At the camps the children were taken care of and closely watched by volunteers, and enjoyed a variety of recreation activities: Swimming at the pool and in natural springs, visiting an amusement park, a zoo and museums, tractor treks and horse riding, and different activities in the fields of music, sports, pottery, theater, arts and more.
"I had the privilege of taking part in an unusual experience in terms of its size, sensitivity and strength," says Rotem Aviran, who volunteered as an instructor at one of the summer camps, which was held in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron.
Young people in Samaria keep in touch with ILAN's children throughout the year, operating a social course for adults at Bar-Ilan University, visiting the different schools and hosting the children and take them on hikes on Shabbat.
The summer camp is the peak of the annual activity, and is attended by children from all across the country. Volunteers are recruited in advance from cities, communities, hesder yeshivot, seminaries, etc.
ILAN kids take photos during summer camp (Photo: Hodaya Matzliach)
"I took part in the adults' camp, which is attended by students over the age of 21," explains Aviran. "The students usually have good communication skills and their intellectual level is medium to high. Many of them are employed in different positions in sheltered factories and kindergartens, volunteer for the IDF and even work in governmental offices.
"I had a great privilege of being part of this special experience," she adds. "I got to know the world of people with special needs who manage to integrate into society successfully, I discovered they have desires, wishes, questions about life, a motivation to succeed, and mainly see the best in everything.
"One can learn a lot from the special world of people with special needs, who deal with the complexity of their lives and still continue seeing the good," Aviran concludes. "You could say that I emerged with a new optimistic outlook on life."
Nilli, the mother of Yaron, who took part in such a summer camp for the first time in his life, had her doubts at first. "Yaron went to the ILAN summer camp in Kibbutz Geva. I said to myself, 'He has never been out of the house. He'll probably come home on the same day,'" she says.
"We took a deep breath. We let him go on the ride alone, and we drove behind them with our car. When we got to the kibbutz, Yaron was already surrounded by three muscular men – Doron, Be'eri and Yossi. They explained to him that they would accompany him throughout the camp. We laughed to ourselves, thinking 'they don’t even know Yaron will be calling us in a few minutes, asking us to take him home.'"
'Glad to be in a society that doesn't pity me'
Nilli was happy to be proved wrong. "At first we waited every day for him to call us to pick him up. Slowly we understood that not only has he no time for us, but that he is not even accepting our calls," she smiles.
"We arrived at the graduation party and were drawn into their enchanting atmosphere. For a moment… it was fun being handicapped. The amount of love, attention, the willingness to accept those who are different and the endless giving by these guys was amazing," she says, all excited.
"It's the Israeli youth at its best, without quotation marks. The adult instructors too, and all the participants – the magician, the cook, and all kinds of charming people who walked around there and whose names I don’t know – performed their work with so much love and desire that all one could see on the children's faces were smiles."
ILAN kids take photos during summer camp (Photo: Ofek Figneblat)
The handicapped children's parents were also given the opportunity to enjoy some time off from the daily routine of taking care of an invalid person. "We rested, gathered our strength, visited friends, saw a movie at the Tel Aviv promenade," says Nilli. "In short, the summer camp allowed us to be normal people for a week."
At the camp's graduation party at Karnei Shmoron, one of the children thanked the volunteers, saying "I fully accept the way I was born. I am glad to be in a society which does not have pity for me for me sitting in a wheelchair, but loves me and takes notice of me because of my personality. I feel that thanks to my disability, I can give society so many things it doesn’t have."