Michael Derek Tanju
Michael Derek Tanju

Sometimes the best things are right under your nose

I am part of a group of young refugees to Israel from countries all over Africa. Many of my friends chose to work after a few years of school. I was lucky enough to graduate from school and join the national service. I did not realize when I chose this path that it would be so meaningful to serve the country of Israel through Sherut Leumi.

This past December, there was an amazing gathering of all the national service groups in Kyriat Yovel, Jerusalem. There were about sixty volunteers from different countries around the world, each one of us serving this beautiful young country – it was astonishing! I saw these different people from all over accepting one another like brothers and sisters. It was touching for me to see young people my age, white and black, from different continents working to make this country better for the future.

The event opened with a female volunteer who was also a comedian. She explained how important it is to be open about our feelings with one another. She told us a story about a boy she accompanied on a three week trip. He had a great time, but on the way home he started screaming and yelling angrily. No one knew what to do with him. In the end, she spoke to the boy alone, calmed him down, and he admitted that he missed his parents. The speaker explained that anyone who works with people, young or old, as part of national service has to deal with emotional challenges. She said that we have to help them be happy and save them from misunderstandings and negative behavior.

I thought about the child in her story. He didn’t just miss his parents; He probably wasn’t comfortable on the bus. I asked the speaker what was wrong with the child, and she said that he had peed on the seat. I work with kids and I know that when they get mad, embarrassed, or do something wrong, they go crazy. We as volunteers have to ask questions gently to make the other person feel supported; sometimes even more than they are at home. We gain tremendous experience working with people through the national service, which prepare us for life out in the world, including having a family.

I have never worked with adults, but I do have some experience with children. I did one year of national service with kids from different countries: South Korea, Colombo, Philippines, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Russia and Israel. It was extremely challenging to work with such a diverse group of kids. I had to be at the kindergarten early, at around seven or seven thirty before their teacher arrived. The children considered me a friend. “In gan we feel unhappy when you are not with us,” they used to tell me. They were often mischievous during recess and out in the playground while their teachers were not looking, and I wasn’t always able to control them. But they never spoke a bad word or fought with one another. I was often exhausted from all their energy, but in the end, I see how much I learned from them and enjoyed being with them.

The kids often asked me questions about where I come from. When I would tell them that I came from Africa many would laugh and reply that their parents also came from different countries. They would tell me stories about their background like what food they eat at home, or the different dances for weddings or special holidays. I realized that these children feel completely Israeli but they are also connected to where their parents came from. It was such as a wonderful experience to work with at the kindergarten: I learned how to be independent, responsible, patient, respectful and polite.

Back to the conference. The second speaker was a woman who spoke about how she came to donate her kidney to her uncle. Both stories touched our hearts profoundly; the child who needed a loving and the woman who struggled to save her uncle’s life. Since I joined the National Service in Jerusalem I learned how important it is to treat all people with respect and love, and how sharing your story can be an inspiration for other to change.

About the Author
In the year of 1993, Micha'el Derek Tanju was born in Darfur. At the age of 3 his parents suddenly were murdered by terrorists, because of this he eventually decided to move to Israel in 2008 from Darfur. He feels very grateful to have attended the school of Ayanot. The Youth Village in Rishon LeTzion, where he learned Hebrew and English. He completed the Israeli National Service and converted to Judaism in 2016. Currently he is studying computer science at the Jerusalem College of Technology.