When I heard that one of the founders of Hafuch al Hafuch (HAH), Ayala Kochan, was coming to talk to us, the ELEM activists, I thought it was a good opportunity to really understand what this program is about. Geared up with my camera, I arrived at Lenore Ruben’s, President of Elem USA, beautiful apartment. I expected to meet a loud and rather intimidating woman. In other words, I mean, this is the type of person I thought was needed to start something like HAH. I have to say, that I was very surprised after I met a humble, highly intelligent, quiet person, who listens and cares about what she does.
Ayala Kochan, together with Inbar Palmor, started HAH as a project that is designed to answer a very visible need among youth in distress. This is the need for a supportive environment. These children need an environment that will make them feel better about themselves, listen to them and help them figure out how to cope with their lives. HAH gives them hope for their future. It empowers them to pursue their goals and dreams. It helps them realize things can be different. They can be better and more manageable.
So, what’s the deal with Hafuch al Hafuch?
The typical HAH location looks a bit like a very simple coffee shop. It has some tables, maybe a few couches, some refreshments, and of course, coffee. At these locations, you can find information about useful topics, such as army service or do job searches. It has an Internet connection and lots of good souls, that would love to help kids in need with any question they propose. This is different than ELEM’s vans that search for kids at risk. Here you have a place where they can go to themselves.
Why would the kids need to do that? When kids wander the streets every day, it’s usually because they lost their trust in people and they don’t feel comfortable approaching any adult.
Sometimes it’s their friends that bring them over. Sometimes they arrive in groups. This is much easier if each one of them feels awkward approaching the place by him or herself.
There are always social workers around. So usually the kids arrive to just sit around and talk to their friends. One of the social workers will approach them, make an initial contact and maybe ask them to fill out a questionnaire. Then they will identify the ones that need their help. Hopefully this starts a process that will eventually help them build up their trust again and make progress in their personal life.
The concept of “mirroring”
Those of us, who are familiar with psychological terms, will recognize the concept of mirroring. When a baby is born, before he or she sees itself in the mirror, it sees their reflection in their mother’s face. Most mothers love and adore their babies. Their response mirrors back to the child a sense of worth, which in turn creates an internal self-respect and self-esteem. Unfortunately, there are cases where the parents are busy, sick or depressed and can’t give them this sensation. It’s known that to properly develop, a baby needs this from his mother and from another significant adult in his or her life. This is where HAH gets into the picture. It tries to fill this exact spot. There are a lot of workers and volunteers that care about the kids and simply want to help. So, these kids can always find someone they can relate to and learn to trust.
To achieve this sense of trust, the volunteers and workers always try to remember facts from the kids’ life, i.e. what tests did they take lately? Do they have any hobbies? Do they have any special skills? They will encourage them, either by buying some drawing supplies for someone they’ve noticed has the skill for it. They may book an appointment with a dentist, or go to parent days at school.
Well, this is all nice and pretty. But does it really work? Ayala gave us two examples of real cases she encountered at HAH.
Of course their names are fictitious.
“Alon”, 15, belonged to a mixed group freaks or rockers that used to visit in HAH on a “regular” basis. Some of the kids in the group went to school. Some didn’t. Some used drugs. Some didn’t. Some wandered the streets all day.
One day Alon’s father, who was a very strong and stable figure in his life got sick and died. Alon blamed himself for his dad’s death. His mother became more and more dependent at him. This made it harder for him to cope with the situation. He wandered the streets and got into fights. He dropped out of school. He felt no one understood or cared about him. One day, while he was standing with his group of friends on the 4th floor in Dizengoff building in Tel Aviv, he suddenly felt a strong urge to jump. He told his friends. Immediately they talked him out of it and called the HAH center. This event was very traumatic to the whole group, including him.
Since this incident, Alon visited HAH almost every day. He stayed there as long as he could. He got support from the volunteers and workers. The HAH got in touch with his school and made sure they’d take him back. They received additional support from his former teacher. They also took him to a psychiatrist, who helped him. He made tremendous progress during that time.
“Omri”, 13, was a gay teen and felt like he could not tell his parents about it, especially his father. He came from a financially stable family. However, he had a very bad relationship with his parents. At some point they took away his key to the house, so he would not be able to mess it up while they were not there. This caused him to wander around the streets every day. He was hungry and needed support from his environment. He went to a HAH center with a strong need for a warm and supporting environment. Omri refused to let HAH workers talk to his parents. He was very frustrated. The HAH volunteers tried to give him as much support as they could. At some point he simply appeared at the HAH center with a bag. He was running away from home. He thought he could just get away and easily find a better home. Then he realized it is not as simple as it looks in the movies. In his case, the HAH crew helped him get back to his family and cope with the situation.
So how do the HAH volunteers handle saying goodbye at the end of the process?
It’s a long and tedious process of giving them the confidence to continue by themselves. The goal is to make them understand that they need to be independent. These kids will always have the support from people in HAH. They will always be glad to have a cup of “Hafuch” (i.e.: “café latte”) over a nice chat.
Ayelet Levron, activist