Israel is small, and so are its apartments. Add a disabled child in to the situation, and suddenly the situation can be impossible. Many parents are forced to institutionalize their disabled child. This is a huge detriment for both the child and the family.
In 1977 Yossi received a routine DPT vaccination that rendered him blind, deaf and acutely hyperactive. For eight years, Yossi lived in a closed world with no one able to penetrate his bubble.
Yossi’s disabilities took their toll on his family. Providing him with constant loving care, they became exhausted and isolated. Many professionals and well-intentioned friends suggested placing Yossi in an institution. But his mother Malki refused and vowed to G-d that if he helped Yossi, she would dedicate herself to helping other special needs children and their families.
When Yossi was eight years old, a deaf special education teacher named Shoshanna helped answer Malki’s prayers and penetrated Yossi’s wall of silence. Using Hebrew finger spelling into his hand, similar to how Annie Sullivan reached Helen Keller, Shoshanna taught Yossi his first word – shulchan (Hebrew for “table”). The walls of his personal prison collapsed.
Today, Yossi is an extremely intelligent young man blessed with the phenomenal ability to learn things, such as current events, wine and cars. Yossi often corresponds with public leaders; in December 2007 he was invited to a Chanukah party at the White House with President George W. Bush.
Malki remembered her promise, and a few years later she and her husband Kalman established SHALVA, which means “peace of mind” in Hebrew.
The story of Yossi is the same as that of thousands of other Israeli families who choose to raise their special needs children at home instead of institutionalizing them, thanks to SHALVA. SHALVA provides a therapeutic and supportive environment that enables the family to raise the child while living a normal and healthy lifestyle. By teaching daily living skills – cognitive, motor and social – to these children, SHALVA helps them reach full potential and optimum independence, and enables better integration into mainstream society.
SHALVA also helps families to navigate the Israeli medical/educational/institutional bureaucracies. They provide access to essential information which helps to ensure that everyone’s rights – children and families – are recognized.
There are many ways to get involved with SHALVA’s two centers – in Jerusalem and in Gush Etzion. Each year, SHALVA’s children with special needs enjoy a two week summer break near Nahariya. This program is an extension of their Rehabilitative Day Care Center, where therapies include speech therapy, occupational healing, physiotherapy, computer-therapy, animal therapy, sensory therapy, music therapy and hydrotherapy. SHALVA also runs an Afternoon Activity Center with various types of therapies for older children, ages 6 – 21, which is an extension of the regular school day, and special program for girls over the age of 21.
See their website for more special projects http://www.shalva.org/