NITZANA, ISRAEL -- The Jewish Agency's Educational Eco-Village in the Negev Desert is also home to 50 refugee teenagers from Eritrea. The Nitzana school and boarding facility, Tikkun Olam, operates with its own educational team, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. Recently, some of the teens, as part of an arts group, completed a moving project – a mural at the eco-village.
"The idea of this wall is to help the boarding school students create and care for the environment in which they live," said Bar Rappaport, the art group teacher.
"We wanted the boys to add anything they felt like – that's why there is a wide array of ideas from a flower and a soccer ball to a flying donkey," according to Rappaport, who added that many of the refugee teens at Nitzana enjoy arts as a therapy, with an array of creative outlets - from painting this wall, to sculpting.
"We started meeting once a week after school hours, and at first, only a couple of boys joined while none of them came regularly," said Noa Karchi, a supplementary group instructor.
"Slowly it became something special and touching," Karchi added. Originally from the village of Amikam in Northern Israel, Karchi is currently completing a year of service at Nitzana before heading to the army. "The art group was a place for the boys to meet, to laugh and joke and to enjoy their pastime outside of school," she pointed out.
While Karchi will soon be wearing her IDF uniform, she will be leaving Nitzana with a kit full of new social assistance tools and techniques, and marveled over her experiences at Nitzana. "People here are idealistic and exceptional, but what surprised me most was that I had the freedom and encouragement to found my own social activism projects and pursue what interested me," Karchi said, and added that, "One can really do great things here like teaching, and making real changes on ground."
The art group is extremely important to Yair Amir, Director of the Nitzana boarding school and Tikkun Olam for Unsupervised Teenagers Seeking Refuge: "This is the way to reach out to the boys who have suffered immensely. We provide for them on the humanitarian level, emphasizing tolerance, mutual understanding, and respect regardless of religion, nationality or background. In addition, providing informal educational activities like soccer games, bike rides, trips to Eilat – are experiences that help them reclaim their childhood and be boys again.
"Projects like this mural aid in tending to the deep wounds in their souls, which is just as important as the scholastic programs they are provided here," Amir said.