In the aftermath of the devastating October terrorist attacks near the Gaza Strip, Israeli agricultural settlements face severe challenges, including the loss of loved ones and a shortage of foreign laborers.
Farmers struggle to tend to their crops, resulting in fruit and vegetables left to rot in the fields. In response, Tel Aviv University (TAU) has joined the nationwide initiative to support these farmers by organizing volunteer groups to assist with the workload.
The initiative was started by Dr Anat Gafni and Prof. Ram Fishman who both teach on the international master’s program in Sustainable Development at TAU. Dr. Gafni brought the idea to her international students, and first-year students from Honduras, China, and Russia enthusiastically volunteered.
Anat was joined in her efforts by Prof. Hadas Mamane, the head of the Environmental Engineering program at the TAU Faculty of Engineering and of the Water-Tech Laboratory, whose second-year students also stepped forward to help.
Last week the group went to Mivtahim, one of the settlements close to the Gaza Strip, where they dedicated an entire day to taking care of plants.
Dr. Gafni (right) at the farm
Dr. Gafni explains: “We left at 7 a.m. from the university and didn’t come back until 6 p.m. It was a whole day of hard work, but it was very rewarding because the family of the farmer lost one person who was killed in the attack, and they were happy to see us.” This week, several students will also work on one of the farms.
“Us coming there is important not only to keep the kibbutzim going but also to warm the hearts of people there when they see that we help them and talk with them,” — Dr. Gafni.
“I felt it would be great to take part in some field activities, not only to relieve myself of the stress but also to help others who are in a more serious situation,” comments Yixin Wang, one of the student volunteers.
Jose Cristobal Padilla Arias (in the middle) with other international student volunteers
Jose Cristobal Padilla Arias, another student volunteer, shares his impressions:
“Before I came to Israel, I knew from my friends about volunteering in general. As for this particular initiative, I heard about it on the WhatsApp group we have for our program.
When we got to the farm, the owner put us into groups and explained what to do. I worked in a zucchini greenhouse, putting in trellises to support the plants and help them guide themselves up.
It was a very nice experience because I got to meet many new people. It also made me realize how important the sense of community is– with people working together for a common cause.
It’s a good way to acknowledge the hard work that agriculture involves, which makes you value it more. After all, agriculture is one of the fundamental elements of an economy– it provides us with food.”
“I would definitely do it again. It’s hard, but the feeling of helping others is great. I want to give my support as much as I can, being an international student.” — Jose Cristobal Padilla Arias