JNF Australia backs new children’s centre

January 15, 2015 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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JNF Australia has dedicated the new Arava Children’s Environmental Centre in the Negev village of Sapir.

The village lies in the Central Arava region of the Negev desert, one of the most remote areas in Israel.

Official opening     Photo: Tanya Susskind

Official opening Photo: Tanya Susskind

In order to attract people to move here from Israel’s densely populated central region, it is necessary to provide high-level and unique education for local children. The new Children’s Arava Environmental Centre in the Shittim School was created with the support of JNF Australia and the Pratt Foundation and is a schoolchild’s dream.

“In this wonderful facility, children will benefit from innovative and creative ways to learn about science, the environment, ecology, and sustainable agriculture.” Ms. Simone Szalmuk-Singer, President of JNF Victoria and Vice-President of JNF Australia, was speaking on Tuesday, January 6, at the dedication ceremony of the new Children’s Environmental Centre at Shittim School in the Central Arava village of Sapir. “The environmental centre is about building the future of the Arava and ultimately the State of Israel,” Ms. Szalmuk-Singer continued. “As an Australian, I can see that the centre will provide a framework within which every child’s potential for success can be as great as their creativity and initiative.

“Through this project we honoured a very special leader, Michael Naphtali, who served in the past as JNF Victorian President and JNF Australia President. Michael’s involvement in JNF has extended over more than 20 years and continues as he remains on the National Board. Just over a year ago, when Michael completed his term as president, we wanted to thank him and his wife Atida for their time, generosity and dedication to JNF and Israel. We asked that everyone follow the Naphtali passion and commitment for work in Israel by making the dream for the Arava environmental centre into a reality. As a result, this project was supported by many generous donors in Australia who appreciate the importance of the Arava and deeply respect Michael Naphtali’s commitment to KKL-JNF and to its work in Israel.”

Boys using the centre

Boys using the centre

The Shittim elementary school has 429 students from first grade to sixth, and is the only elementary school in the region. The new environmental centre, which is located on a half-acre plot, is directed by Ofra Natan-Betzalel, who is at the centre every day along with two additional instructors. It is a child’s dream, with facilities such as a sensory area for children, where they can touch materials and substances with different textures in an adobe igloo built by the children. There is also a herb garden to stimulate the sense of smell, various chimes for the hearing sense, mandalas created entirely from recycled materials, and much more.

The centre also includes a greenhouse and plant nursery where children learn how to grow vegetables and trees from seeds. Next to the greenhouse is a beautiful kitchen where the children will prepare meals with the vegetables and fruits they grow. In addition, there is an open classroom where teachers can bring their class to learn subjects such as math, Hebrew or Arabic in the fresh, open air. And no environmental center would be complete without animals that the children raise, including what Ofra calls a “chicken tractor”, where chickens and roosters break up the ground and aerate it, thereby preparing the earth for growing the various plants.

Dr. Eyal Blum, head of the Central Arava Regional Council, said that when he was a school child 30 years ago, “sometimes we would have a class outside, where the new environmental centre is now, and those were my favorite times at school. Of course, it was nothing like what it is now. I want to thank Simone, JNF Australia and the Pratt Foundation for this amazing gift. We’ve had a lot of ribbon-cutting ceremonies together with KKL-JNF this year, including the new Music Center, a clinic, the visitors centre, and now the children’s environmental centre. Working with KKL-JNF, I know that this is just the beginning.”

Ayelet Biger, director of the Central Arava Regional Council’s Department of Education, said: “KKL-JNF made it possible for us to create a learning environment that connects between the mind and working with one’s hands. The new environmental center is suitable for everyone, from gifted to special needs children.”

Noa Zer, Resources Development Director of the Central Arava Regional Council, noted that future plans are to double the region’s population within the next decade. “We have just begun a new project with KKL-JNF called “non-agricultural community expansion”, which is geared to bringing new residents to the Arava who won’t be working in agriculture. This means that the number of children will grow, and the new environmental center is a space where agriculture and non-agriculture meet.”

Zeev Kedem, Director of the KKL-JNF Development Division, said that KKL-JNF’s friends from abroad “make life in the Arava possible. Thanks to projects like the environmental centre, the wonderful people of this area have a future, and their children are staying here or coming back.”

Nitzan Peleg, a third-grade pupil, helps to care for the animals with classmates Ofir and Yarden. “My family donated the goats to the new centre,” she said proudly. “The time we spend at the new centre is the best time of the day. I wish we could spend the entire school day here,” she said with a wistful smile.

Comments

One Response to “JNF Australia backs new children’s centre”
  1. Sonja Raiz says:

    What a great initiative! Kol Hakavod

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