By Guest Blogger Paula Friedland, LOTEM Director of Development
Every child is a special child. Tali is a terrific swimmer; Avi sings in a choir; Ronit draws beautiful pictures; Yoni has been reading since he was 4.
Yes, every child is a special child – and some because of their own special needs.
Recently 45 of these special children met together on a cold February morning in Jerusalem. Half were from the Hartman School, an elite junior/senior high school, while half were from the Rachel Strauss School, a school for children with autism and moderate mental retardation.
The meeting marked the beginning of LOTEM’s Natural Integration project, which offers activities in nature to mixed groups of children from the special and regular education systems. The project, which is funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation, is part of LOTEM, a national organization with centers in Jerusalem and Yokneam Moshava offering educational activities in nature to people with special needs. These include children and adults who are visually and hearing impaired, physically and intellectually challenged, emotionally disturbed, and in danger of physical or emotional abuse.
The meeting was an overwhelming success. The children were divided into small groups made up of participants from each of the two schools. Their task was to plan an outing in nature – a special outing, suitable for young children, or senior citizens, or families on bikes. Where would they go? Would they need an accessible trail? What should they take with them? Should they prepare pasta or should each participant bring his own sandwich? The children from the Hartman School were able to deal with the more concrete issues, while the children from Rachel Strauss, with the help of pictures and communication tables, were able to make their own contributions to the plans. The excitement in the room was overwhelming. The children were not only learning about special needs, they were also making new friends.
At the end of the session, Moriya, the head of LOTEM’s Jerusalem office, told them that in two weeks they would be going on an outing together – all 45 children – each special in his own way.
“The best part is that you’ve helped us plan the day,” she said.
“Don’t forget to bring a hat,” Rafi told his new friends.
“Pasta, promise us pasta,” they all chimed in together.
It seems that children are children no matter how special they are.
— Paula Friedland