes in as a volunteer to run the computer aspects of the programme also used the internet to connect people with their memories. I especially enjoyed spending time at the computer with a very elderly lady who was sharing memories about her life. She had led a very interesting and productive life in the USA and her legacy was on the internet. She was surprised and overjoyed with the experience and I enjoyed talking to her over the following few weeks when I was asked to spend time with her when she was not physically able to participate in some of the group activities. She was at Melabev to get some mental stimulation outside her home and did not have any form of dementia.
Many of the club members had care givers (mainly from the Philippines) who could be called on if necessary but this was seldom required. I was struck by how young many of the helpers were and the warmth with which they related to their employer and other club members. They often helped calm down someone who had become overly agitated. They socialized with one another and got a break during the time their employer was at Melabev.
In addition to breakfast there are a number of short breaks to give people a drink and a snack and it was particularly hot during the time I was there (August to mid-September). At approximately 12.30 pm the rooms were organized for the lunch time meal and tables were set. A nutritious meal was served. Afterwards people were taken home by various buses and I went on the bus to the German Colony where I was staying.
What struck me the most overall was how staff members coped with crises like power failures, dripping air conditioners, late transport and staff shortages by seamlessly absorbed the changes while creating a predictable, safe, happy and stimulating experience for so many club members with different levels of health and mental functioning. Although there were days where I was physically exhausted, I soon recovered because the overall experience was fun and stimulating and I met many special and interesting people (staff and club members). The commitment, unflagging energy, creativity and empathy of the staff was invigorating and I also met many people from all over the world who had settled in Israel and had interesting and heart-warming (sometimes sad) stories to share.
To truly capture my experience and what Melabev is about would take many pages and I have only given a small taste. Thank you to Marsha Donshik and her dedicated staff plus the many volunteers for a wonder filled experience. Melabev adds quality of life to all who walk through its doors every day. My experience there was more than I had hoped for.