Naomi Siegel

A few years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin and working in the non-profit world, I wanted to go back to Israel. During high school I spent a semester in Israel, but because it was the Intifada, I had little opportunity to explore the country. When I found out about Masa Israel's LIFE program, a nine-month service-learning program in Israel and India, I knew it was the perfect fit. I had also been very drawn to traveling to India, but I didn’t know the opportunity would appear so soon in my life. As part of the LIFE program, I would have the opportunity to not only spend time in both countries, but to give back while doing so. There I would be able to pursue community projects with the support of NGOs, working and living alongside the local populations.
Backed by an NGO that worked to promote sustainable rural development, I worked with another LIFE participant to develop an art curriculum for Indian schools. Observing elementary schools throughout the state, we were able to create a curriculum that spoke to the needs and interests of the students and teachers. Ultimately, the curriculum called for the use of recycled materials, which not only added an element of environmental awareness to the curriculum, but also made the projects accessible to students from every economical caste. We also created a teacher-training program that encouraged student participation and alternative methods of teaching that utilized art, music and drama. Eight teachers from all different types of schools received this training as well as a CD full of lesson plan ideas.
In Israel, I had the opportunity to use my background in alternative medicine to organize an event for the One Family Fund, a support center for victims of terror and their families. In addition to donating my skills as a Reiki Master, I recruited 18 alternative medicine practitioners to offer massage, reflexology, and other healing modalities. I matched individuals to the right practitioners and witnessed beautiful transformations from both givers and receivers.
To complement our work in the field, we traveled throughout Israel and India, meeting leaders in non-profits that have significantly impacted the different countries and took part in discussions about social action and cultural sensitivity. With participants from Israel, North America and England, and mentors from India and Israel, we were constantly challenged to look at issues from diverse perspectives, creating an environment of constant learning and growth.
Back in the United States, the knowledge I gained through Masa Israel's LIFE program has proven to be invaluable as I take part in creating a center for social activism and sustainable community in Washington. At the center, leaders and activists will learn about social change, leadership and personal wellness. I also continue to practice Reiki healing and network with other practitioners interested in social change. Once again, I am creating something from nothing, and I feel confident in the guidance I gained from LIFE.
I encourage more young adults to take on the challenge of LIFE.