The Jewish Agency’s Project TEN is all about bringing Jewish young adults from around the globe to volunteer in communities in need of assistance. Taking its name from the Hebrew word for “give,” Project TEN stations these volunteers at sites all over the world.
That global approach to volunteering gives the program a multicultural flavor that offers participants a unique opportunity to build connections with people from different backgrounds.
But when it comes to helping communities in northern Israel, Project TEN doesn’t have to look very far to find multicultural opportunities. Since 2013, this program has partnered with the Sha'ar LaAdam - Bab Lilinsan organization to run a center for volunteers at Kibbutz Harduf in the Galilee, serving both nearby Bedouin villages and kibbutzniks with special needs.
Faiz Sawa'id, a resident of Sawa'id – a Bedouin village near the kibbutz – manages Project TEN’s site at Kibbutz Harduf, together with Naama Tzur of Sha'ar LaAdam - Bab Lilinsan. Together, they oversee the young volunteers’ experience, helping them learn about Israeli society as they build connections with both Jewish and Arab residents of the Galilee.
“This is a project that fosters multicultural interaction between young people from all over the world and both young and old people from Harduf, from [the nearby Bedouin communities of] Ka’abiyye and Beit Zarzir, and from other villages,” Faiz says. “Their encounters encompass great cultural differences, and that creates fascinating personal interactions – which the local Arab students enjoy, while the participants from abroad undergo a new experience that they would never have if they didn’t come here.”
A Global Flavor
In the past four years, around 150 volunteers from Project TEN have spent time on Kibbutz Harduf – coming from all over the world and for a variety of reasons.
For Alexandra Nigri, a 19-year-old psychology student from São Paulo, this is a chance to experience Israel while getting hands-on social work experience. “I wanted a combination of social work, being in nature, and doing a lot of work,” she says.
In addition to learning from the experience of volunteering, she has enjoyed the opportunity to meet fellow volunteers from all over the world.
“It’s important to me to meet people here, to make new connections,” she explains. “When you go outside your community, you go outside your comfort zone. And then you meet new challenges – and there are plenty of them here.”
Fellow participant Michael Symons came from London to volunteer in the Galilee, looking for a change of pace.
“I wanted to change my path in life a little bit. I felt like I was sleepwalking, and I was looking for more meaning in my life. This is an opportunity to work with people who need others, and that’s magical to me,” he explains. “In addition, meeting people from different countries enriches my life. It’s an enriching feeling to be with people from a different background, a different place – and we’re all learning from each other, from different sentiments and attitudes in life.”
Jordan Gill, a 20-year-old political science student from Sacramento, also came here for a temporary change. “[The opportunity] to be in the Harduf forest spoke to me, and it fit me, because I wanted a change even though I was in the middle of my studies,” he says. “Of course, I’ll go back to my studies at the end of the program with some life experience.”
Getting to Know Israel – by Giving Back
First and foremost, the volunteers at Kibbutz Harduf are there to contribute to those in need – to teach, give, and improve lives, both on the kibbutz and in nearby villages. In addition to their volunteer work, they attend seminars on ecology, theater, cooperation, and English-language education.
But they also gain much more along the way – not only a profound feeling of satisfaction, but hands-on experience in education and social work, as well as a unique look at Israeli society.
For Alexandra, volunteering in Israel made the experience especially meaningful. “I had come [to Israel] with my family on many occasions,” she says. “But to be independent, to be outside of my house, to travel alone, to come to Israel – it’s not like going to another country. Here, I have a role in the community: I participate in a program that provides assistance to Israeli society. I feel that I am contributing to Israeli society.”
Volunteering both with people who have special needs and with Bedouin children, Jordan uses his projects as opportunities to both teach and learn.
“I am very happy to work in [the Bedouin village of] Ka’abiyye, and the children are happy and want to learn English,” he says. “At Beit Elisha (for people with special needs), I work in the kitchen – and it’s the best place I could be. You’re needed there, in that framework, and you need to integrate, meet people, handle challenges. For example, I ask the chef to speak to me in Hebrew, so that I’ll be able to learn Hebrew better.”
While he is undoubtedly serving Israeli society, Jordan expresses more of a sense of meaning in the ways he helps children on an individual level.
“There is an option to work with at-risk children. And I work with a child and help him, like a big brother. I help him with his homework, and I help him learn English. I help him with his studies; we cook together; we play basketball,” he says. “I would rather have an impact on one person than on many. I know the kid pays attention to me and is influenced for the better.”
Looking Forward – and Looking Back
How will this volunteer experience affect the participants’ future paths? Project TEN is designed as a program lasting several months, with the expectation that participants will then return to their home communities.
But shortly after Alexandra, Michael, and Jordan were interviewed for this article, they went to the day’s communal dinner, cooked by a counselor of theirs from Project TEN.
“I was a participant in Project TEN, a person who was looking for himself,” he recalls. “Now, as a counselor, I know that I found some of the answers at TEN at Harduf. And I am confident that the young people who came here will feel wonderful at the end of their journey here, because they will be the agents of change in their own lives.”
This story was originally reported in Hebrew by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel and edited and translated by Daniel Temkin.