From Slavery to Freedom – read and be inspired!

From Slavery to Freedom – read and be inspired!

Apr 3, 2012
Dvir, a resident of Ashkelon, was diagnosed as severely cognitively disabled at birth.  Coupled with cerebral palsy and severe motor disabilities, he was considered very low-functioning, and his weak control over the muscles in his mouth made it impossible to understand him when he spoke.  Unfortunately, repeated failures while trying communication boards led to his refusal to use them as an alternative means of communication.

At age 22 his parents brought him to live in ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a groundbreaking rehabilitative village for children and adults with severe physical and cognitive disabilities.  ALEH Negev is home to over 130 disabled residents, most of whom are diagnosed with medium to severe cognitive disabilities and who cannot speak at all.

“From the moment I met Dvir, it was clear that he was different,” says Masada Sekely, Director of the village.  That first indication occurred when Dvir was shown a picture of boat and asked to describe what he saw.  Dvir answered that it was a canoe.

“We asked him, ‘How do you know that this is a canoe?’ relates Sekely.  “He answered that he once went on a trip to the North, when he sailed in a canoe.  This was a clear indication of his ability to remember,” she adds.

A year and a half ago one of the volunteers, a drama teacher, decided to teach Dvir to play a harmonica. Physically, it seemed to be impossible.  “His mouth was always open,” says Inbar Lazar-Shapiro, Dvir’s social worker.  But the volunteer refused to give up.  He taught him how to purse his lips and blow, working with candles and learning to blow them out.  They moved onto the harmonica, and with persistence, Dvir mastered the skill.

But the ongoing practice did something else as well: Dvir’s ability to speak improved drastically.

As soon as it became easier for people to understand what he was saying, Dvir began to share his feelings and thoughts with the therapy staff.  His feelings revealed a rich inner world and an unimagined cognitive level.  He told the staff that he wants to move to another home, where he can be with friends with whom he can speak.  He put his thoughts into a letter that he asked his therapist to type for him:

Hello, everyone.  I want to tell you how I feel.  I don’t have any friends here who can speak…I feel lonely here in the village; I don’t have anyone to talk to and share things with besides for the workers…. I cry at night and think that I don’t have what to do here…I can’t talk to any other resident because they won’t understand me and they can’t answer me.  I am not retarded and I think I am on a much higher level than the other people here.  I hope you understand me. Dvir

Recently, Dvir was re-evaluated by the village professional staff and diagnosed as having light-to-medium cognitive disabilities.  He understands everything that goes on around him, and despite his speech difficulties, he takes an active part in conversations.  “There is a wide gap between his physical and cognitive abilities,” asserts Lazar-Shapiro.

A few months ago Israel’s Welfare Department Placement Committee convened to meet with Dvir and to discuss placing him in a different facility, with people more suited to his cognitive level.  The ALEH Negev administration is in full agreement, and hopefully Dvir will soon move to a daycare center in Beer Sheva.

“There is no question that Dvir’s story is extremely unusual.  You feel that you changed an entire world.  You gave a person hope for a normal life.  It will be very difficult for us to part from Dvir, but we know he will be in a place that is better for him,” conclude Sekely and Lazar-Shapiro.  And Dvir says, “I think about moving all the time and I also dream about it at night.”


Article about Dvir which appeared in the Israeli Newspaper Yeiot Acharonot- March 29, 2012

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