Thousands of Israeli teenagers have gained insights into the challenges faced by people with disabilities by designing and building practical aids for them as part of a Kadima Mada-sponsored competition.
This is the seventh year of the national Gam Ani Yechol (“I can do it, too”?) competition but the first time it has been sponsored by Kadima Mada, World ORT’s programmatic arm in Israel.
And it has proved to be a tremendous success, generating empathy, encouraging the practical application of scientific and technological principles, and simply providing an opportunity for children to enjoy school work.
“The competition was becoming routine,”? said the Ministry of Education’s Rivi Lakritz, who heads the department in charge of the community science centres which host Gam Ani Yechol. “There was a time when we considered ending it. But I’m very glad I decided to continue with it because last year’s competition was good and this year’s was even better.”? The competition started with meetings at the Eshkol Payis arts and science centres found in towns across the country between local school children and people with various disabilities. The children returned to their schools to design and build a device which could help one of the individuals they had met in overcoming a day-to-day challenge. All the finished products have been given to the disabled people for whom they were designed.
“At some of the schools up to 100 students aged between 13 and 15 became involved in the project over the next few months meaning that about 5,000 teenagers participated in total,”? said Kadima Mada Pedagogical Manager Dr Osnat Dagan. “The most important thing is that the students learn about people who are not like them, who have special needs. And they use this knowledge to link science and technology with humanity and sensitivity.”?
The five best devices from each Eshkol Payis went through to the national final, which was held over three days “ﾓ one day at the Eshkol Payis in Haifa and two days at the centre in Bat Yam “ﾓ followed by an awards ceremony attended by the approximately 250 finalists.
The devices were assessed “ﾓ and awarded prizes “ﾓ according to four criteria: practicality, scientific know-how, quality of workmanship, and originality. The team behind each device was given about 20 minutes to demonstrate its use and explain the principles of its design meaning long, but enjoyable, days for the six judges who included two disabled people, three representatives of the Ministry of Education and Dr Dagan.
“I was pleasantly surprised to discover the high level of the products created and the amount of thought that has gone into them,”? said member of the judging panel Ofer Jan, a social worker who has been confined to a wheelchair since a childhood diving accident. “I hope it will continue into the future.”?
Two schools supported by Kadima Mada won prizes worth a total NIS 400 in vouchers redeemable at the Office Depot retail chain for their entries: Western Galilee Regional High School’s team won for the practicality of their simple but effective device to help people who can not bend over put on trousers and Kiryat Yam High School’s team won for the superior workmanship of their device which allows a food tray to attach to a wheelchair.
“When I saw Western Galilee’s product, which allows a disabled person to put on trousers by pulling on strings, I thought to myself, “ﾘWhy hasn’t someone thought of this before ‘,”? said Dr Dagan. “My mother fell over two years ago and broke her hip. For six months we had to employ a carer to help her get dressed but if we had had this device she would have been able to dress herself.”?
Anat Stein, Kadima Mada Innovation Leader at Western Galilee Regional High School, said their students started the project by meeting 80 people with a variety of disabilities and discussing with them their everyday needs. These people took part in workshops to guide the students.
Ms Stein said: “This project has immense value; it develops children’s sensitivity to people with special needs and they can feel joy from them.”?
One of the Western Galilee students, Bar Vaknon, said: “From the very beginning we were only too happy to be of help and to improve the quality of life of the disabled people we’d met.”?
The students’ feelings were eloquently expressed by Kiryat Yam’s Michal Mazel, 13, in her address to the awards ceremony.
“This has not been an “ﾘenrichment’ activity; it’s important enough to be considered part of our regular learning and we prepared for it during the during the regular school timetable,”? Michal said. “But for us this is not something we have to do; it’s something we feel we ought to do.”?
Noting that “success is not an orphan”?, Michal thanked everyone involved who had made the competition such a wonderful experience, in particular the disabled people the students had met.
“They helped us by sharing their personal experiences with us, their daily needs, frustrations and embarrassments. But mainly they shared with us their determination and willpower which know no bounds. It’s thanks to them that we were able to do what we set out to achieve,”? she said.
Michal concluded: “What we’ve learned over the past year we would not have been able to learn in any university. The love we have received and the excitement we have been privileged to experience has been more expansive than any ocean.”?