An Unforgettable Experience

Posted on May 7, 2014

To tell you the truth I didn’t think that they could pull it off. How was I going to explain to these enthusiastic energetic people, this highly specific focused skill that I had with which I wanted to volunteer my time with in Israel.

I had been to Israel a few times in my life, the first being fifty years ago, at age 17 with Junior Hadassah a Zionist youth group. Now, as a seasoned professional, I wanted to give back in a different way, somehow with the skills I have honed for fifty years as a Speech and Language Pathologist.

My expertise in the field had been developed with an advanced degree and in positions in all of the areas of early intervention, mostly focused on children birth to five.     When I decided to go to Israel one more time and volunteer, I wanted to do so in my field.   I began to search and research all the different volunteer experiences and programs now available and there were many, but none of them seemed right for me at this time, not for what I wanted to do or for the amount of time I would be in Israel. Then, I read about the Skilled Volunteers for Israel on the Internet and was intrigued.   They said they could custom make a volunteer experience for me. I told them I held a doctorate in the field of Speech and Language Pathology and I would be in Israel and wanted to volunteer my services in that skill area. However, I wanted them to understand that professionally I worked Young Children Birth thru Five with special needs and their families.   Not only this, as if (“dayanu”) I wanted them to customize a volunteer experience that would afford me a spectrum of early intervention programs in Israel, a sense of how services were provided (“dayanu”)and also provide me with some opportunity to dialogue with service providers. If this wasn’t enough (“dayanu”), could I perhaps do some training of speech therapists (since this is also one of my passions) as long as I was there anyway. By the way, ( “dayanu”) could they provide me with this smorgasbord in the three and a half weeks I would have a available for this volunteer experience. I thought, by the time I finished my list of requests and the specifics of the requests they would be happy to refer me elsewhere and I am so happy they did not.   Even though we had many long conversations before I left for Israel and shared many documents and information I realized I had just about asked the impossible. The whole area of early intervention is a difficult area for people outside the profession to grasp and I was not sure what would actually be put into place.   But Israeli’s are very much use to the impossible and I think perhaps spurred on by the challenge.   The staff at the Skilled Volunteers for Israel certainly proved this to be true and then some.

Dr. Pauline Tamari at workBy the time I arrived in Israel the SVI staff had contacted the Israel Speech and Hearing Association and many of their fine and experienced Speech and Language therapists. One such gracious and hospitable as D’vorah Grossbaum, who provided the SVI with further contacts and opened her home to me to provide evening training workshops to speech therapists in Jerusalem.

I was put in touch with a broad range of child development centers in Jerusalem where I decided to spend the time and combine my study (always a longing for me) and my volunteer work. The first place I visited and then went back to was Gan Shikumi at Bayit V’Gan. This was a child development center first established over 40 years ago and now has a variety of programs for children from a few months through age seven.   I of course focused on their outstanding multidisciplinary programs   for children under the age of three. Ruti showed me with great pride all the different classes and groups in these exciting multi faceted programs for children, many with neurological and language difficulties.

I got to observe wonderful teams of teachers (“gannenets”) and speech therapists create their magic as they enthralled young children into participating and responding with the latest in assistive and alternative technological devices and supports. I even got to get on the floor and do my most favorite thing in the whole world and play with the little ones (and me at my age). Later I was invited in to the small office, that was not only Ruti’s, but also served as the office of all the other member of her speech therapist’s team and the hub of all their think tank and creative energy for ideas and materials. They welcomed me as an honored guest and I got to strain my ears to listed to their team meeting which went on in Hebrew , at a pace that quickly sensitized me once again, to what language sounded like to all the language impaired children I’ve worked with all my life. Afterwards, we spoke about what were some of the needs the team felt that my experience could open a conversation about. The answer was one I was to hear again and again, therapeutic strategies for working with babies under the age of three and improving skills for working with their families. I returned on one other day and discussed with the team one of these topics and invited the therapist to the evening trainings I would be doing at D’vora’s house.

