Make a Difference: “Helping teenage students in a classroom is a memory I shall always cherish”

November 23, 2017 | Blog

Volunteer Mark Novick with UJIA’s Melanie Kelly and Shlomi High School pupils.

In November, UJIA piloted our Make a Difference programme, giving members of the UK Jewish community the chance to have a meaningful volunteering experience in Israel. Over the course of a week, our first group spent valuable time engaging with the people of northern Israel in three projects: UJIA-funded Shlomi High School, Nahariya Hospital and Ma’arag Day Care Centre.

Melanie Kelly, our Living Bridge Programme Manager, explains a bit about how this initiative came about:

“We heard from people that helicopter experiences of flying in and out of projects was not what they were looking for. For them, a genuine experience was one where they felt they were contributing in a valuable way and building connections and shared experiences that would last beyond their visit. People were looking for something that would connect them and give them unique experiences. This required a deep understanding of the needs of the area and community we would be working within. We needed to find partners that genuinely wanted the help of volunteers and that could find them meaningful jobs to contribute.”

The programme was built with these principles in mind and as a result, there was a real impact on the participants – both volunteers and people at the projects.

One of our volunteers, Mark Novick, from Mill Hill, volunteered at Shlomi High School:

“The goals of the week were to strengthen English skills while helping the students prepare for a debate in English. The unprecedented experience for me of helping teenage students in a classroom is a memory I shall always cherish. At the end of the week, there was a feeling amongst the students, teachers, and volunteers that our presence had been beneficial and significant.”

David Kraftman painting Chamsa’s to be sold at the Ma’arag Day Care Centre craft shop.

Another of the volunteer placements was at Ma’arag Day Care Centre, a local craft social action business initiative for adults with special needs. This organisation helps adults, otherwise marginalised from society, find purpose and focus for their daily lives.

The centre uses the skills of its clients to create some of the most beautiful craft items out of ceramics, textiles, and carpentry, which are then sold. They also have a very successful café and shop. They use volunteers throughout their work to assist with processes that are difficult and to help ensure a consistency in their finished products. Each product is carefully planned and constructed so that a stunning item is produced using all the skills of the client/employees. Ma’arag had never worked with volunteers from overseas before, but were happy to give it a try and were very pleased with how successful the project proved, and so were our volunteers, David Kraftman and Paul Weldon!

Our final partner was Nahariya Hospital, renowned for its work in the field of medical clowning. A team of ‘Dream Doctors’, mainly trained actors and circus professionals, work with the medical staff to help patients recover through laughter. The tried and tested theory is that if we smile we heal, and in a hospital where there are three concurrent languages, Hebrew, Arabic and Russian, the universal language of laughter can have amazing results for both patients, their families and staff. This is highly specialised work, but the moral support our volunteer provided to the team and the hospital in general made a profound difference. Often those working on the edges can feel neglected and forgotten, but our volunteer, Avril Mattison, helped to ensure that this is not the case.

Avril Mattison with the Dream Doctors at Nahariya Hospital, putting a smile on patients’ faces.

Reflecting on his Make a Difference experience, Mark added:

“In addition to our volunteering activities, we were introduced to wonderful UJIA personnel living in the Galil, dedicated to projects transforming life in the northern periphery of Israel. We were treated to sightseeing, lectures, meeting Gaby Na’aman, Mayor of Shlomi and socialising with host families.

“It was a privilege to participate in the inaugural “Make A Difference” programme. UJIA wants to enlarge and repeat the programme on a permanent basis. I am eager to volunteer again on this programme in order to strengthen my links to Israel and the Galil in particular.”

If you are interested in finding out more about Make a Difference, please contact Melanie Kelly on 020 7424 6422 or at