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Sasha: From Stuttering Introvert to Strong Leader

Sasha, 18, was born in Russia. His parents divorced when he was three years old, at which time he was placed in an orphanage.

"As long as I can remember, I was being transferred from one institution to the next," he recalls. "I don't remember ever seeing my father. My mother would visit me every now and then, and I would always beg her to take me home with her. She used to tell me that being in a residence or foster home was better for me since she was all alone and not capable of taking care of me. I never understood why. I used to say that if I came home with her, neither of us would be alone."

Sasha says that his situation ruined his self-confidence. "I felt that I couldn't count on anyone other than myself," he says.

In addition to feeling abandoned by his parents, Sasha has stuttered since childhood. Because of this problem, he rarely spoke unless absolutely necessary and never opened up to anyone. "Kids used to tease me, and I would get into a lot of fights. I've always been pretty big, so I was able to take care of myself. Still, I never had any real friends growing up."

Sasha immigrated to Israel in 2003. He went directly to the Yemin Orde Youth Village, but fitting into his surroundings in Israel was not always easy. "I had a very hard time learning Hebrew. My stammering would only get worse when I tried speaking the language." Despite this, Sasha almost completed his university exams. The only subject he didn't pass was Hebrew grammar.

Sasha joined the Yemin Orde Pre-Military program after he had been accepted to a trial intake for an elite navy unit. "I just felt as if I had a long way to go before I would actually be accepted to or would succeed in the unit."

The Yemin Orde staff says that from the beginning they could see that Sasha was a special young man with extraordinary inner strength. "He assumed a leadership role in the group during the first week," one of his teachers explains. "This was quite surprising to us since most of the participants were of Ethiopian origin and he was a stuttering new immigrant from the FSU." Sasha was voted president during the first community elections.

Despite this success, he was afraid of talking in front of crowds due to his stuttering. He also had a temper and was easy to anger if he felt someone was disrespecting him. The staff says that he worked hard to improve himself. He learned his speeches by heart in order to overcome his language difficulties and attended anger-management classes.

"The program has changed my life," Sasha says. "I have learned how to trust people and how to make genuine friends. I am a more mature person than I was seven months ago. I know how to control my anger and resolve a conflict by talking instead of fighting. I am sure that I would never have succeeded in an elite navy unit without Yemin Orde. Being a combat soldier is no longer my only ambition. I want to be a commander and officer. I want to lead people. None of this would be possible without Yemin Orde. I want to thank and express my appreciation to the people who understand the importance of this institute and donate to it."