I then spent some days at Gan Sulam in Romema, a most impressive program, operating with very limited physical space. Yet there again their experienced Speech Supervisor Judi showed me around introduced me to a most energetic and devoted staff doing incredible and creative programming. I was privileged to spend some time in classrooms interacting with the little ones, getting to know some of the therapists under Judi’s wide mentor’s wings. There Judi and her team also invited me in so graciously to join them in some of their therapeutic interventions with the children and interacting with a family and with her team of devoted therapists all hungry and primed for a fruitful discussion. There two the primary topics included therapeutic skills and working with families and so again I returned to spend quality time in a therapeutic intervention and training discussion with her staff, some of whom came to our evening workshops. There I also had the opportunity to model some therapeutic strategies with children in individual and group sessions and some family interactions and then discuss with their team.   Gan Sulam also had an established program for young children on the Autistic Spectrum that I was suppose to visit the last week I was in Israel, but to no great surprise I came down with a bad cold and was advised to not go so I gave Maya my regrets and to ld her with all honesty and sincerity my desire to return and continue this kind of work of the “heart and soul” and of course through “skilled volunteers for Israel.”

The last program I visited truly came as a surprised as it was a “state of the art” early intervention program by many western and European standards (as where some of the other programs, but this one had the physical space). Shalva was not only supported through the education and health ministries, but heavily endowed by patronage from Canada US and elsewhere through the undying effort of the family who started the program.   Tova , the Supervisor of the Speech Therapists introduced me to many of the multi-disciplinary staff and showed me around the multi-faceted early intervention programs that included a well attended Mommy and Me program.   The early intervention programs included many children with developmental delays and used a multidisciplinary family centered approach, which I was thrilled to see. I was able to sit it on many therapy sessions and watch group session in their small well appointed classrooms.   Once again, I got to get on the floor and engage in one of my favorite pastimes, playing with so many of the beautiful little ones, observe young and experienced therapists engage babies and moms in moving interactions which inspired all kinds of possibilities for growth with language and communication. There, I also was asked to return one other day and I met with the staff of the speech department to discuss the issue of “working with families.”   While we dialogued specifically about some issues in their program I also invited the therapist to join in with the workshops going on in the evenings.

It was thanks to the outreach efforts of D’vora Grossbaum, a Speech Therapist trained in the states, which helped SVI make all the initial connections with all of the phenomenal programs mentioned above. These programs certainly gave me an initial view of the services being provided to children Birth to three with special needs as well as meeting a huge group of extraordinary devoted and enthusiastic therapist. If that wasn’t enough it was Devora’s who with generosity and hospitality organized the four evening workshops and opened her own home graciously for all of us to meet in. I can’t thank her enough. The Trainings I gave were “Speech Therapy as a Creative Art.”   A very “outside the box” concept to think about in any country, in any language and I was not sure how the Israeli trained speech therapist would identify with it. The first two workshops involved “therapeutic intervention” and second two “working with families”.   At first I think it almost sounded a little heretic, but before long in bits of Hebrew and English, there was excitement, questions and discussion and what I hope was learning for all of us. For myself I learned a tremendous amount, one of the things is that I want to go back and do more of the same, it was fantastic.

I was truly treated as an honored guest wherever I went. Professionally I could not have asked more from the experience. Next time I will know how rich it is and if I can, to stay longer and certainly to have it custom made by Skilled Volunteers for Israel. It was with thanks to SVI, who set up schedules and made the initial contacts, shared my background and interests , so when the initial meetings took place we were all on common ground and we “flew” in moments from being strangers to colleagues. It was so far beyond anything I expected and I can’t thank SVI staff especially Marla and Judy for what was put together for me.

With unbridled gratitude to SVI I learned more in less than 4 weeks about my profession in Israel, saw more, got to know some unbelievably experienced and talented skilled therapists , many enthusiastic young, the most beautiful babies and children and parents. For me, it infused me with such energy and joy I truly forgot my age and the time, for it was over before it began. The two most important things I learned were I need to go back for a much longer period of time (this was only a tease) and that the only people I would ever “custom” make my volunteer experience with would be SVFI. They truly make what seems the impossible actually happen (and then some). Thank you.

Dr. Pauline Tamari,  January 2014