Laughter and Language Create Connection and Lasting Friendship

I would like to share my experience of volunteering at Kagan Klass, an after school centre in Katamonim . The centre was originally established in the 1950s and has served to assist the children of immigrants who need extra support with their education. Currently the majority of the children who attend the centre are the children of Ethiopian immigrants who came to Israel in a successive wave of immigration in the 1980s through to the 1990s.  The first language of many of the families is Amharic and the children are fluent in both their mother tongue and in Hebrew.

I have been very impressed with the work of the centre and the dedication of the staff especially that of Judith Bar – Zemer, educator and second mother to many of the children whose voices can be heard crying“Yehudit, Yehudit” intermittently throughout the sessions, when they have a problem understanding their work or a question they need to resolve. Judith knows all of the children so well and it is her desire that they are given every opportunity to learn and develop their potential. She and her staff not only work with the children, but also with their parents, some of whom attend the centre and gain pleasure from the progress that their children are making.

The children who attend the centre are within a range of ages and abilities. Many of them are between the ages of 7 and 12. Others are much older and are in their 11th grade. The children are also given help with their literacy and numeracy by a team of volunteers who tutor them individually and have formed supportive relationships with them.   There are some younger children who come with their parents and it is not uncommon to see two or three pre school children in the class. It is my impression is that they also gain considerably from seeing their older siblings at work. They are also encouraged to take part in the activities at whatever is their chronological level. This prepares them for entry into the centre when they become older. Indeed many of the older children have attended the centre since they were infants and have been part of the Kagan family for many years.

My role within the centre has been to help the children with their English. Each session has been different and I never know beforehand with which child I will be working or their level of ability. I have much enjoyed this challenge. I have assisted young people in 10th and 11th grade with their comprehension of English and have noted the complexity of their homework tasks. I have been impressed with the determination of some of the young people to try to understand what is being asked of them and to improve their use of the language. This is a hard task for them and whilst there are resources to assist them, there is room for additional provision if the level of budget could but allow.

The centre has access to some interesting computer programmes for the younger age children and I have enjoyed helping them gain more knowledge through its use. I have played Hebrew Monopoly, an interesting experience for someone from England!  I have also played the card game Taki, about which I still have not quite grasped the rules. Whilst working with the children, I have tried to introduce them to a number of English words and expressions that I have translated for them in my very clumsy and ungrammatical Hebrew. There has been much laughter all round. The children and I have helped each other to understand our respective languages. This has also helped to build mutual understanding and raise self- esteem.  I have listened to some of the children read and encouraged them to talk about their families and their likes and dislikes. Such conversations have enabled me to learn a little more about the children lives, which has been a real privilege. I have also noted that some of the children’s parents have also been keen to learn a little English and on one occasion, I spent time with one of the mothers listening to her read.

All of the children and the staff have given me such a warm welcome and I have never felt like a stranger in their midst. I can sincerely say that I have felt part of the volunteer team throughout the short time I have been at Kagan Klass. I am very grateful to all of its members and am keenly aware that in other volunteer situations it can often take a much longer time to feel at home.

I am returning to the UK on 21 October and will take with me some wonderful memories of my time at Kagan. However, with the permission of the centre, I would like to return to give my assistance again in the New Year. Until then, the words thank you really do not express my gratitude to Marla Gamoran and Judy Gray of “Skilled Volunteers Israel” who arranged the placement on my behalf and especially to the staff and children at the centre who have helped to make this time so special for me and for introducing me to such a valuable and unique organisation.

Corinne Lang England

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