An educational week in Israel

In the end of March we traveled to Israel to participate in an educational week entitled “From Inclusion to Partnership”. For an international team of inclusion professionals, Israeli educators Eyal Bloch and Silvia Sztyglic organized plenty activities with academics and inclusion practitioners. Together with locally-based disabled activists, universities, kibutzes and NGOs, we looked for solutions and practices in which people with and without disabilities acted as partners, equally contributing to the process and sharing the responsibility.

We arrived to Tel Aviv on March 22, and headed straight to the Mofet Institute. The Mofet Institute is an educational facility where teachers and professors get additional training in pedagogy and teaching practice. There, our international team gathered for the first time: Kevin Spencer (the U.S.), the founder of the Healing Magic project; Thomas Kraus (Germany), the founder of the movement of worldwide congresses; Marc Aufrant (France), the deputy chairman of Association Valentin Hayu; representatives of the Sahajanand special school for children with disabilities in Kenya – principal Patrick Muzungu, teacher Jannett and head teacher John Barisa, and the chairman of the board Ibrahim Khamis ; Israeli disability activist Ioav Kraiem; WHITE CANE NGO representatives Oleg Kolpashchikov and Svetlana Borodina. During the first day, we presented our work to each other. Kevin told us about the healing power of magic and the outstanding effects of magic tricks in the process of children’s rehabilitation. Thomas narrated the history of the movement of worldwide congresses and called for the participation in the forthcoming First World Congress for persons with disabilities, which will take place on September 7-10, 2017 in Yekaterinburg. Marc and Oleg introduced the Sails of the Spirit project and talked about inclusive yachting and the changes it has triggered in the lives of the participants. Principal Muzungu introduced the team to his integrated school in Mombasa where children with different disabilities live and study together. Finally, Yoav Kraiem, Eyal Bloch and Silvia Sztyglic spoke about the course they have been teaching in Israel for the past several years. In this course, they always have an inclusive teaching team, whereby nondisabled teachers with an academic background collaborate with teachers with disabilities with an activist or practical background in preparing and leading the course. In each and every project presented, people with disabilities act as equal participants, organizers or leading members of the crew. We saw that this paradigm shift from taking care of people with disabilities toward working with them is already under way in different places in the world. Then, the question arises, what comes next? How should be improve this shift and make it better, more interesting and more productive? These questions guided us in the forthcoming days.

On day 2, March 23, we moved to Jerusalem and visited the integrated school Yad Hamoreh. There, children with and without autism study together. Both sides benefit from such a collaboration: their education process is markedly more customized and creative; everybody enjoys a diverse environment where difference is perceived as a resource; children learn how to divide and share responsibility among people of different capacities and talents. They have pet therapy classes together, integrated sports and athletics classes, math and arts classes. When someone needs some special work or a class, such as speech therapy, for example, they get it too in customized groups.

After an excursion around the school, we were invited to observe Kevin’s show for the children of the school. This was the time of pure magic. Kevin’s magic is not only in making pizza disappear and reappear, or making knots tie and untie on their own, but also in the eyes of his audience, in their laughter, engagement, and incredible interest. During and after the show, children, who walked into the room to see the show, looked like different people: smiling, laughing, trying to solve the trick, energized, motivated. Kevin’s passion and energy activated their interest and capacity to act, open up and participate. To show this kind of magic, Kevin will come to the Congress.

After the school, we transitioned to the David Yellin College of Education, to participate in the opening event of the exhibition of inclusive art. We were lucky to get a chance to speak with the curators, who shared with the team the nooks and crannies of the exhibition preparatory process. The exhibition was designed to be a show of inclusive, collaborative art pieces: artists with and without disabilities had been invited to work together, equally contributing to the piece’s value. “We have received many applications whereby creators did not know how to collaborate with each other: many artists with disabilities presented self-centered projects; artists without disabilities didn’t know how to engage with people with disabilities as equal participants. After all, we were looking for works the quality of which depended entirely on the encounter. It took us and them quite some time to figure out how to really work together.”   Among the art pieces presented at the exhibition, there were sculptures, dances, photographs, video-clips that came from all over the world. A series of art images from a performance of Verba, an inclusive theater from Yekaterinburg, was part of the exhibition.

