Jan 5, 2009

As reported in YNET, 31 December 2008

Attacks from Gaza have rained terror on the south, and ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, situated in the Merhavim region, has not remained unscathed. Loyal workers face a daunting task – they must deal with orders from the Homeland Security regarding their safety and protection; at the same time, they endeavor to maintain the routines of daily life so necessary for the special- needs residents of the Village.

How do you explain to a cognitively disabled child that he must take refuge? How do you prepare dozens of youngsters with severe disabilities for spending the night inside a shelter?
At ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village, located in the Merhavim region, staff members try to maintain as much normalcy and routine as possible for residents; at the same time, they must take into consideration the imperative safety directives of the IDF Homeland Security.
The village, which provides a home for life to young adults and children who suffer from serious physical and cognitive disabilities, was established by Major General (Res.) Doron Almog, who formerly served as Head of the IDF Southern Command.   In ALEH Negev, Doron sought to offer a future of hope on behalf of the weakest and most defenseless members of Israeli society.
“The most important thing is to keep things as normal as possible,” explains Masada Sekely, Director of ALEH Negev. “Our residents suffer severe degrees of disability, and their physical handicaps – including blindness – are compounded by cognitive difficulties. They do not have the capacity to understand that they are facing danger.”
But the workers who care for them do understand the dangers. In light of the war and the state of emergency imposed upon Israel’s south, a general meeting was held at ALEH Negev to review emergency procedures and make some serious decisions, in cooperation with the Homefront Command. Despite the fact that schools in the area are officially closed, ALEH Negev voted to keep its special education school open and running, both for its residents and for the many special-needs students who arrive from all over the region.
The village includes four assisted-living homes, each housing between 18-24 residents. After “Operation Cast Lead” commenced, each house had to decide how to proceed.  “One house moved all its residents to the shelter; in another house, only the severely handicapped residents were moved, and the remaining houses decided to keep the residents in their rooms, in familiar surroundings,” explained Masada.
They didn’t sleep all night
“Nevertheless, last night, when we heard that rockets were falling in Ofakim, we decided to immediately evacuate all children to the shelters and reinforce the staff,” continued Masada. The High-Dependency Wing, which houses residents – including babies – suffering complex medical conditions and requiring round-the-clock nursing care, was also evacuated into sheltered rooms.  All beds and oxygen tanks had to be moved, along with the children, many of whom were recovering from operations. The resultant overcrowding caused the residents to feel extremely distressed; the change in routine only added to their confusion and unease. “It was impossible. We didn’t sleep a wink the whole night,” Sekely explained. In light of the situation, it was decided that only those rooms that directly face Gaza would be evacuated.
It’s a blessing that he cannot understand
After three days on red alert, parents got involved as well. “I called every one of the parents, and we are gathering forces to support the night staff,” explains Iris Kowan, director of the ALEH Negev Parents’ Association. Iris, who lives in Tel Aviv, has a 19-year old son suffering from a degenerative disease; he has been a resident at ALEH for two years. “Yesterday I brought him back to the village,” she explains, “even though people wondered at my decision. But I have no way to provide for his needs at home, and in the village, he has his set routine. When I heard yesterday that rockets had fallen in Ofakim, I certainly was afraid, but it didn’t even occur to me to call and check — I knew that ALEH was taking care of our children, and keeping them safe.” Kowen says that her son does not understand that there is a war going on. “Sometimes I think it is a blessing that he cannot understand,” she says.
The village is green and peaceful, and offers residents a sense of security and safety. But its workers hail from all over the region, and the state of emergency has impacted on many of them. As a result, the administration of the village decided to allow workers to bring their families to the village with them. The staff has even prepared a shelter for families from Ofakim and Netivot, who can sleep there if necessary.
“I brought my 8-year old to work,” explains Keren, a caregiver at ALEH Negev. “I am a single mother, and at night the sirens began to blast in Netivot.  It was very scary.  Now there is no school, and I’m afraid to leave him home alone.  I feel a little better knowing he is here with me.”  She explains that in the village she feels safer because the shelter in her apartment building in Netivot is not set up for an extended stay.
None of them will leave their charges behind
The unique conditions of life and work at ALEH Negev brings with it complex dilemmas.  “The Homefront Command’s instructions are that during an emergency, we should place as many people as possible into the security room,” says the social worker of the village.  “Take whoever you can with you and run to protect yourself.  But the workers here won’t leave the residents alone while they run to safety.  There is a very strong connection between the residents and their caregivers, and none of them will leave their charges behind.”
To read full YNET article in Hebrew click here  (written by Ilana Kuriel)




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