Meir and Omri Go to School, but Without Books or Pens

Though brothers Meir and Omri may seem like ordinary schoolchildren, there is one crucial difference: The backpacks on their backs are empty - no books, no notebooks and no pens.

Meir, 10, an outstanding 5th-grader, has been receiving books from a charity ever since he started school. But this year, the charity's own dire financial straits mean he might be left without. Omri, 9, a 4th-grader, has also not yet received his books. Nor can their parents afford to buy any.

"I prefer to buy them food and make sure we can pay the electricity bills rather than buying them school books," said their father, Charlie. "They need to survive from day to day."

Of the 400 students attending Hagiva Elementary School in the Negev town of Ofakim, 25 find that textbooks, notebooks and bookbags are beyond their parents' means. The school's principal tried holding a fund-raiser for the students, but failed to raise the money he needed.

"I don't have books because mom and dad don't have enough money to pay for books for us," said Meir. "Some kids have it better and their parents buy them books, and some kids are like me: Their parents don't have money, so they don't have books."

"Every year, my son gets home from school and says he's the only one who didn't get books," Charlie said. "A kid should feel like an equal among equals if we're trying to raise a serious generation. Why is it the kids' fault if their parents are unemployed? They get frustrated, and you get repercussions further down the line.

"Because this situation results in a whole variety of problems for the kids, I think that all mayors, and not just our municipality, should check that every student in their town has all the necessary books and equipment," Charlie added. "They shouldn't wait for each case to come up individually. These kids aren't guilty of anything."

The Ofakim municipality said in a statement that it considers each case individually, and a solution will be found for every student who has trouble obtaining books. "There will not be a student in Ofakim who studies without all the necessary equipment," the statement said.

The Education Ministry said it gives financial aid to students from underprivileged families to cover the cost of books as well as school activities like field trips.

The grants are distributed by the schools according to individual needs, the ministry said.