Twenty-five Israeli backpackers on their post-army trip, most of them veterans of IDF combat units, have decided to volunteer in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, tutoring the local children in English and math as well as renovating community institutions as part of the Heroes for Life program.
One of the volunteers, Lior Tabib, 25, is a former Air Force officer who lost his friend Capt. Tal Nachman in 2014 in Gaza. The two had planned to travel through South America together, and Lior decided to join the delegation in his friend’s memory.
Capt. Nachman was killed in a friendly fire incident during operations on the Gaza border four years ago, when a soldier from the Givati reconnaissance battalion accidentally shot him after mistaking another soldier for a terrorist.
At first, Lior and his colleagues worked at the Cantagalo Favela, and recently they moved to another location at a community center in the Pavuna neighborhood, which is located at the periphery of the city and surrounded by favelas.
Every day, Lior and his friends hold classes in different subjects for the local children with the help of members of the Jewish community in the city, who serve as interpreters.
The volunteers are also helping renovate the community center in the neighborhood.
They are also active in the favelas of the city of Niterói, which is across Guanabara Bay from Rio.
Heroes for Life was founded in 2014 by three officers from the Duvdevan unit who, while travelling in the Far East, encountered the many Israelis who were visiting third world countries and realized the potential of using that resource to present Israel in a positive light through volunteer work.
Heroes for Life is chaired by former Air Force commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Eliezer Shkedi. The only condition to joining a Heroes for Life delegation is first volunteering with the organization at a youth village in Israel for three days.
This year’s delegation is called “Team Daniel” after Danieli Zonenfeld, a National Service volunteer who was working with children with cancer at the Schneider Medical Center. She was killed in a traffic accident three years ago.
“We began our activities less than four years ago, and this is already the 13th delegation," said organization founder Gili Cohen. "In addition to Brazil, there are delegations going to India, Nepal, South Africa, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina and Ethiopia each year. This is an excellent opportunity for discharged soldiers to combine a value-based activity with their post-army trip, with an emphasis on presenting the true face of Israel to the world.”