‘When it comes to helping others, we have no limits’


A group of Mexican students have used the design and technology skills they learnt at their ORT school to create a prosthetic arm for an underprivileged boy.

The team from Colegio Israelita de México ORT (CIM-ORT) were moved to help the child after learning that he had lost his hand while playing with fireworks. They also created a personalised prosthesis for a 16-year-old with Down’s Syndrome.

The Mexican students’ efforts earned them the top prize in this year’s World ORT Gina and Joseph Harmatz Award for Social Responsibility, which is given to students who have distinguished themselves in their conduct towards others.

The competition – open to ORT students globally of any age – recognizes excellence in projects that have made an outstanding contribution to Tikkun Olam – our shared responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world.

Other winners this year include teams from Russia, Ukraine and Brazil. Teams are rewarded for their initiative and self-motivation, the time committed to the project and the impact of their work.

The CIM-ORT entry used multiple design programs and templates to create specialized prosthetics. It took eight hours to create one of the four parts needed for the prosthesis using a 3D printer at the school.

The boy is fitted with the prosthetic hand

A team spokesperson said: “We contributed by doing what we felt we were each best at – some designed the prosthetics while others focused on getting the materials we needed or being in touch with the kids and their families.

“This made a huge impact on us. It showed us that the things we learn in school can be used in real life and it felt good to use that knowledge to help other people.

“At the beginning the project seemed too big, but we learned that when it comes to helping others we have no limits – we can really work as a team and we managed to do everything needed to create and deliver the prosthetics to the kids.”

The students met Cristian, six, and teenager Diego after being introduced to the 3D por Mexico foundation, which supports those who have lost a limb.

Michelle Riesenfeld – who worked alongside Michelle Margules, Jane Kaplan, Orly Romano, Tali Soltak, Galia Izkenazi and Moises Lifshits – said: “Anyone can make an effort to change someone’s life.”

WATCH: the CIM-ORT team working on their project

Dan Green, World ORT Acting Director General and CEO, said: “The projects cited in this year’s Harmatz Awards show the very best of the ORT network – students who adapt the skills and techniques taught in their classrooms to create practical solutions and do good.

“For 140 years the ORT network has been driven by Jewish values and our projects around the world promote the concept of Tikkun Olam. We are so proud of all the teams who took part in this competition, which is one of the most eagerly anticipated of the year in so many countries.

“It is really fantastic to think of all these ORT students who – while still at school themselves – are already dedicated to helping others and having a positive impact on the world around them.”

Also among the winners was an entry from School #1311, ORT “Tekhiya”, in Moscow. Students created a Holocaust memorial project which sought to discover the names and fates of their relatives.

They created exhibits for the school museum, performed on stage, and searched burial sites after using established Shoah materials to learn more about the period.

A Moscow student performs in the Shoah exhibition

Part of their collection was sent to Yad Vashem in Israel to be put into the archives. It is hoped that the work to collect materials about the victims will continue alongside an expedition to Belarus, the Smolensk region and Lithuania.

An anti-bullying campaign devised by students from Chernivtsi Jewish School in Ukraine was also a winning entry. The ORT students focused on learning the lessons of other nations’ struggles against violent and abusive behavior at schools when preparing their campaign. Carrying out a survey of their fellow pupils brought almost 300 responses to their questionnaire.

The team created an advice booklet and accompanying webpage including information about how to combat bullying and the contact details of helplines and other resources for victims.

A team from Escola de Tecnologia ORT in Rio de Janeiro, which created an app providing details about gender-based violence and mental health, also secured a runners-up place. Brazil has high incidences of sexual abuse and mental health problems and advice on how to access care, guidance and support is often difficult to find.

The app shows locations of support centers and combines respect for human rights with technological tools to help others.

WATCH: Students from Escola de Tecnologia ORT in Rio de Janeiro explain their app

Another ORT Brazil entry won a runner-up prize for working to increase the quality of life of wheelchair users. The Stand Yourself project built a personal transporter powered by two motors to help those with limited mobility move around.

The final runner-up also came from Chernivtsi and created a socio-economic plan to re-think recycling and produce a sensible approach to landfill.

Other entries in this year’s competition included a dance project run by Mia Peretz, a student at the ORT-affiliated King David Linksfield High School in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mia shared her passion for dance with children who could not afford dance classes, giving them a chance to communicate and express themselves through movement.

Mia Peretz runs a dance class

Students from ORT Colegio Estrella Toledano in Madrid, Spain, ran a voluntary program creating original hand-made fans for the elderly. The project helped improve the quality of life of the older people and reduced their isolation.

The ORT Educational Complex #141 entry from Kiev sought to protect animals and included visits to an animal shelter in the Ukrainian capital.

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.