A Smile That’s Worth A Thousand Words

Noa, seven-and-a-half-years-old, is a talkative and friendly girl, who attends 2nd grade in Maaleh Tarshiha, 6 miles south of the Lebanese border. Her picture from the first day of school shows a sweet looking girl in leggings and sandals, hair in a ponytail, smiling as she stands next to a pink backpack with drawings of little fuzzy animals on it.  Similar pictures flood my Facebook feed every year around the first day of school.

What the picture doesn’t show is that Noa was born with a rare genetic disorder characterized by low muscle tone, balance impairment, and various developmental delays. She also suffers from reoccurring respiratory problems. She started therapy at 4 months old when her parents noticed that she wasn’t developing like other kids her age.  Her treatment, which is on-going, includes years and years of various therapies – physical, speech, occupational, hydro, and craniosacral therapies – on a weekly basis.  Thanks to these therapies and her hard work, Noa learned to take steps on her own at the age of 4, can feed herself, and put on her jacket, shoes, and socks without assistance.  She has learned to navigate steps with a little bit of help.  She still falls a lot when she walks outside, but she is making progress all of the time.  Her brilliant smile in the picture shows how happy she was to be attending school like the other kids.

The picture also doesn’t show the frightening lack of health care services in Israel’s northern and southern peripheries.  There is no hint of the report that residents in the North and South forego medical treatment more often than their counterparts living in the central region of the country because of the travel distances required to receive them. It doesn’t show the findings last year of waiting times for speech therapy of a year or more, and a lack of plans to train and send more professionals to the periphery.  And it certainly doesn’t reflect the thousands of hours (and nerves) that Noa’s parents spent battling multiple bureaucracies to receive the therapies supposedly guaranteed to her by law.  And then still having to pay out of pocket for what was missing.

I know Noa’s story because she participates in the Malki Foundation’s Therapists on Wheels program, which pays for her physiotherapy once a week (including the therapists travel time).  I’ve spoken to her mother who is forever grateful for the small part we play in supporting Noa’s road to independence and inclusion.  In fact, the Malki Foundation was built on what is behind Noa’s beautiful picture – the struggle of parents to get their children with disabilities the therapies that would give them a better, more integrated life, living at home with their family.  Over the years we have helped over 4000 families care for their children with disabilities at home and give them the opportunity to be the best that they could be.

There is one part of the story that the picture does tell – the triumph on this sweet little girl’s face as she poses for her mother on her first day of school, wearing a smile that could conquer the world.

I invite you to come and celebrate and support the successes of Noa and other children with disabilities in Israel by attending our annual Rainbow of Music Concert in Ra’anana this November 21, 2018.  Every year, the members of the Ramatayim Men’s Choir dedicate their time and talent to help us celebrate the families and therapists of the Malki Foundation and raise funds to children with disabilities in Israel.  This year’s line-up includes a variety of world renown musicians such as Shlomo Gronich, Avremi Roth and Colin Schachat. We are also fortunate to host Chris Cannan, the Australian Ambassador to Israel, who will also speak on our behalf.  Please join us at this uplifting event, and help children like Noa reach their fullest potential.  For tickets please click here.

*Name and picture have been used with permission




About the Author
Jennifer moved to Israel from California in 2008. She has a Masters of Public Health and BS in Nutritional Sciences. Jennifer currently works for the Malki Foundation, an non-profit organization in Israel dedicated to empowering parents of children with disabilities to care for her children at home. She lives in Jerusalem with her family, and dreams of beaches and forests when she has time.
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