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Uncovering “Promise” in Diversity

May 14, 2018

Sunday, 6 May 2018 was an exciting and very informative day for the MASHAV- Youth at-Risk training participants. We had the opportunity to discuss cultural competence and also to visit a Youth Village where such competence is put into practice. We had the theory and the practice all in one day!!

“Human potential is endless. A person can make a 360⁰ change in his/her life. Whatever we observe now…. [trauma, negative experiences, disadvantages] people can close gaps with the proper motivation and programs”-Dr. Malka Shabtay

In today’s session we met a passionate, knowledgeable and well-traveled applied anthropologist from Israel. Dr. Shabtay inspired us to look at cultural competence through a different lens. She brought the individual, the service providers and the policies that impact on human behavior into the room in ways that were captivating and enriching.

Racism, ethnocentrism and many other negative “isms” exist in our societies and may have a detrimental impact if not dealt with appropriately. As professionals in the social sciences and education fields we realize that all people in need ought to be helped despite whatever it is that makes them different from us who are in a “better” place then them. It is vital, therefore that we learn, develop and acquire the necessary cross-cultural skills. The well renowned philosopher Plato stated, “Ignorance is the root and stem of all evil”. Our own beliefs, prejudices, norms and values may very well be the very same risk factors that put others, especially the young people we work with, at risk. It was jarring to realize that our society can use the so-called professional tools to disadvantage other groups to suit our needs for power and superiority.

The various participants of the “Educational Methodologies for Youth At-Risk” training group of 2018 can serve as a most practical example of how it feels to be surrounded by multi-culturalism. We have an opportunity to interact with people from diverse cultures from around the world with the commonality being our work with young people. For us to co-exist successfully as a group we needed to be aware of and embrace each other’s culture, religious beliefs, geographical contexts and linguistic context. These and more are what Dr. Shabtay referred to as intersectionality (the multifaceted, multi-level impact of culture).

Visit to Kiriat Yearim

Off in the bus we traveled to Abu Ghosh, about 30 minutes’ drive from Ramat Rachel hotel. Here we met another passionate and experienced professional, Mr. Manuel Sinai the director of the Kiriat Yearim Youth Village. He remarked that a child’s place is in the home with his/her family, however, just as an ill person needs a good doctor children that are not able to live in their home for one or the other reason should be able to access the best services and therefore that is the purpose of the Youth Village.

The Youth Village is made into a home away from home and the programs are personalized to suit individual needs. The beauty of the Youth Village is that it caters for a multi-cultural population of children from diverse Israeli communities and countries of origin. The staff also reflect this diversity in terms of culture and professions. We found it fascinating that although the young people are cared for in the Youth Village the bonds of their family of origin are maintained and even encouraged.

We had the opportunity to observe and experience one form of the therapeutic interventions available for the young people which is animal-assisted therapy. It was impressive to hear from the young people how they enjoy this form of therapy and how it inspires them to think of a future in the veterinary sciences for example. Also, the interaction with the animals and the director of the petting zoo seems to have a positive impact on the young people as we could observe genuine affection and a warm relationship between them. For us as participants the environment was fun and relaxing; imagine what it can do for a frustrated young person who is faced with challenges. The vegetable garden where the young people grow spices and other greens (that they can take home too) showed how the academic program, the therapeutic, non-academic activities and the social programs can be applied as intervention for young people who are in need of assistance. The home and community feel at Kiriat Yearim with its well-tended gardens seems to be a healing space all on its own.

These methods were found to be suitable to be applied in our own local contexts provided it is thoroughly planned for and backed up by committed and devoted professionals.

By Tula Ram Bishwas, Nepal; Nathalie Malvina, Seychelles and Christel Menette, Namibia