By Jenna Neulander, Yahel Social Change Program
A year ago, I never saw myself here doing what I am doing today. I pretty much "fell into" this program. As I sat in the living room of my parents house I felt like I was on the verge of becoming a complete failure. I had just graduated from college with no steady job waiting or Ivy League graduate programs begging me to apply. I was a 22 year old girl with a Bachelors degree and more then a few grandiose plans. I had my heart set on going to India. Another plan, which in the end did not work out.
So, two weeks before arriving in Ben Gurion Airport, I followed the suggestion of a man I never met and applied to Yahe l- Israel Service Learning. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I would soon find out that the way I had been defining failure for myself was wrong. In fact, many of my definitions and self assured habits were about to be turned upside down.
When I first arrived here I couldn't help but feel like the same failure who sat on my parents couch weeks before. I was frustrated and disappointed in myself when I sat alone for hours at the local school waiting for teachers to remember to send me students to tutor. Or when working on a program building session with five other opinionated and strong minded volunteers we would end for the day with no resolution. And there was one consistent thought I could not get out of my head, can we possibly be so high and mighty that we come into people’s lives for such a short amount of time and actually believe we can make a difference?
I read an article that was passed around the participants and staff of Yahel. Reading this helped to make sense of the feelings I was experiencing. The article made me feel like I wasn't alone, and more importantly what I have chosen to devote a year of my life to was important.
I realized success and failure have nothing to do with this program or this year. I’m not here to pitch an idea or sell a product. I had said it over and over to myself "I’m here to grow" but, just recently I realized I haven't been open to the biggest part of me that needs growth – that side of me that demands tangible change.
I'm here to observe and to give only what I can. To be honest and open so that when people take what they can from me they will get something organic and rare. The people I have come here to "help"- who chose this for them? At what point does my help become a crutch and just another force that keeps them separated? Mostly all of the families that I believed I was coming here to help are the same as any I've seen. They argue, they have busy schedules, they love, they sit and watch TV with their siblings, they fail tests, they ace tests, they go shopping and to the movies and gossip- what needs fixing? Maybe it isn't them. Maybe my side of the world needs fixing.
Given, there are substantial problems in every community. Many immigrant families have had their lives changed drastically and dramatically and programs and volunteers can be helpful when asked. Programs like Yahel force us to raise many of these questions about "fixing" and "helping," and challenge us to think about things in new ways.
One of the biggest principles of the Yahel program is empowerment. I am just now really beginning to understand what empowerment means. I had this idea that I could show empowerment. That if I went into a situation and was confident and guided someone in the "right way" then they would make anything their own and then, I was empowering them. Wrong. That model is just one of a copy cat- do this because I say so.
Of course, we were never told to do anything like this, I just didn't know any better. But, only after feeling like a failure on my parent’s couch was I able to take a step back and ask myself honestly, "Okay, what are you doing and what are you not doing?"
I feel I am no longer here just volunteering. I am here living my life. I will attend events and speak out and listen and be myself. I will continue connecting with people in my community here and back home. I hope one day I can empower someone the way my experience has empowered me to grow and confront what I thought I knew. My frustration and fear of failure has transformed me into a life here I never expected to have.
I have decided to stay on the program for next five months. My reasons for why keep building with every day. Almost four months ago I never could have imagined the life change I was about to undergo. I am still not certain of my direction or my ultimate passion but I am certain that right here and right now I am exactly where I need to be.