Inclusion for All!

I was really thrilled this summer to come to Israel: it’s not my first trip there (my 8th, actually) nor is it the first time I volunteered in this country…. but everything’s always new and exciting in life in general and in Israel in particular!

This time, I’d been in contact with Skilled Volunteers for Israel before my departure.  It’s the first time I’m using an organization to help me find a place to volunteer. The other times I had either searched by myself to volunteer or studied at an Ulpan. I was immediately impressed by how quick I was getting an answer from Marla to my inquiry and hence pleased to see how things were moving along.

Once in Jerusalem, I rapidly had an interview which truly impressed me.  I was really being listened to and being “evaluated” on my competencies, my training, my personality, my wishes (in my case, improving my Hebrew skills and volunteering as much as I could during my stay. I’ve applied for jobs in my life numerous times and I seldom had the feeling the people in front of me seriously had so many “business skills” to ask such appropriate questions in a formal, yet very confortable way, to rapidly know who I was. Marla was just brilliant and when she said “I know where I’m going to put you”, I knew that she knew what to do.

The information she gave me to get in contact with Shutaf was to the point and so follow up was easy and smooth.  After I had started to volunteer, Skilled Volunteers for Israel’s Volunteer Coordinator, Judy,  contacted me and asked me if everything was OK and also inquired about my stay in Jerusalem.  She wanted to make sure  I was fine with wherever I was staying, travelling by bus and so on. Though this wasn’t necessary for me, as I knew my way round in the city from my previous trips, it really means that SVFI doesn’t just “fit people in places,” but also cares for their well being in Israel.

Now about my volunteer time: I volunteered two weeks for Shutaf, a unique inclusion camp for 75 children and teens between age 6 and 16, some “regular” kids, some so-called “handicapped”. Each group had 4 “guides” [madrikhim] to take care of them. All day long, different activities took place, indoor, outdoors, artistic activities, sports, zumba (“athletic dance”), cooking, games, and so on with qualified worshop teachers.

Shutaf is truly “a place where everyone has a place”! I’ve experienced it very personally as a volunteer.

This unique inclusion-camp enables children and teenagers to meet, whoever they are, whatever their “issue” is.  As I said, some kids are “normal” and others have a label on their forehead which defines them as “different”, or “handicapped” or more politically correct in a “special needs” situation.

Those are just words. And they are obviously the least important of all, the human factor being the most important aspect.

What matters most in Shutaf is togetherness of all children. This is led by a terrific organization by board members, workshop leaders and a large team of guides.

Everyone is so enthusiastic about everything, every person I’ve met knows exactly what he/she is doing and why, has human values like respect and solidarity… and is flexible in order to make any change that is necessary for whoever needs adaptation in that  specific moment.

camp-shutaf-zumba

Having Fun at Camp Shutaf


When I say “I’ve experienced it very personally as a volunteer”, I really mean I experienced inclusion myself, as a volunteer. Indeed, not initially being part of the team, not speaking Hebrew very well, I was really different form anyone in the team and I knew I was a “special needs” volunteer, with a “language problem”!

But I was truly part of Shutaf: I mean I was treated equally by everyone, welcomed by all the people I’ve met, whether it was board members, workshop facilitators, guides or kids. I’m absolutely convinced that the kids’ attitudes reflected the guides’ attitudes towards me… and because everyone was convinced I could handle it with my Hebrew, no one really bothered me about my shaky language skills… and honestly, I think most people didn’t even care about the way I speak as there were so many things soooooo much more important to do, to live, to experience, to enjoy during the camp!

Thanks to all Shutaf participants, board members, madrikhim, and kids for having accepted me.

Thanks to Skilled Volunteers for Israel for having enabled me to find this wonderful place which really corresponded to my desires to speak Hebrew and use my background environment (MA in specialized education and Sign language interpreter). You really do a fantastic job to help people to find the appropriate volunteering place!

           Catherine, Switzerland, August 2013

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