Two years ago I traveled to Israel on a long-term program, which had a tremendously positive impact on my life. I only returned home to finish school, and when I completed my degree, I knew I would travel right back. I just needed to find a way to get there. I relied on the ever so trusted google.com to take me to a new volunteer experience back to my favorite country. I landed at the GoEco website that participates with many partners around the world to help communities and organizations by bringing international volunteers abroad. I found a project called “Creating Safe Spaces for At-Risk Youth,” it sounded perfect. I was interested in pursuing a helping profession and decided that an experience of this nature with youth would be right up my alley.
When I looked into the details of the project, the description explained that I would be working in a therapeutic garden. I wasn’t too sure what this meant…but it sounded like a unique challenge that I could immerse myself in. I soon found out that this garden was less about the flowers and plants, and more about the people. I was fortunate enough to have kindhearted and soft-spoken managers that taught me how to work with the nature and children simultaneously.
These were the first words that were spoken to me upon my arrival at the garden. Shlomo was an extremely insightful and knowledgeable individual. He was a great person to work with and provided me with the tools I needed to become a valued member at the garden. Although I had no idea what to do when I first started, I soon learned the tricks of the trade and became a somewhat “professional” planter.The entire center is built around rehabilitation, both for the plants and the youth that attend the school. Shlomo utilized the plants to model growth and recovery for the children. He would take the old dry plants and pot them into new soil. He was always hopeful and optimistic about giving everything a chance to being fixed. He would joke, “ I know I sound crazy recycling old roots and stems, but it can’t hurt to try!” And more often than not, the agricultural scraps turned into beautiful plants and flowers. This is a parallel to the philosophy they have with the children. Most of the youth have been involved in criminal acts on the street or were victims of destructive family situations. This facility takes them in and gives them a second chance.
A hard days work with Doron in the garden left me feeling more relaxed than a day at the beach… (well maybe not more, but at lease equal to!). Whatever the situation may have been, Doron had a smile on his face and a radiant optimism- the perfect environment for flowers and children to grow and develop. It is rather fitting that he teaches yoga in his spare time and was always kind enough to invite me to his classes. This unique and admirable individual made the garden a magical place to work and learn and he helped me see the world under a slightly brighter light.
So what did I do?? There was always something to be done in the garden. It was a big and busy greenhouse with tasks ranging form planting and watering to teaching English to the students at the school. The options to help out were varied such as working in the pottery center or in the animal farm. This volunteer project is really what you make it, as the staff gives you freedom and the support to help out where and when you want to. I even had the privilege to travel around Israel with Shlomo and Doron, visiting the most premier floral distributors of Israel.
Let’s not forget about the best part of this project…it’s in Jerusalem! This busy city of Israel is full of heart, soul…and a FABULOUS nightlife. The accommodations are right in the center of the city, with the famous Mahane Yehuda market just minutes away, and the Old City just down the street. I could not have chosen a better place to spend my three weeks in Israel.The hostel where I stayed was an experience in and of itself. The hostel had a great feel to it- very social, homey and relaxing. They offer tours from the hostel all over Israel at a discounted price. It’s a great way to explore the country in your spare time.
It would not have been possible without the help of Yan, the coordinator of the GoEco programs in Israel. He was so helpful and did everything he could to make our experience as memorable and worthwhile as possible. He also knows the best humus spots in town!Thank you to GoEco and the partners at the project. Volunteering in Israel at the Creating Safe Spaces for At-Risk Youth project was an unforgettable and beyond enjoyable learning experience that I will take with me throughout the rest of my life. If you have a chance to GO on a GoEco experience like this…then GO, you won’t regret it!