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We just came back after a short 3 day hike in the Dead Sea area. The Dead Sea, as you may know, is the lowest point on earth. Metaphorically, it is a good starting point for our program: You can only go up from here and see how far you are able to reach. You learn that you can deal with various situations. You can help yourself and also help other people in the group. You can get help from others as well. The point is that you can!

This is a firsthand account of a two-on-one trip with one of our boys. A 17 year old (let’s call him Jer). Jer is very bright and pretty competent – he loves to ride mountain bikes, but prefers the computer screen. Jer also presents with Spectrum like behaviors and difficulties, though he was never really diagnosed. According to his parents, no psychologist or psychiatrist ever “survived” him long enough for a diagnosis or a recommendation, thus he was left alone at school by staff and peers. Eventually, his behavior was too disruptive and the school asked the family to look for an alternative placement.

To get to our hiking destination, we started on a two hour drive with a view that changes from the northern green to the typical Jerusalem golden brown and then the almighty desert-yellow. Then, within the desert you suddenly see the “big blue” with those bright white spots: The Dead Sea. When you finally get out of the car you can feel how warm it is. This is the perfect time in the year for these trips – it is nice and warm out despite the winter. In your backpack you have all you need for the next few days: All the water, food, warm clothes for the colder nights, your sleeping bag and, of course, your notebook. Shortly after heading out, we found ourselves facing the first serious uphill. A quick thought crept in about the car with the AC we had left behind 5 minutes ago. We started climbing together. It was not easy. You are quickly reminded how important team work is and how enriching it is for someone like Jer to experience us as humans and individuals. All for one for all. Jer did really well. When we finally made it to the top, the feeling was amazing. We started not long ago and already you say to yourself “Yes! I did it!”

photo-02-04-2016-9-51-24-amWe walked about 6 miles today, mostly uphill, and are already getting to know each other better. We talked a lot… something about the walk elicits so much conversation, compared to a face-to-face session.  We helped each other a lot. Giving and receiving help seemed so natural here. How different it was from Jer’s everyday conduct: He is typically quick to jump in and help but not as willing to ask or receive help when needed. Here in the desert he appreciated the need to cope on your own, thus checking if the other person needs help, together with the need to rely on each other, thus accepting help and even asking for it when he couldn’t climb one of the rocks. The best part, however, was listening to the silence that surrounded us. There were no phones. No screens. Just you, the people near you and the powerful desert.

 

When we finally arrived where we could camp for the night, we took off our backpacks and shoes. You can really feel your feet and back when that weight is off! After a short rest, we started work again. The weather is comfortable, thus shelter is not an issue. Our efforts focused on building a fire and preparing food. With such a small group, no one can rest, especially when the next person is working. Soon enough we were eating red rice and tahini for carbs and protein, and all we had left to do was our day-summary talk and hit the sac. It is always interesting to listen to each other summarizing the day, expressing thanks and regrets and pointing high and low points. Hearing your own voice amidst the dark, silent desert is just as curious.

img_2029The following days had new high and low points. After the first 24 hours your body starts to adjust better to the climate and hard work. Each day we started by writing our thoughts in a personal notebook. Jer had some amazing insights… a few he was willing to share – with us and with his parents back home, who immensely enjoyed reading them, along with some amazing pictures we sent when we could. It was the first time in months that they saw him content, smiling, and talking about future plans. There’s a long road ahead of us still, but moments like that are a real sign that we are heading in the right direction.

On the way back to the Kibbutz we were too tired to notice the view changing back to green. While we adjusted and became comfortable with all the dust and dirt, we couldn’t wait for the nice warm shower in the room, and the freshly made food variety in the dining hall.