Jerusalem support center helps disabled people integrate into society

by Keren Setton

Yossi, who is blind and deaf, works at Israel’s main toll road installing sensors on cars.

Sapir, 17 years old, who has a rare disease that makes her age faster, can make perfect traditional Jewish Sabbath bread, Challah.

Their lives have been changed, thanks to the Shalva National Center in Jerusalem, an organization aiming at incorporating those with disabilities into society.

Walking into the 11-storey building, one can find decorations of butterflies everywhere, which reflects the objective of the center to help those in special needs overcome the challenges in the beginning of their lives and live independently, just like the butterflies.

“I don’t let these (disabilities and diseases) bother me,” said Refael Haim Moshe, who was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, adding that he feels his life has unlimited possibilities.

The 27-year-old man plays in a band, has worked at a coffee shop and now is a guide in the Shalva Center.

The organization also offers support to those families raising children with special needs.

It offers programs for mothers of newborns with disabilities, daycare for young children who go to classes with healthy kids, family support and vocational training.

The center was established when a couple at their 40s, Kalman and Malki Samuels, found their son Yossi deaf, blind and acutely hyperactive overnight, after receiving expired vaccine.

The Samuels, shattered and broken, began raising Yossi at home and soon formed a playgroup that included several other children with special needs.

Yossi is now 42 years old and has a job. He is not isolated at all, as his diseases may have caused him.

Yossi likes to read news and is obsessed with cars. The shelves of his room are filled with models, said his families.

The principle of the center is to make everything natural, according to Yochanan Samuels, the CEO of Shalva and Yossi’s uncle.

“Anything artificial, no matter what good cause you give it, will not work,” he said.

The kindergartens at Shalva hold classes where kids with special needs learn and play together with healthy kids. They sit at the table having lunch together, giggling together and playing with the water as they wash their hands.

The kindergartens have tens of “regular” children on the waiting list to get enrolled, said Yochanan Samuels.

Shalva has an annual budget of 15 million U.S. dollars, half of which comes from donations, 30 percent from the Israeli government, and the rest from profitable businesses of the center, like the coffee shop.

Shalva also hosts hundreds of conferences and works with Jerusalem’s hospitals. Currently the Shalva music band is on a successful run at the popular TV reality show “The Rising Star.”

“I don’t call it a building, I don’t call it a center, I call it a movement,” Yochanan Samuels told Xinhua. “We have to work together to build a better society … out of the recognition that we are one.”

Gal Haviv, 23 years old, is an instructor at the center. He now guides a group of 18-21 year olds with special needs to achieve maximum independence. The aim of his job is to teach them the skills which they can use to live independently with less help from society.

He said he also learned something from these lovely young people.

“It’s their simplicity … their constant happiness, they are always satisfied,” Haviv told Xinhua. “It is a universal message that can be heard everywhere.”

Source: Xinhua