28 March 2008 Distance learning overcomes disabled students isolation ORT Virtual School, a distance learning project funded by ORT Zurich, two British brothers and ORT Netherlands, is helping to integrate disabled people in Moscow and Minsk into the Jewish community. The lives of dozens of disabled youngsters is being brightened by the pilot project which brings interactive lessons on Jewish history, literature, ethics and traditions as well as Hebrew straight into their homes. Thanks to the financial backing of ORT Zurich, Edward and Jeremy Lawson and ORT Netherlands and the infrastructural support provided by the Moscow Department of Education teachers and project managers have upgraded their skills to encompass technical editing, the design of e-textbooks, and the placement of instructional material on the i-School system. World ORT Representative in Russia, Belarus and Central Asia, Avi Ganon, said the educational programme was benefiting the students in a number of ways. These are young people who, because of their disabilities, spend a lot of time at home, cut off from the rest of the community, Mr Ganon said. The ORT Virtual School breaks through this isolation; it allows the students to explore their heritage in many instances for the first time. And as part of the programme we also have active participation in events that allow the students parents and friends to participate. For example, we had 200 children and parents involved in last years Chanukah celebration, which itself was the climax of weeks of on-line learning about the festival. This is a pilot programme and if we had more money we would be able to extend it to more children. Natasha Kameneva, who teaches Jewish ethics and traditions, said that opening the youngsters up to Jewish paths of spirituality helped them cope with their conditions. The study of Torah gives them additional energy and power to fight their ailment or help come to terms with it, Ms Kameneva said. Jewish tradition will tell them about the power of prayer and about commandments which, when followed, really change a persons life. This course is the most precious medicine for these kids. Teacher of Jewish history, Arthur Clempert, said the ORT Virtual School made learning about history effective and enjoyable for the students. Jewish history is a very difficult subject to study on ones own using the Internet and it is especially difficult for children with disabilities, Mr Clempert said. The creation and implementation of distance education courses for children with disabilities means we are doing our duty for those who find themselves in isolation from other children, as well as from their own national history and religious traditions. And Elena Slonim, who teaches Jewish literature, said the courses had the potential to touch the students on a deeply emotional level. The reading of a piece of literature which mirrors the national culture can enable the child to better understand, and feel, his or her connection to the Jewish nation. Internet resources and the i-School help children with disabilities to expand their view of the world through the images and characters created by the best authors of Jewish literature. ORT Zurich Deputy President Jacqueline Rothschild said: We know that there is a lot of need in Moscow and Minsk and we feel very confident that this project has a lot of potential to meet those needs. Certainly, the project is very helpful and should be supported. Edward and Jeremy Lawson visited Moscow in 2006 with their parents, the Hon Carole and Geoffrey Lawson, and saw in action various projects funded by their family. A major beneficiary of the Carole and Geoffrey Lawson Foundation is the Jack Lawson Vocational Training Centre (VTC), which was set up at the Moscow ORT Technology School in 2001. By 2006, more than 10,000 people had graduated from the VTCs courses in Information and Communication Technology and Jewish Studies. ORT Netherlands Chairman Robbert Baruch said the ORT Virtual School was a worthy opportunity for his organisation to punch above its weight. It goes without saying that it is very important that these young people are helped, Mr Baruch said. And this project allows us, with our relatively limited funds, to really make a difference. And thats what ORT is all about making a difference. World ORT Director General Robert Singer said the range of international backing for the project was a characteristic strength of ORT. As an international organisation we are able to bring the needs of individuals and communities to the attention of tens of thousands of supporters around the world. The many strands of our organisation together form a strong rope that lifts the underprivileged into a better future, Mr Singer said. Its also encouraging to see a philanthropic commitment to Jewish education being passed on from generation to generation, the Lawson family being a fine example.