A delegation of IDF veterans has volunteered to spend two weeks teaching disadvantaged children and repairing orphanages in northern Ethiopia to honor the memory of a fallen comrade.
The 25 Israelis will set out in April to volunteer in the city of Gondar under the aegis of the humanitarian group Fighters for Life. Their delegation, named Team Sean, was formed in honor of Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, a Texas-born “lone soldier” from the Golani brigade who was killed in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war with Hamas.
While Fighters for Life has dispatched delegations to India and South America in the past, this will be the first cohort that the organization sends to Africa. Volunteers will teach subjects including English, math, music, and personal hygiene to blind and mute children, and help renovate a children’s shelter north of Addis Ababa, where a dentist will provide treatment to those in need of medical care.
Team Sean will work in collaboration with a local Ethiopian organization and the Israeli organization Eden. “Our most important rule is to not reinvent the wheel, both in our Israel project and our projects abroad,” Fighters for Life explained on its website . “We have fruitful cooperations with local aid organizations and relevant people in the foreign ministry that help us to accomplish our goals and have a successful delegation.”
In India, Fighters for Life’s Team Daniel—established in memory of First Sgt. Daniel Pomerantz—works every September with the group Gabriel Project Mumbai and is assisted by the Israeli consulate. Team Oz, formed in memory of Staff Sgt. Oz Mendelovich, does similar work in Buenos Aires every December. Pomerantz and Mendelovich were also killed during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas.
Fighters for Life was established in 2013 by three veterans of the IDF’s elite Duvdevan unit, who came up with the idea while traveling after their service had concluded. During the trip, one of the group’s founders stayed at a Chabad House in Thailand alongside over 1,500 other Israelis. “He was astounded by the tremendous number of Israelis travelling to such poor countries,” the group wrote, “and this is when the idea was born: to capitalize on this precious resource of post-army travelers in order to make the world a better place.”
Following their compulsory military service, many young Israelis travel abroad for an extended backpacking trip, typically in developing countries. According to Fighters for Life, over 400,000 Israelis traveled to India and South America in the past decade.
The group aims to leverage this unique human resource and turn Israel into a world leader in social action by offering IDF veterans the opportunity to complete meaningful volunteer service in poor communities during their post-army trip.
Around 350 former Israeli soldiers applied to volunteer with the organization in Ethiopia, though ultimately only 25 were selected.
“Fighters For Life’s work has an enormous significance for us,” said  the group’s director, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, “as Jews, Israelis and most of all, for us as human beings.”
[Photo: Fighters for Life / Facebook]