For the day of Shabbat, we moved to Sderot, a town on the South, next to the Gaza sector. There, we watched documentaries about Mombasa’s special school and Kevin’s award-winning film on healing magic. Seeing faces of the schoolchildren and Kevin’s clients, learning about the skills they acquire through attending the school and practicing the magic tricks helped us better understand the power of inclusion, as it is done in Kenya and the US. Then, we met Gvanim, an association that works with people with disabilities to engage them in different sectors of urban social life. For instance, Gvanim lobbies the recruitment of people with mental disabilities into the army. Among their achievements is the recent recruitment of people with autism on the segment of image scrutiny: they analyze satellite imagery to detect abnormalities and suspicious activities. Gvanim also offers opportunities for people with disabilities to start an independent life, taking care of themselves, caring for their house and garden, participating in the community’s life, helping out in the city on social projects. All members of Gvanim do civil service and creative performances.

Friday night was the Shabbat night. The urban kibutz in Sderot kindly invited our team to join their celebration dinner. The community performed the ceremony and shared their food and ideas with us. People from the kibutz care for their own environment, they are taught to create their environment for and by themselves, to creatively care for it and to take responsibility for its changes. There are several common spaces in the kibutz, all of which are beautifully made and maintained by the community. From them, we learned how both people with and without disabilities invest themselves and their resources in making the world around you a home: a home where one enjoys to be and where one eagers to return.

Saturday was the day of reflection. Inside out team, we reflected on what we’d encountered so far: inclusive schools, inclusive courses of higher education, inclusive magic performances, inclusive sailing, inclusive art, inclusive communal living, inclusive army and civil service. What makes them powerful? What moves people who participate in these activities? What are the main principles and ideas that drive this paradigm shift? What do we learn from all this and how can we improve our own projects, make them stronger and brighter? Inclusive bainstorming bore its fruit: after an intensive discussion, we wrote down all ideas and intend to create an article out of it. Keep an eye on the announcements about it!

By the end of the Shabbat, we returned back to Jerusalem. The city was still very quiet: no running public transportation, nobody smoking, all shops shut. Our landlords even disconnected electricity in the apartment we rented: electricity should not be used during Shabbat, they said. Thus, we entered Sunday, the first working day of the week in Israel. For us, it was the first day when we could visit the historical part of the day. During our stroll around the Wailing Wall, the old City, the Jaffa Gate, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, by accident, we ran into a Blind Arab Association workshop. The owner welcomed us inside and showed us the working process: a few minutes of training and Oleg learned a new profession – brush making.

Then, we headed off to the David Yellin College, where Eyal and Silvia organized a class for teachers and disability activists. In front of the audience, our team presented our projects and addressed the questions from the audience; we spoke about the importance of sharing the responsibilities. The audience was full of people of different age, background, interests, abilities and cultures: 12-year-olds together with rehabilitation professionals, disability activists, mothers, students, NGO workers, professionals, educators, primary school teachers, special education specialists, to name a few.

The last activity of our week took us to the north from Jerusalem, to Nazareth, where we visited “AlManarah”, an association for arabs with disabilities. The head of AlManarah, Abbass Abbass welcomed us, shared his life-story and presented a wide spectrum of activities that AlManarah carries out in the region.

We left Israel saturated with new ideas and prospects of future collaborations. Out network of outstanding inclusion practitioners has expanded dramatically. We know for a fact that different cultural contexts enrich participants and feed creativity. In order to keep pushing our projects and activities forward, make them more interesting and vibrant, this team will gather again in September at the Congress in Yekaterinburg, and then, in April, we plan to convene in Mombasa, Kenya.

Svetlana Borodina