The Non-Profit Organization "Amutat Erez", Search and Rescue Team, Israel,

and Its Activities for Special Needs Children

 

Amutat Erez is an Israeli non-profit association comprised of volunteers trained in navigation and survival techniques in extreme conditions. The unit has already conducted searches for Israelis lost in foreign countries. In addition to this important mission, Amutat Erez has, since 2002, organized and carried out more than 50/ dozens of unique fun-in-the-snow days for special-needs children, both Jewish and Arab. Underlying this initiative was the desire of the Amutat Erez volunteers to contribute something of their expertise to those children whom fate had relegated to long and often painful treatments, and to provide them with a few hours of fun and happiness.

 

These include children hospitalized in departments such as oncology, transplants and dialysis. Shortly after these activities were begun, children and teen-agers in special institutions for brain damage, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and blindness – some of them in wheel-chairs – and children in foster care, were invited to enjoy fun days on Mount Hermon.

 

In 2004, Palestinian children being treated for cancer in a hospital in Bethlehem (in the Palestinian territory) were brought to Mount Hermon for fun days, a project that necessitated especially complex travel and eating arrangements. Some of these children had never traveled outside of the West Bank territories before.

 

A typical day of fun on Mount Hermon includes a welcome by members of Amutat Erez. The children receive small back-packs, and warm jackets, hats and gloves, and are taken by cable-car to a valley that is out of the sight of other visitors. They tour the area in mechanized vehicles and then go into snow caves made by their hosts, ride on sno-cats and snow-mobiles with them, and coast downhill on sleds or skis. Children who cannot sit or stand on their own are carried on the volunteers' backs or in their arms. The children and their accompanying caretakers eat a hot lunch in a recently built wooden cabin, specially equipped for their needs. Each child is accompanied by a parent or other adult, and each group of children is accompanied by an appropriate medical and/or supervisory team.

The day's activities are filmed and documented by a professional photographer. Each child receives a video cassette of the fun day, as a memento of her or his visit.

 

Prior to the beginning of the program, its purpose and proposed activities were discussed with the appropriate authorities and all of the relevant permits were received. The full approval of the relevant hospital authorities and department heads was also received. During the winter of 2004, Amutat Erez carried out 17 very successful fun days, and in 2005, 29 fun days, making it possible for more than 700 hospitalized or institutionalized children, from all over the country, to experience the fun and excitement of a day in the snow.

 

The fun days have proved to be immensely successful and have received enthusiastic feedback from all those taking part in the activity – the children themselves, the medical staff and the accompanying adults, and the administrative staffs of the hospitals and the other institutions (for autistic or blind children, etc.).