Photos by Sima Kirshner, Dudy Brachya, Tal Ninio, Sarit Tabak

Every teenager longs to belong, to have a group of friends, to be an accepted member among peers. So do teenagers with cerebral palsy.  But no matter how loving their family and how sophisticated and complete the care given to youth with CP, by the nature of their disorder they are too often homebound and alone.

Thanks to ESRA’s support these teenagers have a place of their own that welcomes them and a group of friends that waits to meet with them every week. For the last ten years ESRA has sponsored this special social club in the community center of Kfar Shmaryahu.

Like its other good works, ESRA maintains this club quietly, steadfastly, without fanfare, and largely without publicity.

Yet this year a mix of circumstances has enabled the club to gain visibility through “People in Colors”, an expressive and impressive photography exhibit which celebrates their aims, achievements, and above all their participants. The exhibit began its run in its home base, Beit Weil in Kfar Shmaryahu, then moved to Tel Aviv at Photo Way Gallery and Azrieli Mall Gallery. Its final stop from November 1-12 will be in the public gallery at Tel Aviv University.

Photographs and accompanying biographies of the teenager participants were interspersed with digital artworks, autobiography extracts and original poems. The photographs were taken by 10 visiting students from the Photo Way photography school in Tel Aviv.

Beit Weil is a busy place, streaming with squash players, basketball players and young people engaged in a variety of clubs. Every week thirty teenagers in wheelchairs and walkers arrive from all over central Israel as well. They are joined by eight students from the Ruppin Academic College, four teenage volunteers from Pardesiya and ESRA volunteer Naga Raz, coordinator of the project. The gathering is led by group leader Lilach Nishtat. The participants interact with their peers, make friends, sing, play games, and take part in psychodrama. Your Story Group, an organization of researchers from Tel Aviv University, was involved in engaging the participants to tell their stories and hear the stories of others.

Yet this club is adamant to stay away from “therapy”. Its goal is to give the participants the warmth, fun, and friends that they otherwise might not have the chance to enjoy.   

And in fact the dynamic photos convey one overwhelming impression: young people who are having a good time. Indeed group facilitator Nishtat says that what struck her in her first encounter was the happiness that characterizes the group.

The exhibit pairs the experiences of the participants with the emotive words and pictures of the volunteers. Their candor is gripping.

“I used to have special difficulty in dealing with people who were different … and I found it difficult to imagine how I could manage … volunteering in this environment,” said Yael Weiner. Yet she summed up her experience: “I met great kids – smart, beautiful, talented, funny, loving, sensitive and with emotional intelligence – much more than mine. They managed to teach me one of the most important lessons of my life: how to approach someone I did not know. They taught me how not to fear the new and the different…they gave me much more than I gave them.”

Her sentiments were echoed by other volunteers. “I was afraid to meet the people with cerebral palsy. My ignorance was enormous. I was surprised how eager they were to get to know my world,” said Omri Sornik. Noah Sofer found “when you get to know them their disabilities become secondary to their personalities”, and Hila Shazar called them “a beam of light.”

Photographer Yifat Sapir coined an apt term for the group, club members and counselors alike: “True warriors”, she called them. Declared photographer Dudi Barcia: “I learned that physical limitations do not bar happiness, smiles, and friendship.” The exhibit bears witness to his words.

 

Watch a short video about this special club by clicking here

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