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מרכז לקהילה האפריקאית בירושלים

Tell a Story and Change the World

"The first meeting with students from Eritrea and Sudan, I got mad because I thought they were drunk or stoned. They wouldn’t make eye contact, wouldn’t talk, they were just distracted”. She was coming from far away, waking up early to meet these people that wouldn’t invest what it takes to learn. Later on, she learned that she was wrong, they weren’t drunk, they were manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tamar Verete is a teacher who works in the David Yellin College for Education, among other things.

Six years ago, she started volunteering with asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan in Jerusalem, when JACC wasn’t yet JACC.

In an attempt to teach them the language, she started working with their personal stories, in order to engage them speak and use Hebrew, and to help them express with their heart in a deeper level.

At first, Eritreans and Sudanese would sit separately with no interaction between each other. After some time, they began to sit together and talk.

She started to see that where there is trauma, continuity is broken. If we imagine a chronological line of their lives, in the past they would expect their present to repeat the next day, with continuity. But this stops suddenly when a traumatic event brings chaos to their lives. So the line of continuity and expectance is interrupted, making it difficult to recall anymore the happy moments they experienced before chaos ant the bright memories do not seem to exist anymore.

But Tamar's teaching technique was inspiring. She and her students would build texts collectively from their own memories. Once trust was established within the group, the memories they shared were more intimate and deeper.

Every meeting had a topic. Tamar happily recalls that one topic of the meeting coincided with Chanuka, thus miracles. They talked about miracles and every one of them told a miracle that happened to him or her. When does a miracle happen? When the distress you are experiencing is the trigger to survive. She adds that the miracle itself within the group was that it fed itself with trust and creativity. It didn’t have an external agenda or fixed program. It just happened naturally.

She would go to the meetings and propose them two types of stories: a story from their childhood and a story that is empowering. Without even knowing, she was boosting positivity in their souls that would help them bridge the line of continuity in their lives, overcoming the post-traumatic symptoms.

Tamar looked at me in the eyes and said:

"I'm an activist, so it is my job to have a social impact from the educative process. That's why I published their stories, I'm a children's writer so besides using the texts to study within the course, I decided that everybody should know about the process these people were going through. Advocacy implies bringing a concrete outcome out of the specific change we are generating. Also for them. They need to know this is meaningful. It raises them and it returns them their lost value."

The testimony is still alive, not only in the stories written and drawn in the book she achieved to publish, but in the workshops she teaches with Israeli children and adults.

The special element of this process is the double impact it has, causing the circle to close up in itself. Not only by using language to overcome trauma in a creative way, but to teach this experience to the Israeli society. According to Tamar, “The summit for me is a child changing his opinion after meeting a refugee.”

She narrates that one time, they finished delivering a workshop and a child said that he felt pity for those who make refugees feel bad.

The book that compiles these stories is called “Mulo Batzgai” and the money raised from it is given to different communities and enables more miracles to happen.

Photos from Tamar's exhibition on the creation of her book:

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