My name is Jessica and I have been a live in volunteer at the SACH House for the past week and half. I am currently participating in a program called Garin Tzabar, through which I made aliyah three months ago and have been living on a kibbutz in anticipation of my upcoming draft to the IDF. Before my time here at the Save a Child’s Heart Children’s Home as a live-in volunteer, I had learned about the organization and it’s mission from several friends and a short visit I paid with Tzabar. Pursuing a meaningful activity to fill the three week break I had before my draft date seemed like a nice idea and I decided to reach out to the SACH staff I had met during my first visit here.
The mindset I began with was that chessed – a venture of kindness – was a nice way to spend my free time. Having been so preoccupied with enlisting and all other aspects of life, I was all the more shocked to become entirely absorbed in the unique and breathtaking reality here. Much more than a nice way to spend my free time, the SACH house is a network of cultures and perspectives that overlap and intertwine in an effort to not only save the lives of the incredible children I have spent the past week with, but to ensure that they are heard.
The first day I froze on the side, hoping someone would help me navigate this body that seemed to function perfectly without me. I immediately found my role was drastically different from what it had been when I’d worked with kids in the past, mainly as a camp counselor. In that capacity, I had struggled to embody both friend and authority figure. I built relationships on the basis that my campers would care to listen to me, whereas in the SACH house, I find the staff constantly reinforcing to the children how much we care to listen to them.
One day I sat with Rachel – SACH’s child life specialist – in her office, sorting several nameless papers covered in colorful scribbles. She looked almost sad when we resolved to throw them away. Watching the kids color later that day, I considered art as a form of communication. Betemaryam, a nine year old boy from Ethiopia, sat next to me drawing a car, excited he could say and spell the word in English. I found the more I paid attention, the more he was trying to say. If you are going to hang out with kids all day, you have to care to listen.
Over my first few days, I worked to be attentive and to take the children seriously, and quickly found how rewarding this was. The kids taught me the Amharic alphabet, and repeated to me the numbers one through ten until I could say them back. What excites me about learning words in Amharic isn’t the prospect of one day becoming fluent, but the magic of the kids when they teach. A part time volunteer asked me several of the children’s names, and I surprised myself with my easy answers. “You’re so good with names”, she told me, and I laughed because I am absolutely awful with names. I’m also awful with language, but I am compelled to make a sincere effort with each child. Considering the language barrier, identity and culture are vital components in the dialogue we’re building.
Fascinated as I have become with the house, I am compelled to develop this dialogue further. As I write this blog post I am sadly aware that tomorrow is my last day here, and I remember my first visit to the house. Though I didn’t yet understand how it worked, I was inspired by the notion that kindness is a universal language, independent of religion, ethnicity or politics. I’ve discovered here a method of Tikkun Olam that is founded in communication, and I hope to remain involved and ready to listen.