Volunteering at Unitaf

February 28, 2014

Yael Levy, a volunteer at Unitaf, relates:

"I encountered Unitaf as a 'student volunteer.' The proposal to volunteer in a preschool for children of refugees and foreign workers intrigued me, because these were children and there isn't anything better or simpler than that.

Without a clear objective and without asking myself what I really knew about the population of foreign workers and refugees in Tel Aviv, I came to the Unitaf day care center in Tel Aviv's central station on the fifth floor. If I didn't run away then, apparently it was because curiosity and good intentions were there in full force, overcoming everything else! I went inside and tried to communicate and experience an hour of movement and music with them.

I met 40 children, mostly from African nations and the Philippines, from one and a half year olds to three year olds, with African teachers and caregivers. I still didn't completely understand how to communicate, who they were, what the expectations were and whether there were any expectations at all. With minimal information, I entered their world and whatever would be, would be.

That's how my adventure began, which was sometimes like groping in the dark or like trial and error. At times, I had the energy and ambition to continue doing things and at other times, I was totally off the mark.

Then I began to look and listen to what was going on around me. Immediately, I understood that even communicating in basic English, I could make contact and establish a world of expectations based on trust. I understood that the staff and in a certain sense, also the children, expected me to come with something new, something interesting, a kind of break for the staff and renewal for the children. Control was in my hands. This control was both welcome and a curse! Then I began experimenting…paths of hoops, scarves, Israeli holidays – that worked less – a ball for each child – total chaos! On the other hand, a game with a ball, music, movement, songs, animals, and surprisingly one story, and another story, and another story!!! It worked or didn't work, so I was more or less on target and from there, it was only a matter of dedication and falling in love.

Together with all this love, I found myself exposed to the reality outside the childcare setting. After all, it was not a utopian bubble, immune from everything else. Cracks from reality infiltrated and colored it in shades of the cold truth. A truth of deportation, persecution, a life of survival, pain, poverty, neglect, avoidance, and humiliation. Nevertheless, I found entire stores of hope in this place, and of leadership, initiative, and wonderful creativity that had produced an entire world for children using limited means.

I can summarize by saying that the pure and not ingratiating contact with the children, the hugs, the intimacy, the gesture of a smile and a kiss – all of these small things made my time at Unitaf very meaningful for me.

Thank you."

 

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* Photography credit - Hofit Rauchberger