I would like to introduce you to an amazing program which has been in existence now for a number of years. It’s called the “Student Village- Kfar Studentim (Hebrew).” The idea of a student village program can be found all over our country (I’m talking about Israel, of course). This program brings together religious and non-religious college students working towards a common goal by living in a socioeconomic challenging neighborhood where they help the local community in many different ways. By helping others, the students refine their own life values while developing tools for life. A small stipend/scholarship is also offered to the students in appreciation as well as an incentive.
The specific student village I am personally connected with is in the city Ariel in the Shomron. Before I describe to you what it is exactly that we do, I have to describe to you the amazing context of this once in a lifetime experience. So where do I start… being enveloped by community? … The spirit of volunteerism? Feeling accomplished? … Surrounded by a community- like family? Yes, all this and more is what I found when I joined the student village in 2015 during my sophomore year at Ariel University.
As most students, during my freshman year, I preferred (at the time) to live in the college dorms. After all, it was closer to the campus, cheaper, and the student social life “is only there” (or so I thought). As it turned out, life in the dorms had its ups and downs. On one hand, I went out almost every night. I got to know so many people that remembering everyone’s names was almost impossible. I was living right next to the university and didn’t miss a thing. Back then, I could truly say, I experienced on campus student life to its fullest.
On the other hand, though I had loads of friends, it was difficult to build deep friendships (of course I had real friends, but you get the point). I would watch five to six movies a week, and spend my free time basically doing nothing really worthwhile (this is my own subjective opinion). As a person who likes to be creative and busy, I felt like my abilities and potential were being wasted. I had so much energy and it was being thrown away by loafing around for hours. I’m sure if you were ever a student you know exactly what I’m talking about. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that- after all, college classes and hours of studying are tough as it is. It’s perfectly understandable why some college students would want to just “chill” in their free time, but that was not for me.
Towards the end of my first school year, I was hungry for something, and I knew I would not last another two years in the dorms. A friend happened to speak to me about a student program and said it was called something like the “Student Village” (never heard of it). My friend told me she had already gone for the interview for the program, but the application process and the interviews were already finished. That did not deter me- I called anyway. My grandfather used to say: “If you never ask the question — the answer is always no, so you can only benefit by trying or remain in the same situation,” and until today he has not steered me wrong. I was told right away that there was a shortage of religious boys in the “Kfar,” and was invited that same day for an interview. Today, two years later and as an active member of the “Kfar” as we endearingly call the program, I proudly can say it has enriched my life in many ways, and I truly feel a sense of home.
The first thing that the student village taught me was the value of community. What does “community” mean? Community is a group of people who are together, working towards a common goal, sharing similar beliefs, and helping each other through hard times while celebrating the good times as well. In the “Kfar,” we have a shared environment in which we have shared experiences which ultimately unite us. Being in a similar geographical area or sharing a particular circumstance evokes a sense of true empathy between us. We have more understanding of each other and our back grounds as well (religion and nationality). Our community provides a sense of support, as we are enveloped by a large group of friends who are welcoming, loving, and supportive of you just for whom you are. For me, what is most special about this “Kfar” is that we take the time just to sit together and talk (which in today’s day and age is not so simple). I feel like my friends in the village will pick me up when I’ve fallen, comfort me when I’m lost, laugh with me in my joy, respect me even with my weakness, and walk with me in my loneliness in this massive and scary world we call “academia.”
Within a short period of time, the students in the village become a strong community in and of themselves. They all share the same volunteering spirit and with that go out and spread their good will to others (with emphasis on those in need). Volunteering in my eyes gives you a healthy jolt of motivation and a true sense of achievement. Fundamentally, volunteering is about giving your own time, energy, and skills freely. Unlike many things in life, in the student village, there is choice involved in volunteering. As a volunteer myself, I was excited by the prospect of helping on my terms, free from being pushed to do something by others. As a student, with all the pressures of school and the everyday work I need to do for myself, I thought there was no extra time- ever. Here I learned that there is always time. I now feel my days are more accomplished; I’m happier; I realize now I am capable of studying and also helping others along the way. We help out in many different areas in the city, whether it be with the elderly, youth/troubled youth, mentally disabled, schools, private family, organizations and the list goes on and on. We keep so busy with the various projects we take on that I can sadly say I have only seen three movies in the last couple of months (remember the movie marathons I described earlier?).
I feel that the “Kfar” has taught me the truth of the saying “when you give, you get so much more in return.” All this has not only given me great life friends, a bigger community then the student dorm had to offer, and a feeling of satisfaction and a home away from home, being a part of this program has also taught me life values, enriched me personally in many different ways, and made me appreciate more what I have in my life, and the role of family in it as well. The work with the “Kfar” brought with it a new set of goals that I now strive for in my own life. In the process, I have become known in the larger Ariel community and have developed relationships with people I never thought I would (police, mayor, heads of organizations and more). It has given me an overall, total feeling of…”Wow- what a change in my life from where I was two years ago.”
I bring my organization to light not because I’m looking for sponsors to help out with the financial needs of such projects (even though it could be a big help). I am sharing my experiences about the “Student village” because I don’t think it’s well known. In psychology they say “knowledge is power.” I believe if more people knew a project like this existed, and liked the idea, maybe they would also be willing to establish a student village in their own neighborhood. There are no absolute rules of standard form for doing this. You could come up with your own way to do it.
But if you do — then little by little, we could make changes in our society, one neighborhood at a time, at the grassroots level. We would see more friendships being built, more good being done for others through mutual respect and understanding of each other, more positive contribution to our society by reducing juvenile criminal activities, poverty, property destruction, stigma labeling and so much more. All it takes is one person that you helped in any way you can, and you will see, it causes a chain reaction of goodness. My hope is that one day when I need help (whatever it may be), and ask the person helping me where are you from? He or she will answer, “The student village — have you heard of it?”