Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Loving lives lived on the front lines

Running for the nearest shelter as a rocket warning is heard in one of Israel's
southern cities, July 9, 2014 [Reuters]
In Israel’s southern communities, life is finally returning to a semblance of normalcy. A tumultuous summer and a war in which every home was on the front line of a rocket-fueled terror campaign waged from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula is receding into the background, at least for now. 

The anxieties have not. Neither have the pressures.

For families raising a child with serious special needs, the challenges of living ordinary private lives in the periphery communities (as the towns, farms and communal settlements south and north of Israel’s major population centers are called in Hebrew) add another layer of difficulty. 

With little fanfare, the Malki Foundation initiated a program in 2011 that addresses them in a unique, practical and very effective way.

Seed-funded by a generous grant from an Israeli family who seek to avoid publicity, the Zlata Hersch Memorial Therapists on Wheels Program provides professionally qualified and passionate mobile therapists who travel to where the special-needs children live, delivering quality paramedical therapies - under the constant guidance of a Jerusalem-based Malki Foundation team of volunteer professional advisers - in those relatively distant communities.

Here’s the key to understanding the need. 

In those areas, access to quality paramedical therapy services is inherently more difficult. Fewer therapists are available, and distance makes it hard to bring the child to the therapy centers. The Malki Foundation has enabled tens of thousands of paramedical therapy sessions via our Therapies at Home Program, it’s a sad reality that we could give families in the far south and the far north an open cheque and for the most part they would be unable to spend it. Our Therapists on Wheels Program, now in its fourth year, is a creative solution to a challenge that has suffered from inadequate attention by the authorities for too long.

By the numbers: From a Malki Foundation brochure, the full text
of which can be viewed online here
Note that the Malki Foundation provides support for five classes of paramedical therapy: (1) speech therapy, (2) occupational therapy, (3) physical therapy, (4) therapeutic horse riding and (5) hydrotherapy. But because of the need for facilities that cannot be delivered by car (meaning horses and pools), our Therapists on Wheels program focuses exclusively on the first three

We currently support families living in these southern periphery communities: Be'er Sheva, Cochav Michael, Dimona, Kiryat Gat, Klahim, Mitzpe Ramon, Netivot, Ofakim, Otzem, Rahat, Sderot, Shokeda. And these northern communities: Acre/Akko, Hurfeish, Kfar Manda, Ma'alot Tarshicha, Meiron, Meona, Misgav, Peki'in Hahadasha, Safed, Shorashim, Tiberias.

There’s more information about how our programs work in this brief YouTube video.

Here below is a small taste of how providing therapies at home, and therapists on wheels (where appropriate) to children living far from Israel’s center works when the rockets stop flying for a while. (Note: we have disguised the children's names.) 
Ettie is a gorgeous child of two, living in the southern city of S. Its proximity to the Gaza Strip gets S. into the news headlines much too often. But that’s only part of what Ettie’s family are concerned with. She depends on a ventilator for her well-being. During the recent fighting, she rarely went out of the house, and spent weeks confined to the family’s mamad (safe room, in Hebrew). So did her mother, who felt she could not go out to work because of the need to bring Ettie and the other children into the shelter whenever the incoming-rocket siren was heard. It only gives them a few seconds of warning, and every moment counts. When mother is away, Ettie is normally at a day-care center in Kiryat Gat but under conditions of war, it was closed for many weeks. When we checked in with Ettie’s mother at the height of Operation Protective Edge, she was worried about the way her daughter was not eating properly. Now that things outside are quieter, mother is able – with the help of a therapist whom we send down to Sderot - to devote more attention to getting on top of that aspect of her little girl’s problems. 
Yair is also two. He lives in O., a community in the south, and normally spends his days at a ma’on (day care centre) in Be’er Sheva which, of course, was closed throughout the fighting in the south. Mother was at home with him throughout that period and, because of the cerebral palsy (CP) that keeps Yair confined to a wheelchair, she was – in the words of our program co-ordinator in Jerusalem who spoke with her by phone - “beyond exhausted”. Now that the ma’on is operating again, he is back in the daily framework and his parents are trying to arrange to pick up a new wheelchair and leg braces. Regular visits by the OT (occupational therapist) “on wheels” whom we send to the town of O. are a critically important part of Yair's family’s ability to cope. 
Guy is an 11 year old with quadriplegia, living with his family in Be’er Sheva. His 13 year old brother Sergei was the person who most often had to bring him into the safe room when – as happened so often during July and August – the sirens wailed. (Generally, they had 60 seconds of notice from the when the siren was first heard.) Guy normally takes part in regular horse-riding therapy sessions which he loves. But the IDF Home Front Command ordered the horse farm to be closed while the fighting raged. It’s open now and Guy is delighted.
Hundreds of children benefit today from the Malki Foundation’s 3 programs. They come from a variety of backgrounds. But they have this one thing in common: every one of them is cared for by loving families who have made the decision to have their special-needs child live at home rather than see him or her handed over to institutional care. The Malki Foundation is there to empower those families and to do whatever we can so that the outcomes are as good as they possibly can be.

We will have some more experiences to share in an upcoming post. 

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