Name: Noa Etedgi
From: New York, New York
School: Abraham Joshua Heschel School
in Language, Transparency in Love
After graduating high school in 2016, I decided to live in Jaffa,
Israel for a year. I participated in a pre-army training program,
also known as Mechina (which means “to prepare” in Hebrew), with
fifty-five Israelis, and one American, me. To my advantage I did
speak almost fluent Hebrew, as both my parents are Israeli. However,
to speak and be somewhat familiar with another culture is entirely
different than to live and be inside it for a year. I made the
decision to have an entirely Israeli experience because I wanted
something authentic, and I wanted my volunteer work to be as well. I
searched for an opportunity of volunteerism in which I was fully
enveloped in another society, which includes day-to-day interaction
with its diverse people and multiple dialects.
Four times a week in the afternoon, I would travel to the downtown
areas of Tel-Aviv, where I would be an after-school tutor, advisor,
friend, and playmate to children who were African refugees or seeking
asylum in Israel. Most of these children had single parents, many of
whom were not home often, because they had to work until very late
hours every night. Many lacked a strong parental presence in their
life, and looked forward to our after-school program, where they
could receive some much-needed attention and activity that their
parents did not have the ability to provide due to their challenging
This after-school program gave children the lens into a wider
reality, one that included a different life that their parents have
had. Through volunteer-led projects, indoor and outdoor activities,
dance and song, I watched and aided in the growth of children that
began their year without hope or even the idea that life existed
outside their current reality. I also became a close friend and
confidant to this community of children, especially with the two I
personally mentored. It was so beautiful to see their growth in
confidence and belief in themselves.
Some days, it was hard to see that I was even making a difference.
The children came tired, upset, or cranky from school, unwilling to
try to do any homework or participate in an activity. Often, they
would let out their inner grievances on other children, and it would
feel like my role was no longer to be a positive force, but rather
the “bad cop” in the situation.
Additionally, I struggled creating appropriate boundaries with many
of the children. My role was to be an advisor and friend, but because
the children often lacked a parental presence, their emotional
vulnerability would blur the lines between my roles. I had to learn
to be both emotionally available, without becoming too invested, and
put the children in a place that they were dependent on me.
With all these challenges, I learned how to be a better volunteer and
person. I think every volunteer job demands different things, but in
my case this past year, I learned one overarching idea: honesty,
especially with children, is the best policy. I treated every child
with respect and maturity, like I would treat a friend, and as long
as I made my role clear to them, they understood our relationship.
And I learned, that like a friendship, we would have some great days,
and endure the bad ones. It’s just part of the job. I learned not
to be too hard on myself, that if I was not feeling all too well one
day, I must remain honest and share how I feel with the children if
that’s what is needed.
In the future, I hope that my work satisfies my passion for learning
of cultures and ethnicities with international human rights. I would
love to work with organizations that interact with countries all over
the world and address human rights needs for youth and young women. I
know that my year in Israel has greatly defined what I desire in my
profession when I’m older. I think if I looked back years from now,
no matter where my mentee is or what she does every day, I know I
helped in giving her the vision of possibility and hope.
In the beginning of the year, I had doubts about my ability to
connect with the children, given that my Hebrew wasn’t perfect and
that I didn’t have much confidence to lead in an unfamiliar
setting. I soon realized that none of that mattered—no language or
cultural barrier could get in the way of good intentions and
passions, as those two things are transparent to the outside world.