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by Danita Aziza, November 17, 2011

Zach Raizman, a second year Sciences student at the University of Winnipeg, experienced Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip this past July. Even though he grew up in a very Zionistic home and was very connected from afar, the country was even more awesome and inspiring than what he had expected.

Before leaving for Israel he learned of a program called, Save A Child’s Heart at the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon a suburb of Tel Aviv that provides international humanitarian cardiac medical care to children from around the world. Raizman decided that he wanted to enhance his trip by staying on in Israel for an additional two weeks to volunteer his time at both the hospital where the cardiac surgeries are performed as well as the SACH home where parents and children stay both prior to and post surgery.

After applying to be a volunteer online at their website, Zach was interviewed by phone and accepted to the program for the beginning of August.

Zach went solo and was the only volunteer from Winnipeg during the two weeks he was in Holon. He had to find his own accommodations and stayed at a hostel called 48 Hayarkon that Raizman said was totally awesome and very conveniently located and he was able to take the bus to and from the Wolfson Hospital and the SACH home easily.

“SACH provided me with all the necessary details for volunteering with the program. They provided me with a “hands on kit” and a valuable manual. They even explained to me in much detail how to get to the home and to the hospital by bus or taxi. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel welcome and worthwhile”.

Twenty years ago Israeli children suffering from heart disease could not be treated in Israel as the expertise simply did not exist. To overcome this gap in medical services, Israeli doctors were sent abroad to develop the skills required and today Wolfson Hospital offers one of the best pediatric cardiac surgery departments in the world. Of the 450 children treated each year, 40% are SACH patients. All the 70 plus staff members of the hospital volunteers a substantial amount of their time to the SACH program, a program that is dedicated to providing the best medical treatment available to children who suffer from heart disease regardless of nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation. Many  Palestinian children as well as Arab children from surrounding Middle Eastern states are treated.

Zach spent his days with mostly Ethiopian patients who were awaiting surgery. He played with the children finding ways to communicate through games, held them and generally helped to care for them when their parents were resting. He had to learn quickly how to communicate and deal with a culture totally unfamiliar to him, but found that just being compassionate managed to be exactly what was required for the job.

 For Raizman, the experience was eye opening and inspiring “The compassion I saw at the Centre and at the Home was overwhelming. Nothing mattered except for the welfare of these young children. It didn’t matter where the children came from; whether they were Israeli or not, whether they were Jewish or not. I witnessed the value of human life and that had a major impact on me.”

According to Raizman, “The doctors treated everyone equally and there was not any racial tension there. It was the most rewarding experience to be in an environment which is truly humanitarian not just in name and philosophy, but also in action and words. It’s too bad that not many people, Jewish and others, are aware of the amazing humanitarian work Israel does even in the midst of all of the security problems it has to face.”

 Zach would absolutely volunteer at SACH again and would encourage others who are looking for a unique and rewarding experience in Israel to check out the SACH website.

What was to be a fun and enlightening first time trip to Israel went well beyond that for Zach Raizman. “Volunteering at SACH provided me with an opportunity to feel like I was giving back in some way to my country. I felt part of Israel, I felt like I belonged there,”

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