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Vilnius University (VU) together with Embassy of Israel in Lithuania started a joined student mentorship program “Kelrodė žvaigždė“ (The Guiding Star). One hundred VU students volunteered to become friends and mentors to 9-12 year old children from needy and socially excluded families, the VU Communications and Marketing Department wrote in a press release
Vilius Alesius, Birutė Švedaitė-Sakalauskė, Amir Maimon, @ Vilnius University
Vilius Alesius, Birutė Švedaitė-Sakalauskė, Amir Maimon, @ Vilnius University

One of the main goals of the project is to start connecting two different social groups. The students will help children who have trouble learning or communicating with others, or who just need someone to look up to and be their friend. Together with Vilnius City Municipality, Ministry of Education and Science, schools and children's day centres, one hundred children were selected and each of them will get their own Guiding Star – a Vilnius University student.

According to VU Pro-Rector for Community Affairs Assoc. Prof. Dr. Birutė Švedaitė-Sakalauskė, this will be a continuous project, because 3000 new students join VU community every year, and there will always be children in Lithuania who need a friend.

"Individual attention and a person that they can trust are extremely important to these children. They need someone to show them that the world is a much bigger place than they may have thought. They need to know that there is, for example, a university that they can study at, just like any other child can. Their life belongs to them and no one else. "Kelrodė Žvaigždė" is an opportunity to connect two different Lithuania's: the one that is successful and the one that struggles every day. This connection is extremely important to the future and stability of our society", VU Pro-Rector said.

The Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon inspired "Kelrodė Žvaigždė". This project is similar to Perach – one of the most successful education initiatives in the world, founded in Israel and now spread throughout 25 countries in the world.

"Perach is a voluntary project, based on a very important Jewish principle that all people in the community are responsible for each other. It is how the Jewish community managed to hold together and preserve their identity through the centuries. We believe that it is vital for the society to raise their youth promoting the values of voluntary support for people in need. Sharing the voluntary mentoring practices and remarkable results of Perach project has been a high priority of the Israeli embassy since it opened in 2015", said Amir Maimon.

The volunteers will meet their young friends at least once a week for a minimum of two hours. The activities will take place in their homes, the University campus, playgrounds, libraries, museums, etc. Children and students will be able to decide themselves how they spend their time together – doing homework, playing videogames or football, going outside or watching a movie.

"One hundred is a symbolic number, and although this is our gift to Lithuania for its centennial, this does not mean that we will stop here. We would like to see many more students volunteering in activities benefiting the society. Twenty thousand young people study at Vilnius University – a group this big holds a lot of potential and energy to help initiate good changes in our society", B. Švėdaitė-Sakalauskė said.

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