World ORT is pleased to report that, despite the worsening economic situation in Argentina, ORT Argentina was able to open doors to the 6,000 students who study in its two high schools and two colleges. But the ORT schools in Argentina are in jeopardy and remain at high risk of closing if the $6 million deficit that the schools have accumulated is not dramatically reduced. If debt is not cleared, in three months, the schools will be forced to close. World ORT International Liaison Head Sonia Gomes de Mesquita recently joined with the UJC, the largest and most influential body of North American Jewish leaders, on a their fact-finding mission to Argentinathe first time an ORT representative has joined such a mission. ORT layleader, Alan Miller addressing UJC committee and mission participants Photo: Robert A. Cumins, UJC Delegates spent a morning with students at an ORT school where, in an emotional appeal to mission participants, sixteen-year old Andres Knobel spoke of his concern about what might happen if his school does not receive enough scholarship funding this year. He told delegates that because of the current crisis, transportation strikes occur frequently, which makes it virtually impossible for children to get to school. One strike day, Andres, a chemistry student, managed to make it in for his first class. When he arrived, what he saw disturbed him. When I got to school, only about 15 kids made it to school. Ill never forget how depressing and sad that was. My school has more than 2000 students everyday. So you may imagine what break time, or lunch times, are likealways full of students, he told the mission participants. Looking at my school virtually empty was really terrible and scary for me. Fortunately, that happened only because of a strike, but with the current crisis, that could actually occur. We really need help, as we are facing a dreadful social and economic situation. Theres no point in having such a wonderful school if there wont be any students in it. Although the current crisis has severely reduced the schools budgets, ORT is determined to keeping them open. ORT Argentina students – April 02 Photo: Robert A. Cumins, UJC ORT is committed to supporting its staff and students and assisting the community in coping with the current crisis situation. The education ORT provides is the only chance many will have of maximising their prospects for employment and breaking the downward spiral into poverty, said Robert Singer, Director General of World ORT. Of the total Jewish high school population in and around Buenos Aires, 80 percent attend an ORT school. ORTs technical high schools and colleges are among the best schools in the country. They offer an excellent level of education and grounding in Jewish tradition and values, helping to ensure that Jewish youth remain active and productive members of their community. ORT Argentinas high school students are ranked as the best in the country and 100 percent of graduates are accepted to university. If the schools in Argentina are forced to close, ORT students will have to attend public schools, where the academic level is not as high and Jewish education is nonexistent, leaving the students at risk of being lost as members of the Jewish community. In an ironic sign of how bad the economic situation of Argentine Jewry has become, ORT Argentina has accepted a $25,000 cheque from its struggling counterpart in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). ‘The Jewish community of Russia is helping the Jewish community of Argentina,’ said Director General of the World ORT Robert Singer. ‘It’s symbolic that one of our organisations who is a regular recipient of our fundraising campaigns is now helping one of our traditionally wealthier organisations.’ While many families are not able to pay for their medical services, ORTs medical service provides annual check-ups for students and medication when needed. There is also a psychological department, where students can talk to a trained professional about the stress the situation around them creates. Tutoring is also provided with special attention given to those who have special needs. The ever-increasing economic problems in Argentina are causing great hardship to millions of people, not least among members of Argentinas Jewish communities. Our ORT schools there are meeting this challenge by continuing to provide education and training and other services to those who need it, said Mauricio Merikanskas, Chairman of the World ORT Board of Directors. Teaching IT skills to ORT Argentina students Photo: Robert A. Cumins, UJC The economic and financial misfortune has strengthened solidarity amongst the Jewish community in Argentina. ORT Argentina students are aware of the importance of their solidarity, and they offer their time and skills with great generosity. Students are urged to join solidarity programmes to help less fortunate people. The students volunteer to paint orphanages and homes for senior citizens, organise collections of clothes, medicine, food and train parents in the use of computers. The school has special groups where students help classmates or younger children with their studies. The school is normally open from early in the morning to almost midnight, and students are allowed to use the equipment under the supervision of a teacher or supervisor. While the future remains uncertain, ORT Argentina remains proactive in ensuring that their students receive the highest level of education possible, so that one day its students will be part of the solution to reverse the cycle of unemployment that has contributed to the current crisis.