Update from Prof. Rivka Lazovsky
Chairperson World WIZO
Over the past week, I have been sending several updates on the latest news from our WIZO institutions following last week’s terrible blaze.
We are still shocked and deeply saddened by the fires that struck nearly every part of Israel. You can imagine how terrible it is to see the massive damage caused to homes, property and nature.
The worst affected area was our beautiful Haifa, where 527 flats were destroyed, and more than 1,600 people were left homeless. In total, more than 75,000 residents, a quarter of Haifa’s population, were evacuated from their homes. As the fire spread, we were instructed by the Israeli emergency services to evacuate our institutions in Haifa and Nesher, including our beloved WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim, which suffered the most severe damage of all of our WIZO institutions.
Before I expand on the damage and the work that is currently done to return Ahuzat Yeladim to normalcy, I would like to share with you the miracle that we had and the heroes who with great WIZO spirit saved our children and our Ahuzat Yeladim. I cannot begin to express how deeply proud we are of our staff who put the safety of our pupils, staff and even animals first and evacuated them in time to prevent any tragedy.
We are especially proud and thankful to Yossi Saragosi, Director of WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim, and Danny Arman, Head of Maintenance who worked together with our staff around the clock to fight off the fire and protect our Ahuzat Yeladim.
While the emergency services were busy extinguishing fires across the city, these brave men risked their lives to combat the fire which had by then reached our therapeutic garden area, the green house and the adjacent grounds. It is only thanks to their tremendous courage and determination that the fire was stopped before it reached the school and Beit Hilda, which would have caused even greater damage
While fighting off the fire, Yossi suddenly saw it was quickly moving closer to the Petting Corner, where our pet guinea pigs, parrots and lizards were at risk. Thanks to his quick and urgent call to the “Let the Animals Live” (“Tnu Lachayot Lichiot”) animal rescue team, all the pets were saved in time.
I am also deeply proud of our evacuation efforts. Despite the great chaos caused by the fire, our teams here at Headquarters and on the ground worked together quickly and with great devotion to support the children and the parents who were in deep distress.
Working in full cooperation with the authorities, we evacuated around 70 youths from Ahuzat Yeladim to CHW Nahalal Youth Village, during all this time they were closely accompanied by their instructors and social workers, who offered vital emotional support.
Our staff at CHW Nahalal Youth Village, headed by David Horesh, Director of the Youth Village and Doron Hoshmend, Director of the Dormitory, were wonderful and very professional and very caring. They ensured every youngster from Ahuzat Yeladim receives the care and attention they need as soon as they arrived. David Horesh told me how worried and anxious the pupils were when they arrived at CHW Nahalal Youth Village: “It was very difficult for us to see the youths from WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim arrive at our youth village; they were deeply distressed and sad. They could not stop talking about the terrible smoke they witness and the sights of their second home catching fire.”
We prepared beds and food at the CHW Nahalal dormitory for children whose parents we could not reach.
During their stay at CHW Nahalal, the youths took part in our “Hosen” (“Resilience” in Hebrew) program, which provides children with tools and skills to cope with emergency and stressful situations.
They practiced different relaxing breathing techniques and spoke to our trained staff about the trauma they had experienced.
You may recall this program was offered to support our children and their parents in the south during Operation Protective Edge. For our youths in Ahuzat Yeladim, who often come from families that could not provide this type of guidance and skills to deal with the emotional and physical stress in such situations, Hosen was even more essential. Thanks to our “Hosen” program they were able to cope with the anxiety and stress they suddenly had to face.
In Israel, where our children are always exposed to terrorist threats, we always do everything we can to return to normalcy, and provide them with useful tools and a supportive environment to lead a normative life. Over the past week, our teams here in Headquarters and on the ground are doing everything in their power to allow our children to return back to their normal life at Ahuzat Yeladim.
Around 20 of our youths, who were unable to go home, have already returned to our school a couple of days ago. The rest are expected to arrive in Ahuzat Yeladim on Sunday.
Throughout this week, we continue our recovery efforts at full speed. Over the past week, our teams have been clearing the debris and other waste at the site. While recovery work is underway, we are beginning to see the full scale of the damages to the building and infrastructure. We have recorded damages to the electrical system, roof, building walls, air-conditioner, fences, trees, grass, shrubs, and more. The damages are still being assessed.
Yet our recovery work continues in order to restore the safe, clean and warm environment Ahuzat Yeladim has always offered to our youngsters. This is our prime mission, because for many of them, Ahuzat Yeladim is more than a nurturing environment – it is their second home.
I am pleased to say electricity is running again and the school is slowly coming back to life.
I want to once again thank all of those who have stepped up and launched a fundraising campaign to support our WIZO institutions in this time of need.
Together, our sisterhood will continue to ensure that every WIZO institution continues to be a safe place to all those who need us.
With warmest wishes,
Prof. Rivka Lazovsky