Chaim Peri’s very name means “fruitful life” in Hebrew, and he has taken that connection to heart. For more than 30 years, Chaim has brought new meaning to the word “life” for thousands of youth around the world who were uprooted or from dysfunctional homes, giving them a long-term home base at Yemin Orde, the Orde Wingate Youth Village in Israel.
The children living at the Yemin Orde Youth Village are often refugees, and come from the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Most have suffered trauma from abandonment, separation from their families, or neglect. Many are at-risk of dropping out of school, turning to crime or becoming the victims of violence or homelessness.
At Yemin Orde, each of these children find a home, a family, and a future.
“There is something that teenagers need like the air they breathe—despite the overt messages to the contrary that they often send us,” Chaim said. “It is the presence of parents, or parental figures, in their lives. Deep down, they feel they deserve to be raised by human beings for whom being a parent is one of the central tasks of their life.”
“Our emphasis is not on restoring parental authority,” Chaim said, “but on restoring parental presence—that hard-to-define elixir that provides teenagers with a sense of guidance as to how to live and be, and the knowledge that the generation that brought them into the world has not abandoned them.”
Tellingly, once youth graduate from Yemin Orde, they often return “home” to Yemin Orde to visit or to spend weekends or holidays, serving as role models for the younger children at the village. Chaim has played an integral role in fostering this strong sense of community.
“The graduates of Yemin Orde over the years have been my main inspiration to continue and to broaden the scope of our work,” Chaim said. “I always maintain that being raised in a reasonable home and community is preferable to even the best and most prestigious boarding institutions.”
The successful model that Chaim has created at Yemin Orde has been integrated into 20 educational institutions throughout Israel, shared by all sectors of Israeli society: Jews and Arabs alike.
“I hope to see each Village Way hub serving as a beacon of hope and wholeness in its area,” Chaim said. “I would like to see it expanding beyond the borders of Israel; making an impact on educational communities in the Middle East and throughout the world.”
In 1998, Chaim received one of the very first World of Children Humanitarian Awards for his dedication to troubled youth at Yemin Orde. We are thrilled to honor him again this year with our 2014 Alumni Award at the upcoming Awards Ceremony on November 6.
Chaim took a few moments to talk with us about why education is so vital for a child’s well-being, and why he keeps doing this work:
What do you think is the number-one challenge you face serving children in need?
Youth at risk tend to adopt to a narrow, self-centered view on life, either because it makes them feel more secure when everything is in flux, or because they have not been exposed properly to the cultures and needs of others. It can be quite challenging to help them open up, or as we call it, “plant the world in their hearts.”
What are some of the challenges you face when working in developing countries?
In developing countries there tends to be what I call the “invisible glass ceiling.” It is a deeply ingrained doubt that educational processes can truly transform a child’s life. This state of mind stems from the educators’ personal experience, creating a negative inter-generational transfer. Combined with the rigidity of local educators’ practice, this can strangle the great human spirit that hides in every child. Yet once the barrier is broken, the sky is the limit.
Where do you see Yemin Orde Educational Initiatives going in the next 10 years?
I hope to see each Village Way hub serving as a beacon of hope and wholeness in its area. I would like to see it expanding beyond the borders of Israel; making an impact on educational communities in the Middle East and throughout the world.
Do you have any advice for other individuals who want to start programs for vulnerable children?
When starting programs for children and youth at risk you will face unexpected obstacles. That’s why it is important to keep the big picture in mind as much as possible. Each day must be filled with the freshness of self-fulfillment.
Also, you cannot transform others unless you transform the understanding of your own inner world – through work with the children. It is finding inner wholeness through healing the brokenness of others, and knowing that they will pass on what they have learned to succeeding generations.
What does it mean to you to win a World of Children?
I am grateful that my lifetime experience is cherished and can increasingly become a source of guidance to more educators. This, I hope, will allow more children to be exposed to the universal and humane quality of our philosophy and its effective practice.
On November 6, Chaim Peri will be honored in New York City with the 2014 World of Children Alumni Award at our annual Awards Ceremony along with 5 other extraordinary changemakers for children. Meet the other Honorees >>