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Nitzan Onim article from Ynet


"200 pitas, that's a few, right?"


How do you work out change? What's healthier - fresh or frozen? Should you buy things on sale? How do you cook, and how do you clean up afterwards? These questions and others aren't understood automatically by people with disabilities. These topics and others are learned by the students of Nitzan Onim in Kfar Saba.

 ynet 08.03.10


Housekeeping is a serious matter. Ask the head of any household how many dilemmas come up each day: from laundry, cooking and cleaning, until shopping, paying taxes, and other matters. For young people with severe learning disabilities, adaptive and self-organization difficulties, and accompanying diseases, these dilemmas become much larger than for the regular population.


Do you remember the moment that you moved to your own apartment? The never-ending search for an apartment, cleaning the apartment, buying dishes and other necessary items to fill up the empty refrigerator, coming back home after a long day at work and preparing something to eat, cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry without mom. Think how hard this was, and how hard it continues to be. Now, think about a young adult with severe learning disabilities and accompanying diseases. The difficulty is multiplied several times.

The Nitzan Onim branch in Kfar Saba is a distinctive center in Israel which was established in 1988 by Bituach Leumi (National Insurance) and Nitzan Israel as an instructive institute for populations with severe learning disabilities and accompanying diseases (mainly epilepsy, childhood diabetes, heart diseases, cerebral palsy (CP), and others) in order to train them to be independently functional in life and to train them for work life.


To Teach, Not to Train


Twenty-one students, usually 18-26 years of age, stay in dormitory facilities for two years at the Onim Village in Kfar Saba. In the first two months of their stay in the project they improve their skills in the areas of reading, writing, reading comprehension, and interpersonal communication. Similarly, they learn budget planning, self-hygiene, house cleaning, cooking, sex education, and additional knowledge in other areas that will help them in the future to become independent people and to be able to integrate in the community. Correspondingly, the professional staff prepares them for entering the workforce (being on time, obedience, precision, initiative, fulfilling tasks, etc...). The staff at Nitzan Onim locates places of employment for the students and supervises their integration into those places.


Rachel Rager, the director of the "Nitzan Onim" branch tells about the difficulty that these people have in independently managing their household. "Teaching them to manage a household isn't so clear and simple. We have counselors that work with them on environmental cleanliness, personal cleanliness, organizing the closets, personal hygiene, how to do laundry, how to hang up the laundry, and to fold the laundry, and even how to put the clothes in the closet.


"The basis is to teach and not train. Each group has a student who is responsible for seeing that the work is performed: If the students are doing the cleaning when it's their turn? If they're coming to work on time? If the work isn't done - the counselor receives a report. The student who didn't make a real effort to fulfill the task is spoken with and needs to go back and do what he missed - there are no shortcuts. The goal is that after the stay at Nitzan Onim they'll go out to "community residence" and will fit in to the workforce."


So, who likes to go shopping and cook? Regev says that the students have cooking groups and budget planning groups where they learn everything: How do you manage a budget? Finding sales, how to make spaghetti, omelets, salad, cakes and other goodies, and of course how to clean up at the end.


The Canned Goods Paid Off


How Does This Work?


"In the area of cooking for example, there's a course that last for a number of months. In the beginning, they learn how to setup a kitchen: what are the basic dishes that you need to buy, explanation about spices, oil, and other basic kitchen needs. They learn in the beginning in theory how you buy at a supermarket, how to compare between sales, what's the difference between fresh and frozen, what's healthier to eat, they learn how to compare prices, and more...


"We had a student who was sent to buy a "few pitas" and came back with 200 pitas! As far as she was concerned, this was a few. She didn't understand what we wanted from her. The example shows the uniqueness of the population we work with. If we don't teach them proportions and logic in the area of the home - they won't know, and this is a problematic issue for their future as independent residents in "community residence". Another one of our students was sent to buy vegetables. After he worked out that canned vegetables are a better deal - he came back with a shopping cart full of canned vegetables.


"After learning theory, we send them in pairs to the supermarket and we check how they deal with the shopping experiences. From there, we continue on to cooking. In the beginning, it's a simple meal - omelet and salad, how to slice bread, later on we learn things that are more complicated.


Most of the students have a complete lack of knowledge in these areas since at home they were not allowed to function independently. They even have to be taught about making change and cleaning up after cooking. They need to dispel their fears of the gas oven and to deal with many other areas in which they lack knowledge.


‘Each student brings from home a personal budget for the week. We teach them how to manage their expenses, to take receipts, to save if they want to buy something big, not to get to a minus. Each week the budget-management teacher checks if the amount that's written in their notebook in the balance is what they actually have in their wallet. The students don't always meet their goals, but you can see they so much want to prove themselves, even if there are setbacks along the way."



Work and Labor


"When they are ready, the students go out to the work force, each one according to his abilities, his desires, and the options in the market. We have a wide variety of employers: Nes Technologies Co., Aroma Coffee, Teva Co., Electric Co., Tenuva, lawyers' offices, hi-tech, and more. Some of the students become clerks and others kitchen workers, supermarket employees, production workers, and more.


"We tell employers not to take it easy on the students. If they're late or aren't behaving properly or aren't dressed presentably etc... - they shouldn't be embarrassed, tell them and report to us. We have a few students that we know that their biological clock wakes them up in the afternoon, so they work the afternoon shift. There are students that need to get up at six in the morning in order to get to work on time, and they do it. They're very committed to work and to their employer. Approximately 90% of our students fit in to their workplaces in the free market and most of them continue throughout the years.


"What warms up the heart is to see how our graduates fit in to the workforce, some of them have a partner, and some of them are even married and living together, and are simply trying to manage normal lives, to go out and enjoy it as much as they can. Even though it's hard for them, they want to do it so much and to prove that they're not so different".


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