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Children from Sababa Burn Camp are Foresters for a Day
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
“Working in the forest was really fun, I didn’t know I could do it. I’m going to tell my friends that they should also be foresters for a day.”
Forester for a Day is a KKL-JNF program in which volunteer foresters take part in a variety of tasks that are vital for forest care. On Sunday, March 17, a group of children from the Sababa Burn Camp for children who have survived serious burn injuries were Foresters for a Day in KKL-JNF’s Carmel Coast Forest. The camp caters for children from all sectors, including Jewish, Arab, Bedouin and Druze.
Since its inception, many people from all different walks of life have participated in KKL-JNF’s Forester for a Day program, but the group working intensely in the Carmel Coast Forest on Sunday, March 17, was a special pleasure to behold. About 25 children aged 7-18 from the Sababa Burn Camp were having a great time working in the forest for the first time in their lives, accompanied by the heads of the camp, doctors from various hospitals in Israel including Dr. Efrat Harlev, the deputy director of Schneider Children’s Hospital, and volunteers who accompanied the children.
Camp Sababa is a four-day non-denominational camp where children who have survived serious burn injuries from the Jewish, Arab, Bedouin and Druze sectors realize that they are not alone and become friends. A team of more than 40 social workers, therapists, musicians, artists, and volunteers from Israeli hospitals help these kids recover from their physical wounds and emotional scars. The philosophy behind the camp is that a burned child’s emotional scars, lack of self-confidence and fear of not fitting in, must be treated with as much attention as his or her physical scars.
The group began their day at Nir Etzion in the Carmel Mountains, where they watched a short movie clip that described the forest and the work they would be doing. They then proceeded to a recreation area donated by friends of JNF Australia, where they met KKL-JNF forester Alon Gutter, who directed the day’s activities and whose enthusiasm was infectious.
Iuliana Eshel, Head of Occupational Therapy at Schneider Children’s Medical Center and one of the co-directors of the camp, said that Passover vacation is the perfect time for the camp: “The weather is ideal, because when the sun is too hot, it’s not good for children with burns. This is the first year we’ve brought them to the Carmel to participate in KKL-JNF’s Forester for a Day program, and it’s also the first activity of our camp schedule this year. We wanted to begin with a value-oriented activity that connects the kids to the earth.”
Forester for a Day is a KKL-JNF program in which volunteer foresters take part in a variety of tasks that are vital for forest care. These include pruning and cutting low branches, which would otherwise accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire, blazing trails, which prevent the spread of a wildfire and make the forest accessible to visitors, clearing cuttings and removal of the flammable material that may cause a fire, and assisting in the development of recreation areas for the benefit of the public.
Camp Sababa was founded by Sam Davis, an attorney from Tenafly, New Jersey, together with Dr. Marcia Levinson of the Department of Physical Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University. “This is the only camp like this in the Middle East, and it’s a tremendous blessing,” Sam said. “We’ve had doctors from every hospital in the country visit us. One of them said to me that seeing the kids at the camp helped him to view them as people rather than just as clients in need of burn therapy. It helps the children immensely with the trauma, and is really a transformational experience for them.
“One of our camp themes is rebirth, and there’s nothing more poignant than being in the Carmel Forest, which is being restored after all the destruction that took place here during the 2010 forest fire. I think the kids feel a connection to the forest and part of it. For me personally, the time I spend at Camp Sababa is my favorite time of the year.”
Dr. Marcia Levinson said that she had visited Israel during the Second Intifada, when many adults and children suffered burn injuries, “and I wondered where the kids go after they get out of the hospital. I brought one Jewish child and one Arab child to our burn camp in the United States, and later on, when I met Sam, we founded the Sababa Burn Camp in Israel. Some of the kids who were in camp when they were younger are now councilors. I recently visited an Arab family who sent two children to the camp in the United States. One of them is now a physical therapist, another one is a speech therapist, and a third sibling is studying to be a doctor.
“Being a Forester for a Day is wonderful for children with burns. They have had to lead a life different than that of other children. They always had to be clean and very careful not to get dirty. They’re healed now, but the fear of dirt remains. And now, here they are, pruning the forest, clearing brush, feeling the earth, getting their hands dirty, and it’s ok. It’s a very healing experience for them.”
Nili Arbel, co-camp director and chief physical therapist at the Schneider Children’s Hospital, said that working in the forest was a very exciting and moving activity for the children. “It’s a great way to start the camp, because it’s something they do together and it helps with group consolidation. The camp is based on the principle that the whole we create is greater than the sum of the parts. Today, Sunday, they just started working together, but by Wednesday, the last day of the camp, they’ll be totally different kids.”
Eleven-year old Ahiya Eladi said that this was the first time he had helped plant a tree in his life. “Working in the forest was really fun, I didn’t know I could do it. I’m going to tell my friends that they should also be foresters for a day.”
The group also included two plastic surgeons from India, Dr. Venkat and Dr. Vinita, who had come to observe Camp Sababa in order to found a similar camp in India. They also planted a tree. “Bringing the kids to the forest is a great idea,” Dr. Venkat said. “It teaches the kids to respect nature and our natural resources, along with giving them a sense of accomplishment.”
At the end of the children’s workday, KKL-JNF forester Alon presented them with certificates and invited them and some of the adults to plant two trees, one in memory of Irwin Schneider, the founder of the Schneider Children’s Hospital and one in honor of Camp Sababa. Before the trees were planted, Alon recited the Planter’s Prayer and noted that “we all come from different religions, but God is one. Trees, just like children, grow with love. Come back to visit your tree, and speak to it. Bless Israel and Camp Sababa!”
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