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The police found Ivan, bloodied and bruised, cowering in the corner shielding his baby brother with his body.

Ivan was placed in the care of Ha’Ahuza Haktana by the courts when he was nine years old. His mother, an alcoholic, is an illegal immigrant from the Ukraine. She married an Israeli much older than herself. Ivan has a brother who is three and a half years old. The pair were hungry. There was no food in the house. Once, when Ivan was left to babysit his baby brother, he handcuffed the crying baby to the bed. One night, after police investigated a complaint by neighbours, the children were removed from their home for their own protection. During that episode, the parents were drunk and fighting, throwing furniture. Ivan’s mother had struck Ivan. The police found him, bloodied and bruised, cowering in the corner shielding his baby brother with his body.

Ivan was taken to an emergency center, and his little brother was taken to a foster home. Shortly afterwards, Ivan came to Ha’Ahuza Haktana accompanied by a social worker. He was reticent, and his expression was vacant, and although he was cooperative, he was barely able to respond to questions. At this time, his father was in prison on charges of domestic violence. His mother continued to drink.

Before he came to Ha’Ahuza Haktana, Ivan was unable to read and had significant communication difficulties. In the first year there, he was emotionally closed and shy, and at first, he did not interact with the other children. He worried about his mother, and he missed his little brother. During the time that Ivan was at Ha’Ahuza Haktana, his brother was in various foster homes and a boarding school, but the WIZO social workers took Ivan to visit him, and they accompanied Ivan to supervised visitation centres to meet his mother.

While at Ha’Ahuza Haktana, Ivan started school in the third grade, and throughout the three years he was in the care of WIZO, he was able to successfully close the educational gaps, under the watchful eyes of WIZO staff who helped him with extra tutoring. When he left, he had finished the sixth grade successfully.

Ivan did not go home for weekends or vacations. Parents’ visits and phone calls were supervised (by court order). His mother would promise to visit and not turn up, and when she did come, she would bring bags full of food and insist that Ivan ate only her food, as if a test of loyalty that Ivan had to obey. The phone calls were also difficult. Ivan’s mother would use manipulative, bullying tones in her native Russian tongue and Ivan would answer, ‘da, da, da’ (yes, yes, yes), with tears rolling down his face. Often the WIZO staff would have to halt the conversation, and Ivan’s mother would scream and curse at them.

As time went on, Ivan understood that Ha’Ahuza Haktana was a safe haven where all his physical and emotional needs were met. He knew that a warm meal and a warm hug always awaited him, as well as extra-curricular activities and remedial education. And as he opened up, he became more friendly and independent. He attended scouts and was popular. One of his friends’ parents hosted him often at weekends and for the holidays.

When his father was released from prison, Ivan started to go to his home for weekends. The WIZO staff assisted Ivan’s father in re-establishing his relationship with Ivan and provided Ivan with the coping strategies to face this new beginning. Despite the fact that Ivan’s parents were extremely hostile towards the staff of Ha’Ahuza Haktana and cursed and screamed at them, the WIZO team was determined to work with them to harmonize the relationship with Ivan.

Ivan was almost 13 when he left Ha’Ahuza Haktana to attend a boarding school closer to his parents who continued to rely on the professional counselling staff with whom they are still in contact for advice on relationship building. Ivan also keeps in touch with the school staff, chatting easily and articulately about himself and his future plans. He dreams of working in Hi-Tech and there is little doubt that, armed with his new self-esteem and enthusiasm to learn, Ivan has all the tools needed to succeed.

Ha’Ahuza Haktana is part of Ahuzat Yeladim sponsored by WIZO Australia.

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