HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Dr. Rutie Pilz-Burstein served as the General Director of the Wingate Institute, (the National Institute for Physical Education and Sports in Israel). During her time there she witnessed the positive impact of physical fitness and sport on the body and mind of children and youth.
After retiring, Rutie established Sport - Bridge to Education as a way to change the trajectory of life for some of Israel’s most vulnerable children and youth. Rutie wanted to focus on young people who have suffered extreme hardships and struggle to cope. The programme aims to build character, social skills, improve self-worth and self-esteem and teach essential life skills.
Kids between the ages of 11 – 16, who want to join the programme, must pass a selection process to prove that they are serious and dedicated. Each (youth) village focuses on a specific sport such as cycling, volleyball or fuchiball (Brazilian volleyball). There are 3 training sessions a week. Each participant is required to attend every session.
Training sessions go way beyond the sport itself. Coaches talk about the values of sport such as discipline, motivation, and teamwork. The children talk in their groups about their lives and challenges and strong social bonds are built up over time. They also participate in competitions in their various fields.
The impact of this programme is measured by changed behaviour (rehabilitation from abuse); social integration; relief from diagnosed conditions such as ADD, ADHD, Anxiety etc; and acceptance into army and national service. The impact of the programme is truly life changing.
"I came to the village (youth-at-risk home) in grade 10 at the age of 15, after being on the streets for a long time, literally on the streets. I was involved in all sorts of trouble and exposed to things no kid should see! I did not attend school for a long period.”
Michael grew up in a religious home and when he decided to leave the religious lifestyle, he found himself homeless.
Through the Welfare Department, Michael was sent to a youth village. He heard about the Sport- Bridge to Education programme and was interested even though he didn’t really have any experience in sports and had never heard of the Brazilian game ‘fuchiball’.
He passed a selection process to be accepted to the programme. “In my childhood I’d never experienced ‘excellence’. So here, for the first time, I realised that I have to work hard and prove myself to stay in this special programme”.
Michael started to change his habits. “I had to quit alcohol and drugs. You can’t do sport; you can’t be excellent if you keep those bad habits”. He would go to bed early in order to be up at 6am for the morning training. Michael admits it was not easy in the beginning and it was hard for him to resist temptations. In grade 11 it suddenly clicked for him and he became one of the top fuchibal players. He got the opportunity to train with the best players on Tel Aviv beach and they "adopted" him to help with his training.
The programme also encouraged Michael to be more serious about his studies and against all the odds, he completed his final exams and was recruited to a top military unit of the army. His relationship with his family also improved and they came to his ceremony after completing his basic army training, which was a very significant event and somewhat of miracle.