Harmatz Awards 2021: Combining Innovation and Dedication to Help Others


A vibrating walking cane, providing internet access, and care packages for abandoned animals were among the projects which saw ORT students celebrated for their efforts to make the world a better place.

The annual World ORT Gina and Joseph Harmatz Award for Social Responsibility highlights the positivity of social action and responsibility, bringing together many of our core values: Tikkun Olam, teamwork, a sense of belonging, forward-thinking attitudes and problem-solving skills.

An innovative electronic cane which improves the mobility of blind people and helps them to avoid accidents and collisions with obstacles, was one of the winning projects. Students from Escola de Tecnologia ORT in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, constructed a prototype using cheap materials, making the cane more accessible for the population and keeping the weight similar to that of a standard cane.

The walking stick uses three sensors that emit ultrasonic waves reflecting in a microcontroller to recognize obstruction near and below the obstacle. When detecting an obstacle within a radius of 50cm or less, the cane vibrates. The user can choose the alarm as a vibration or as a buzzer. The gadget (shown above right) was created by Eduardo Luiz Ferreira de Souza Barreiro and Thiago de Alvarenga Paes Balaciano.

As South Africa went into a three-month Covid lockdown, students from the Herzlia High School in Cape Town created an initiative to help peers in underprivileged communities gain greater access to the internet.

The project raised money for routers and data – eventually collecting around $8,500 to purchase routers, SIM cards and 30GB of data a month to enable more than 100 students at another school to have online access.

Herzlia project managers Sarah Katz and Bianca Curitz said: “By empowering these students with access to resources that they would still need to harness themselves, our students showed that they believed in them and their ability to succeed. This type of support creates a virtuous cycle in which the students could make use of their online accessibility to prepare for their final examinations as best possible.”

Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO, said: “Teams are rewarded for their initiative and self-motivation, the time committed to the project and the impact of their work.

“What we have seen from our students worldwide this year has been very moving – during such a challenging period, they have set aside their own concerns and challenges and worked with dedication to help others.

“The innovation needed to create these projects has been remarkable, and to see our young people going to such great lengths to make a difference in the world is truly uplifting. The whole network is proud of them, and I congratulate all those who took part.”

In Moscow, students from ORT Technology School #1540 were recognized for their animal welfare project. Pandemic restrictions have had a serious effect on Russia’s charity sector and animal shelters.

Students with food collected for the animal shelters

Led by Alexander Kott, Elizaveta Khenkina, Mira Yartseva and Zoya Bakhmutskaia, in just one month the pilot project gathered toys and over 200 kilos of food to be donated to a local dog shelter. The school’s Volunteer Club additionally plans to hold extracurricular activities and Animal Rescue Days.

Participating student Liza said: “It’s the first time I’ve taken part in such a serious project. When we came to the shelter, I couldn’t believe that everything had worked out and we had really done it. We became friends with the dogs, walked them and played with them. I saw what their living conditions were and realized that we should help them. I am looking forward to our next visit there.”

One group of Brazilian ORT students created an app which reduces the need for sick people to visit hospitals during the pandemic – allowing them to continue accessing health services without facing overcrowding and exposing themselves to the risk of Covid.

The “We Care” app provides verified information about Covid care, triages for everyday problems such as headache or backache, and first aid guides.

In Mexico City, students helped the homeless and others who need assistance, through the collection and donation of sweatshirts and coats.

“The Origins” project, also from ORT “Tekhiya” in Moscow, preserved the stories of Russian families during the Holocaust, researching facts, witness testimonies and photos to create exhibits for the school museum, performances and visits to sites of historical interest.

Anna, a student who worked on the project, said: “I was very interested to learn the stories of my classmates’ families and help them find lost information. It gave me the opportunity to learn the history of my family.”

Prizes in the competition are awarded in memory of the late Gina and Joseph Harmatz, who played pivotal roles in ORT’s history. Joseph Harmatz was Director General and CEO of World ORT in the 1980s and 1990s. He was a partisan who was regarded as a hero of Lithuania’s resistance movement against the Nazis. Gina Harmatz escaped Nazi persecution in western Europe in the 1930s and 1940s before settling in Israel. She was renowned for her graciousness and the importance she placed on family relationships, and concern for the welfare of others.