A youth-led volunteer emergency response unit in the southern city of Ofakim

Youth participants stand with Yahaloma Zachut (left) who leads the Ofakim program

Currently in its 4th year, the Ofakim Youth Leadership program was established in response to the needs of adolescents living in Ofakim – a city located close to the border with Gaza with ongoing exposure to terror and war. Because of the security situation in the region, schools are often closed for days or even longer. Young students attending these schools often suffer as a result of the disruption to routine, lack of predictability, and disconnection from support systems. As a result of such repeated chaos and anxiety, many of these adolescents are at risk for developing trauma symptoms.

Many of these teenagers have expressed a desire to do something constructive during such times of crisis. Therefore NATAL has developed this program in order to impart these youth with a broad range of resiliency skills and tools to become true leaders in their community, enabling them not only to strengthen themselves, but change and strengthen the fabric of their community during routine and emergency. The curriculum of the program includes:

  • How to become a leader and creating leadership teams
  • Understanding crisis and leadership – decision making, prioritizing, and problem solving under stress
  • How to respond to fire, basic injuries and shock
  • Coping techniques for fear and anxiety reactions during crises
  • Working with young children and schools during emergencies
  • Developing personal resiliency for future emergency situations.

Upon completion of the course the youth become certified members of Ofakim’s Volunteer Emergency Response Team and are assigned responsibilities for what they are expected to do and to whom they are expected to report during emergencies. This program is run in collaboration with the Ofakim municipality, police and fire departments, the IDF Air Force and Special Forces unit, Magen David Adom, Ben Gurion University and the Yedid Foundation for the elderly.