19 August 2009 Israeli students in greater need World ORT is distributing more than 570,000 shekels-worth of aid this week to some of the poorest high school students in Israel but donations to the Students at Risk programme are down while the needs of children have increased. The money has been used to buy vouchers which recipients can exchange for text books, sports shoes, uniforms, stationery and calculators and other equipment at major high street retail chains, who have leveraged the value of the vouchers by an average 20 per cent. Principals are grateful for the support, stressing the psychological boost that poor students enjoy by being able to start the academic year on an equal footing with their more affluent classmates. But with official figures showing 28 per cent of Israeli citizens 1.6 million people, including 600,000 children living in poverty and the situation worsening because of the recession, principals of schools participating in Kadima Mada are pleading with World ORTs supporters to make sacrifices, if necessary, to help those who are seriously disadvantaged. More and more Israeli families have trouble affording clothes, text books and other basics for their children. Moshe Turpaz, Principal at Shaked Eliyahu High School in Beit Shean, said: I am sorry to say that there is even more need amongst our students this year than last year. More families are finding it hard to buy these basic necessities because of increased unemployment and reduced welfare support. And school budgets are lower so we cant help everyone who needs it. The recession is everywhere but I think there are still many of us who are able to make a little cut in our lifestyle and give that money to those who need it more. We could ask ourselves, do we really need a new car or to take that extra vacation Cars and vacations come and go but to make one of these desperate students start the year with a smile is such a great blessing to the giver and to the whole world. Its the best thing you can do in life. Its what I tell my students: by giving you get more than you give. World ORT Representative in Israel Rony Kalinsky said the budget for this years Students at Risk project had to be cut because of the drop in donations. We had to decide whether to reduce the number of schools receiving the vouchers or reduce the value of vouchers for each of the schools, Mr Kalinsky said. In the end we opted for the latter because we know that the schools on the list serve communities which have been hit particularly hard by the recession. He added: This is the first time that we have ever had to cut a project budget. This is an alarm bell for us all. We know that the situation is difficult for our friends in America and other countries but they must know that the situation is much tougher in the peripheral regions of Israel. I hope that our friends appreciate the problem and do all they can to support our students at risk. The vouchers are being distributed to 18 schools participating in World ORTs Kadima Mada (Science Journey) programme this week so that recipients can collect them discretely and use them in time for the opening of the new school year next month. Between 60 and 180 children at each school are eligible for assistance. It is quite common for teenagers to work after school to make the money they need to buy basic necessities, said Eti Zabari, Principal of the Kfar HaNoar Hadati Educational Village at Kfar Hasidim. Obviously we would rather they be studying than serving in a coffee shop. These vouchers will take pressure off them to have to work for the clothes and other things they need for school. Ms Zabari said her school, half of whose 510 students live on campus mostly because their families are unable to care for them for financial or other reasons, was due to introduce a uniform in order to reduce the feelings of inadequacy many children feel because of the paucity of their clothes. But the problem we have is that the very families we are trying to help now have to buy new clothes for the uniform. They just do not have the money so these vouchers will be a great help, she said. She agreed with Mr Turpaz that the situation had deteriorated since last year. In Israel, the poor have become poorer, she said. It is up to all of us to give these kids the opportunity to learn normally. By giving money we can give them the time and the self-confidence to focus on their schoolwork like normal children like our own children. I ask everyone to please try to give as much as you can. People should not be fooled by the mundane nature of the goods which the vouchers buy, said Mr Turpaz. It is psychologically very difficult for a child to be in a situation where he does not have basic things like a decent shirt or presentable shoes or books or pens while those around him do, he said. These vouchers give students self-confidence because no-one knows that they have received them. They can start the year with a smile, with pride and a sense of commitment to the goal of education. In addition, the vouchers can have dramatic ramifications for needy families, who may otherwise face impossible choices between buying school materials or food. For example, at my school there is a family with four children in grades 7 to 12, Mr Turpaz said. The father lost his full time job; his wife is working hard but for very low pay. Buying books and shoes for four children amounts to hundreds of shekels that this family simply does not have.