Sivan Almoz, director-general of the First Hug Association, is dedicated to providing lonely, homeless babies with the love and human touch necessary to help them become emotionally healthy adults. Her personal life experience provided an incentive.
The First Hug Association – Hibuk Rishon, in Hebrew – is a non-profit established in 2004 by successful businesswoman Michelle Koriat to provide every abandoned baby, from birth to age three and from all sectors of society, with the healing power of a hug.
As explained in the First Hug literature, “an abandoned baby is doomed to an unknown period of solitude in hospital wards. Depending on his condition, he may remain in the hospital for a period ranging from a few days to several months. The fortunate ones are transferred to foster or adopting families. An ill or disabled baby, for whom it is more difficult to find an adopting family, may stay in the hospital for many months and is eventually transferred to organizations run by social services.”
Each year, approximately 300 babies are abandoned in Israeli hospitals. While some have physical illnesses or defects, others are perfectly healthy but their parents – whether due to drug addiction or other serious issues – are unable to care for them.
“The medical staff at the hospitals, however dedicated, is overloaded with work and can only provide for the baby’s physical needs,” the NGO explains. “They do not have the time to extend the love and care that a baby desperately needs. A team of 280 active volunteers for First Hug (from a reserve of over 500) visits the hospitals daily to care for the babies until their release. They fill the void created by the absence of the biological parents and spend hours with each baby hugging, cuddling, reading stories, playing and singing songs. Their care takes place within the hospitals, under the guidance of the medical staff and in accordance with the baby’s medical condition.”
United with Israel spoke with Sivan Almoz, director-general of First Hug and a social worker by profession. Following is the interview.
How did you become involved in this project? Do you have children of your own? If so, how does this affect you on an emotional level?
Roughly five years ago I was looking for employment as a social worker and came across an advertisement from Hibuk Rishon. I myself began life as an abandoned child in Korea before being adopted at the age of three, and since then have been living in Israel, having been brought here by my adoptive parents. My eldest daughter heard about this opportunity and told me that I absolutely must try to obtain this position because it would also give me closure. This job gives me so much personal satisfaction because we can make a profound difference in the future of these children by tending to their emotional well-being. We look at each child individually and assess his or her needs.
Approximately how many abandoned babies does the organization take in on a monthly or annual basis?
This non-profit has been operating continuously since November 2004 and has cared for more than 1,500 abandoned babies.
What difference does this effort make in an individual child in the long run?
Research has found a direct and clear connection between the physical closeness and love experienced by a child in the early stages of life and the potential for healthy social relationships and success in adulthood.
Can you tell me more about yourself?
I am the mother of four and I feel blessed. At the end of each day it is important to me to hug my own children. At home, I often tell them about the infants at Hibuk Rishon, and they always ask: Can we adopt the baby?
I’m 47 years old and I live in a small community in the Haifa district. Between my busy job and the demands of raising a family, I also volunteer in the community with social projects and consulting. I enjoy spending time at home with my children and entertaining guests. To clear my head, I run several kilometers each morning.
Does First Hug benefit the State of Israel?
By providing emotional support to the babies, we give them self-esteem and confidence and help them to develop good social skills, all of which enables them to become well-adjusted adults who will become good citizens and make a positive contribution to society.
(For more information on First Hug, visit tinokot.org.il)
By Atara Beck, United with Israel
With files from the First Hug Association