Community Collaboration to Build a Playground at Guatemala Elementary
The idea of turning the schoolyard at Guatemala Elementary in Jerusalem – where 200 students spend time every day – into a playground full of activities that enable the children to develop their imaginations and broaden their horizons – was raised at one of the first meetings of the school's action committee.
"I was recruited about a year ago by Karen Tal, the CEO of Tovanot B'Hinuch, to serve as the chair of Guatemala's action committee," recalls Huli Raz." After bringing more friends on board, the action committee got underway and we started thinking about the major areas in which we wanted to make a difference. One of the ideas that came up had to do with renovating the schoolyard. To accomplish that mission, I enlisted a close family friend – the amazing Shalom Kweller – who is also a talented artist, an entrepreneur, and someone who has a deep commitment to social issues. Shalom immediately took on the challenge and meticulously planned the project, which included forging collaborations within the community. I can definitely say that the collaborations between the different parties were incredible. During the week of renovations, everyone did much more than what was expected and none of the volunteers were deterred by even the toughest physical jobs, including the teachers. Thanks to everyone, we managed to meet our targets. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Tambour Ltd., which supplied us with all the materials and the paint for free."
The successful collaboration between the school community – namely, the students, teachers and parents, 11th graders from the Jerusalem High School for the Arts, and community activists from Kiryat Menachem – paid off. Within just one week, during which everyone, big and small alike, worked side by side – they managed to turn the playground into a miniature model of the planet earth. It's primarily an open space where boys and girls can play, relax and have fun, in addition to learning about their environment, with a focus on sustainability.
But, above all, the students had an important lesson in life. They learned that you can hope and dream because, sometimes, dreams really do come true.
"It was simply a wonderful feeling," recounts Roni Ohana, the school's principal. "With help from the volunteers, we managed to build a dream playground that offers both playing and learning. The children now skip from continent to continent and enjoy playing outdoors. The renovation of the schoolyard is much more than another swing or sandbox…the fact that the schoolyard is designed like a globe enables the children to play imagination games and become acquainted with new worlds, and most of all, believe that anything's possible. When the parents come to the school and see the schoolyard, they too are very moved. We have parents who attended the school when they were kids, and they're glad to see that 30 years later, such a big change has finally occurred."
Shalom Kweller, a member of the action committee, also agrees that the success of the project can be attributed to the various successful collaborations. "The collaboration between all the parties was wonderful and the atmosphere during the renovations was amazing. Everyone had an abundance of goodwill and were ready to contribute. Students from the Jerusalem High School for the Arts, volunteer policemen, National Service volunteers, teachers, the students' parents and the students themselves, all worked side by side and took a lot of interest in the entire process."
Eti Levi, an art teacher at the Jerusalem High School for the Arts, explains: "One of the reasons the project succeeded was that students from Guatemala Elementary met the students from the High School for the Arts at an early stage. As part of the project's planning, the elementary school students were hosted at the high school. I believe that the visit contributed a lot to the actual activities. The high school students took a very active part not only in the implementation, but also in the decision-making. They decided how they wanted to help and which paintings they would draw on the walls. In my opinion, the greatest added value of the project is that Guatemala students saw with their own eyes how dreams can come true, and how an empty schoolyard can fill up color and activities."
Levana, a teacher at Guatemala Elementary, also agrees that the preliminary preparation of the students was very important. "Our students visited the High School for the Arts and even attended some classes. That acquaintance helped them work with the high school students during the week of renovations. All along the way, there was a genuine joy of creating something and everyone felt a sense of satisfaction, including the high school students. Apart from their volunteer work, they also managed to leave their mark on the school's walls. We're planning more meetings with the High School for the Arts because we see that it brings a very high added value to both sides."
Thus, thanks to extraordinary collaboration between the school and the community, and most of all thanks to everyone's boundless willingness and goodwill, the students at Guatemala Elementary now have a playground that will also be a reminder to them that through mutual responsibility, support and assistance, a positive change can be made.