Article by Kate Hertz, Development Intern
Nearly 1 out of every 3 children in Israel live below the poverty line. For these children, childhood is plagued with stress at home and in school. JOIN Day Camp offers an escape and a space for kids to just be kids.
“We go to the park and play, we hold competitions, we make art and pictures, we’ve had a magician, lots of different types of activities and they are also learning,” Blumi, a counselor at the Beit Shemesh JOIN Day Camp said. “The children have the opportunity to explore themselves and learn from each other.”
Typically, JOIN Israel annually subsidizes 600 children to 3-week day camps. This year the financial pressure was so rampant that they subsidized 16 camps to make them affordable for 1800 children.
“The majority of immigrant children in Israel live below the poverty line. Their parents struggle to make a living, leaving their children unsupervised for long periods of the day. In the summer, when schools are closed, JOIN’s Camp Program gives these children a daily sense of belonging in a warm and nurturing environment,” Mrs. Hominer, a school principal in Rechovot related.
JOIN Day Camp allows the children to experience the fun and nurturing environment of summer camp, rather than having a long, empty summer while their parents are at work. With an hour of learning each day, the campers are also gaining a lot, perhaps even more than they might realize.
“We have kids from a lot of places, we have from Russia, Ethiopia, France… I think it’s very good for them to be together because they learn to respect each other,” Blumi said. “They realize that there are all types of people and that the shade of the skin is not what matters. They come to see that they really aren’t that different, and they learn to respect each other.”
The stress of poverty that these children endure can have a lasting effect, and a summer filled with nothing to do can only further damage their well beings. We have heard countless stories of children left alone for hours without food or even lost in the streets while their parents are tirelessly working to make a living. With school out of session, JOIN Day Camp provides crucial summer engagement, keeping parents at work and creating a safe space for children to learn, play and grow.
“There was one little girl who was very very quiet, she almost didn’t speak, and I never saw her smiling or laughing. One day at camp I saw her laughing and speaking, she looked very happy, and she now felt comfortable and safe. Camp made her happy and laughing,” Blumi said.
These success stories are seen nearly every day in a child’s smile when they meet a new friend, in their laughter when participating in an activity they’ve never tried before, or in the excitement they feel when they get to return each day and feel a sense of belonging.
“At camp they have friends, they are loved, they feel good about themselves, they feel smart, and they want to learn, and then they succeed,” Blumi said. “The camp is so important because the children need to relax and have time to just have fun, not all the time to be in structured learning or worrying at home.”
Counselors like Blumi are a critical part of these camps, as they are the ones working each day to provide a memorable and exciting summer for children who may have otherwise been left completely without childcare.
“Many families can’t afford [camp] so JOIN Israel helps make it affordable for them. It’s very important that donors support JOIN’s camping for there to be day camp… No one is making money from it, we do it for the children,” Blumi said. “They are just kids, they are children… the camps are so important, and it’s really because of JOIN Israel’s supporters.”