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מרכז לקהילה האפריקאית בירושלים

Shalom First Grade!

We're used to hearing about asylum seekers in a negative light. If we believe that they have no place in Israel, and even perceive their presence in Israel as a danger, naturally we'll buy in to stories of violence (in spite the fact that this population is no more violent than the general Israeli population).

On the other hand, if we truly believed in refuges' rights, our attention would turn to the violation of more and more of their rights by the state.

In my efforts to be active in injecting a little more positivity in the lives of the people in the society in which I live, I would like to broaden the scope of observation, and to share something of my personal experience - a story you won’t see in the headlines, but nevertheless might change the lives of those involved for the better.

Moreover, I believe that the more we’re accustomed to hearing and encountering positive human stories, we'll be able to develop a little more hope and faith regarding the complicated situation of the Israeli society, and focus on the positive.

This is now the third year I've been taking part in the wonderful project "Shalom First Grade". The project started immediately after my return from India, but I couldn’t miss it, and it required some acrobatics to pull off.

The project prepares kids from the community of African asylum-seekers in Jerusalem who are going into first grade. The children along with their parents, receive extensive support in a variety of aspects related to the transition to school. There are wonderful men and women who are dedicated to creating a smooth integration of these kids into the Israeli school system, both socially and academically.

My modest contribution to the project was the operation of a preparatory group for first grade, focusing on first acquaintance with the school's characteristics, providing skills to organize and use school supplies, getting the kids used to writing and working with a notebook, and more.

This year, one of the girls was surprised by the fact that there are older children in the school, and in the middle of the meeting stood on a chair in order to illustrate how tall they are. Another girl discovered that even though she didn’t think she knew how to write the letter A (which is part of her name), she actually ccould.

My favorite part is, after all these adorable interactions which I love endlessly, is seeing these boys and girls with their backpacks going to or returning from school when I take the bus or pass through Nachlaot neighborhood. During the first weeks some still remember me and share their first grade experiences with me.

But also once they forget, I still remember some of their names, but definitely all of their faces, their families and little siblings which might participate too in the project next year.

The unfamiliarity and distance are reduced, and together we share a common life that sometimes extends beyond an accidental meeting in the street (for example, Noam and I hosted a group of children in our yard after we met them in the neighborhood and offered them a vegan chocolate mousse!).

And once again, as in the past, I am able to see how familiarity and personal connections dissolve the differences that we think exist between us and others, and enable closeness and connection.

I hope that through these words I can expand this experience also beyond myself.

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