Baruch Matatov, a 17 year-old boy from Ashkelon, Israel and an 11th grade student at Kadima Mada’s Kfar Silver Youth Village, is one of the winners of World ORT’s Gina and Joseph Harmatz Award for his efforts to raise awareness and end discrimination for Israel’s visually impaired community.
Other winners of the Harmatz Award in Israel are Rona Nachum of Yitzhak Rabin High School in Nesher and Lior Swisa, Linoy Malka and Eliran Maman of Rodman Junior High School in Kiryat Yam.
Three years ago Matatov contracted a rare genetic disease which profoundly diminished his vision. As he struggled to come to terms with his new condition, Baruch became aware of the many challenges and problems that the visually impaired and blind must deal with. He decided he needed to do something to help the more than 23,500 people in Israel who suffer some form of decreased vision or blindness.
Baruch discovered that many visually impaired students found it difficult to interact with their teachers and classmates. He also learned that there is discrimination in hiring vision impaired individuals, even when full vision is not required for the position. In addition, a recent survey revealed that 50 percent of Israel’s population is unwilling to pursue a romantic relationship with someone who is vision-impaired or blind.
Thanks to the self-confidence and leadership skills he gained at the Kadima Mada program at Kfar Silver, which works hard to allow every student achieve his or her potential, Baruch resolved to address these inequities. He became active in the youth movement Noar B’Yachad, which runs programs on behalf of youth with visual impairment or blindness aged 10 to 21, who are enrolled in regular education settings across the country. Working with the organization, Baruch organized meetings to bring the “visual” community together with the visually impaired to raise awareness, discuss the discrimination they face and advocate for aid. He said, “I have lectured in front of hundreds of students in different grades and schools. I do this on a volunteer basis, sometimes at the expense of my studies at school.”
Baruch is also working to establish a special conference for individuals with decreased vision or blindness, seeking those who have achieved success in Israeli society despite its inherent inequities or prejudices.
“To be someone with a visual impairment in the State of Israel is not an easy feat, he said. “I find that I have accomplished more than expected, in my quest to change the system. But it takes more of an effort and investment. You need to be able to travel throughout the country, from Yokneam to Dimona, to make a difference. I believe my social involvement has changed (attitudes) and will bring about more change.”
Kadima Mada has an educational network comprising six high schools, three of which are attached to Youth Villages, including Kfar Silver, and all of which have a high proportion of students from troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds. It also provides enriching, cutting-edge applied courses to more than 5,000 children, ages 5-17, each year in partnership with the Israeli government and local municipalities. Kadima Mada is currently running 12 YOU-niversity Centers of Excellence throughout Israel’s socio-economic periphery. The Centers provide after-school activities, focused on STEAM subjects, exposing students to enjoyable, hands-on, practical courses that develop their interest in the science and technology fields.