Hodayot Youth Village – a school with a soul

How do you help children find their way into an adult world which has always let them down? A programme to provide horses for Israel’s police force is one solution for students at World ORT’s Hodayot Youth Village.

Children with emotional problems join peers on the school’s unique police studies track to look after and train the horses for three years at which point they are handed over to the police for active service.

“There are some kids who come here to train the horses and being with them calms them down, gives them a chance to get things out of their heads,” said Avi, pictured above with Sufa (Storm).

The youth village is often the last chance for children from dysfunctional families, children with behavioural or emotional problems, and those who have been expelled from other schools. Most of them are from immigrant families, many from the Ethiopian community, and all are from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Investing in a stronger society

The horse breeding programme’s success goes beyond building the children’s skills base and self-esteem – it’s also freed Israel from having to import police horses.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who visited Hodayot recently with Israel’s Police Commissioner, Roni Alsheikh, said it was an “amazing and exciting project”.

World ORT Kadima Mada Chairman and Mayor of the Lower Galilee, Moti Dotan, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

“Not only will we get better horses which are raised locally we will also integrate the wonderful boarding school students, most of whom are from immigrant families,” Minister Erdan said. “In addition to the enjoyment of horse riding, they also acquire important qualities of responsibility and leadership. In this way we’re investing in strengthening the police and society.”

The horse breeding programme, a partnership between the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Education, is just one way the devoted staff at Hodayot bring out the best in their students.

Creating ‘significant adults’

By the time children have arrived at Hodayot they may have been through as many as six or seven schools already. Many of them lack learning skills and are so used to failing that they have lowered any expectations they have had for themselves.

The needs of each student are carefully assessed, says Principal Ofer Yerushalmi.

“Many of them are carrying such heavy emotional baggage that I ask myself, what more do we want from these kids?” said Hodayot’s Principal, Ofer Yerushalmi. “For most of our kids the adult world has disappointed them. So, we have to carefully assess the needs of each child because our challenge is to create ‘significant adults’.”

He added: “The youth village is not a home or a family because these two things can’t be replaced. But for kids from non-functioning families we try to be as close to a family as possible. That’s why our kids keep coming back to visit us and why we go to their weddings.”

In the end, it is the students who demand more of themselves.

“The kids come here and feel like a failure and feel like they will never amount to anything,” said World ORT Kadima Mada Chairman and Mayor of the Lower Galilee Moti Dotan. “But those on the police studies track get a police uniform and they feel so proud. All the graduates go into the army… This is a place with a real neshama (soul).”