“Knafayim Shel Krembo”, or “Krembo Wings”, is an Israeli youth movement, just like other boy scouts or girl scouts movements. Krembo Wings is special, however, in that it is the only youth movement in Israel created for children with special needs.
Five hundred disabled youths gather once a week with over 1,000 high school student-volunteers, in 19 branches across the country, to create an invaluable bond that goes far beyond their weekly activities.
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“Many participants show up to their first activity asking, ‘Where’s the Krembo (the name of a staple Israeli snack)?’” Kfir Shust, the organization’s Logistics Manager, tells NoCamels.
Krembos, the chocolate-covered marshmallows, are known for being hand-wrapped individually. Similarly, says Shust, each child at Krembo Wings is “wrapped” personally with love, care, and the belief that they can spread their wings and fly.
Krembo Wings’ uniqueness lies in the fact that the leaders of the youth movement’s activities are not trained caregivers, but 14- to 18-year-old Israeli children. They lead and plan the activities, organize all of the volunteers, coordinate events and ensure that everything is running smoothly.
The beginning: finding Kfir friends
Krembo Wings began in 2002, with a then 16-year-old girl named Adi Altshuler and her friend Kfir, nine years younger, who was disabled. Kfir had cerebral palsy and his mother needed some help around the house. Adi, anxious to volunteer, soon became a part of Kfir’s family.
The relationship that Adi and Kfir had was not limited by the differences in capabilities, or the fact that Kfir could not communicate by speaking – they quickly learned to understand each other and discovered other means of communicating, Adi says. Throughout the entire time Adi spent with Kfir, she strongly felt that what Kfir was missing were friends. ”I knew how much he loved social interaction, but the only people he interacted with were his family and me,” she tells NoCamels.
Kfir’s mother says of Adi: “She saw how he enjoyed social interactions when our friends came to visit, and realized that Kfir and his friends needed to have social interactions of their own, without the parents having to be present.”
“That is when I decided to call students from Kfir’s class at school and organize activities,” Adi says. Adi arranged rides for all of Kfir’s classmates, organized activities told parents she would take care of everything. That is how Adi started the first branch of Krembo Wings in the city of Hod Hasharon in Israel. “Soon enough, more parents, friends and educators heard about what was going on and wanted to expand. Everything took off,” she explains.
Today, 11 years later, 19 branches (and counting) have been established throughout Israel – entirely funded by donations. In 2010, Krembo Wings was named “social movement of the decade” by Israeli newspaper Maariv.
Changing lives of participants and volunteers
Before coming to Krembo Wings, many of the high school-aged volunteers have never encountered a special-needs child, says Kfir Shust. Some of the disabled youth can’t speak, some don’t have full use of their legs, and others are in wheelchairs. The volunteers learn to understand and communicate with their special needs partners, by going to their homes and meeting their families and spending time with them every week.
“This is Israeli youth at their prime,” Shust tells NoCamels. “The amount of responsibility and drive these students have to do something meaningful is relentless. These students don’t see Krembo Wings as a volunteer organization, they don’t even like to be considered volunteers, at Krembo Wings they see themselves as equals to their friends in wheel chairs.”
For example, while playing a game which required running from one side of the gym to another, two volunteers lifted a girl who was not able to run by her arms, and ran her to the other side of the gym, truly giving her “wings to fly”, Shust remembers.
Giving back to society
Adi, now Krembo Wings’ President, says: “When people ask me why I established Krembo Wings, I reply: So that Kfir and children and youth like him, will have a social life, so they wont be lonely. So that they will have the same opportunities as everyone. But actually its not just for them, its for me, its for us, so that we will not be alone.”
Krembo Wings last opened a branch in the Bedouin city of Rahat in June 2012 and welcomes special needs children and youth from the surrounding areas.