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Unconditional love. Mariuma with youngsters from the Shanti House

Open Doors, Open Heart Twenty-four years ago, Mariuma opened the doors of her home to youth living on the streets and hasn't looked back since. The Shanti House offers a warm and loving home to youth at-risk and helps ensure them a promising future || Orna Schneid

n the early 1980s, the problem of teens at-risk in Israel wasn't on the public agenda at all, and no programs existed that dealt with the issue. Mariuma and her then-partner decided to open their home every Friday night for Kabbalat Shabbat, offering a warm meal to teens that lived on the streets. They improvised sleeping quarters and collected leftovers from the Carmel Market, and rumor of their hospitality spread on the streets. The place got its name after a girl staying with them during the early days once said, "I feel really shanti here." When asked for an explanation, she said Shanti means "love and peace" in Sanskrit. Another youth took a can of black spraypaint and graffitied: "Welcome to the Shanti House", and the rest is history. The house takes in adolescents, new immigrants and lone soldiers from all sectors of society and from

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all over Israel. Many of the youths left home after being abused physically, sexually or verbally, others are at odds with the authorities or have dropped out of formal treatment frameworks, and some have been abandoned by their parents. For many of them, this is their last chance for a warm and loving home before deteriorating to a life on the streets. Some arrive on their own will, and others are sent by the authorities for a short or long-term stay, until a place is arranged for them elsewhere. Some 35-50 youths aged 14-21 live in the house at any time, and it is open to everyone except drug abusers, alcoholics, sexual offenders and the mentally ill. Since its establishment, the Shanti House has absorbed over 18,000 youths. "As opposed to other places, we don't open personal files or surveillance files for the kids," say Mariuma and her husband, Michael Ben Yosef, who run the place together. "Our kids get what every kid in a normal family gets: the right to belong and be loved unconditionally, without judgment and without digging into their past. The moment they walk in the door, they have turned a new leaf and we provide them with parenting, plain and simple."

Unconditional Love The Shanti House's doors are open 24 hours a day, and youth can come by at any time and without 


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The Shanti House



an official referral or waiting period. At the first stage of their absorption, they're given basic necessities and their suitability is evaluated. The residents are required to respect and obey the House rules: no drugs and alcohol, separation between boys and girls' rooms, keeping a regular sleeping and waking schedule, participating in two activities per week and creating a personal approved plan that includes studying, work, army or any other framework that will contribute towards their development and ensure their future. "We don't treat anyone who doesn't want to be treated," emphasizes Mariuma. "Adolescents don't have to stay here if they don't want to, but whoever does has to respect the rules." After a short meeting and getting to know the house rules, the new residents get to know the others, and are sometimes partnered up with a veteran resident to help them integrate into life there. After a few days of rest and regathering physical and emotional strength, the youths are asked about their expectations and dreams for the future, and with the help of the staff, a personal program is constructed that suits their abilities, needs and desires. When youths leave the Shanti House, they are 

Desert Shanti In Israel, there isn't a single center for at-risk youth operating in the South. The Desert Shanti project is currently in the works - a multidisciplinary village that will answer the needs of youth at risk in the South and help expand the Shanti House's treatment programs. The project, set to be completed in April 2009, was established with the help of the Rashi Fund and supported by the Ramat HaNegev Local Council. It sprawls across 540 dunams and has easy access to schools, hospitals and other necessary services. The village will be equipped to absorb about one thousand youths every year from all over israel. The site will include an agricultural zone, with animal and farmland. There are also plans to open a National Information Center for youth from Israel and abroad that will help educate against drug and alcohol use and violence.

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helped with the practical necessities of finding an apartment, opening a bank account, etc., as well as on an emotional level: preparatory talks, support and the promise that their connection with the House won't be cut off and they can come back whenever they feel the need. Former residents are always invited to Sabbath dinners, events and holidays. The enrichment activities the House offers are varied and chosen according to the youths’ fields of interest: art, psychodrama, film, drums, creative writing and more. The House has also run the Shantherapy Center since 1998, which brings the youths to hospitals and homes for the elderly so they can give back to the community. The Shanti House also offers alternative treatments and workshops that help the youngsters deal with their past and the challenges of the present. The Shanti House staff, headed by Mariuma and Michael Ben Yosef, includes people with professional, practical and academic experience, counselors who come from similar backgrounds and use their experience to help the youths - some whom lived in the house themselves - but no psychologists or psychiatrists. If necessary, the youngsters are referred to private clinics, which emphasizes the Shanti House’s distinction as a home, not an institution. The Shanti House's uniqueness has made it a destination for experts in the field from as far away as Europe and Australia , who come to study its methods, hoping to open similar homes in their own countries. Despite the Shanti House's popularity, it still exists mostly thanks to generous contributions, especially from philanthropists Raya Strauss, Nochi Danker and the Livnat family. During this challenging economic period, the House's survival is constantly threatened. "It's not easy to live off donations," notes Mariuma. "The current economic crisis is very scary, but we'll press on." � For details and donations Shanti House, 17 Chelouche Alley, Tel Aviv www.shanti.org; office@shanti.org.il For recognized contributions from the United States: pefisrael@aol.com To volunteer: *2886

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Atmosphere- ELAL 12.2008