A group of Israeli students have described how a trip to meet peers in Mexico provided an opportunity for rest and rehabilitation after the trauma of the October 7 attacks.
The cultural exchange gave the 10 Israelis a chance to meet students from Colegio Olamí ORT, in Mexico City, and to learn about their country and culture.
The Israeli students, aged 15 to 18, came from World ORT Kadima Mada schools and projects throughout Israel, including from the Kfar Silver Youth Village, from Siach school, Rabin school in Kiryat Yam, and from the Ein Gedi boarding school.
All participants have experienced different types of trauma since October 7. The group included students who lost family members, parents, siblings and close friends, and one student who had previously left Ukraine because of the war in that country, only to move to Israel and be faced once again with conflict.
The trip’s schedule was designed to meet the needs of the students and included rehabilitation sessions as individuals and as a group. The team of consultants, social workers, and psychologists behind the trip was led by Dr. Moshe Leiba, World ORT Kadima Mada’s Chief Pedagogy and R&D Officer.
Olamí ORT families hosted them for the two-week duration of the visit and ensured each child had a warm welcome.
Each student had a different experience in Mexico City – visiting the Modern Art Museum, attending street parties, eating in typical restaurants, visiting the Xochimilco canals – the last remnants of a vast water transport system built by the Aztecs – and the pyramids of Teotihuacán.
The group had a four-day trip to Huateca Potosina, an incredible resort with waterfalls, rappelling and canoes. They had the opportunity to join local indigenous people, building and cleaning their houses as part of a Tikkun Olam project.
Staff member Esti Diamant, head counsellor from Kfar Silver, and Amelie Esquenazi, the World ORT representative for Latin America, had the opportunity to learn and discuss critical contemporary educational topics relating to Israel and the Diaspora.
Emily, a 17-year-old student from Kfar Silver, was hosted by the family of Galia Capon, 17 years old, from Olami ORT, who shared their experience.
Emily said: “I had so much fun getting to know the Mexican culture, to travel to Mexico City, to go with the family on their annual trip, to see nature and to breathe some clean air.”
Galia said: “I was so grateful to have Emily with us because I was very traumatized by October 7. We wanted to do something good to help Israel from here in Mexico. She’s now like my sister. Emily knows that she has a home here, and whenever she wants it, she can come and stay here and be with us.”
The trip was also a healing opportunity for the professionals. Dr. Leiba accompanied the students and said: “These two weeks were one of the most powerful experiences in my life: we laughed, cried, remembered, talked, planned.
“I connected deeply with the students in different aspects; they connected to me and each other. I came back exhausted physically and emotionally but with powerful, exciting, and fulfilling experiences for the coming period. The experience taught me a lot about resilience.”
The Mexican students had the opportunity to hear directly from the Israelis about their experiences since October 7 during a special panel session. Each child had a story to tell that was difficult to comprehend. The Israeli students worked hard to explain how they felt and their Mexican peers supported them, showing them how they and the diaspora care for the safety of the Israeli people and the country.
On the last night, the group had a farewell party with their new Mexican friends and got ready to return home with renewed hope.
Dan Green, World ORT Director General and CEO, said: “It shows the strength and fantastic love within our global network. When doors can be opened from across the world to welcome a group of students who have been through such difficult times, and to give them an opportunity to forget about the troubles back home and have a unique experience, it’s a fantastic thing that we can be seen to be doing something like this for our students from Israel.
“I look forward to many more great examples of cooperation in the future between these schools and these communities and many others from around the world.”
This experience was possible because of the effort of Dr. Leiba, Avi Meir, director of Olami ORT, and because of the generosity of Leo Werthein Foundation and other donors.
A second group of Israeli students is expected to travel to the West Coast of the United States in February.