This summer, I interned with the Ethiopian National Project at their headquarters in Jerusalem. ENP provides aid to Ethiopian immigrants to Israel and Ethiopian-Israelis to help them integrate into society and be able to compete with other Israelis at school or in jobs. They provide lessons for parents, a six-year school program for kids to prepare them for the army and their matriculation exam, camps for their kids to go to during the summer, and centers for teens to have a safe environment after school. I spent my days in the office working on fundraising and social media and also traveling to tutor and meet kids at outreach centers.
I had the pleasure of meeting many kids and learning about their impressive achievements that could only have been accomplished with the support of ENP. Two 16-year old girls I met were in the Five Point math class, the most advanced course offered in Israeli high school, studying practical engineering, and were planning to work in high tech in the future. They noted that since they joined ENP’s program and were given the attention and help they needed from teachers, their grades went from low B’s to high A’s. One of the girls was happy to tell me that she ended the school year with a 100 percent grade in the math class and won the mayor’s award.
At a school in Heir Havil, a 13-year-old boy explained how his family walked from Ethiopia to Sudan while carrying him when he was just 1 year old. While I had heard the stories about the operations to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, I had never met such a young child who had made the journey. With the assistance of ENP, his family was able to adjust to Israeli society and he was thriving in school.
Other girls and boys I met during my daily trips to youth centers were all so enthusiastic and gracious to me, and they loved learning English. Two adorable 12-year-old girls taught me Hebrew while I taught them English through games, songs and dances. While other kids their age traveled around Israel, enjoyed the beautiful beaches and hung out with friends, these girls were spending part of their summer learning English, and they seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
Ethiopian-Israelis often live in communities separate from other Israelis. Outside of their communities, they can feel alone because other Israelis can’t relate to their experiences, and occasionally, they face racism. Because Ethiopian communities are comfortable to them, it becomes hard to leave. My Ethiopian-Israeli intern adviser told me that to some it feels like they are at home in a village in Ethiopia when they are in their communities. Forty-five percent of Ethiopian-Israeli children live in poverty and attend underfunded schools that fail to prepare them for exams. ENP’s work proves that with a little extra push, safe environments and excellent role models and teachers, Ethiopian-Israeli students can have higher-than-average test scores, pursue careers they choose and, eventually, leave the communities they’re comfortable in. Because the Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel in 1984 and 1991, it is no surprise that they are not fully integrated into society. They generally came from areas of extreme famine and fighting. If the waves of Sephardic and Russian immigrants could integrate into Israeli society successfully, I have no doubt that with organizations like ENP, the Ethiopian community will become fully integrated as well. ENP is funded through Jewish Federations of North America and private donations. Ethiopian teens need our help to succeed and have a better future. On enp.org.il, you will find ways to donate through campaigns, bar/bat mitzvah projects, and by buying ENP T-shirts and bracelets. If you are planning a trip to Israel, visit ENP’s website before your trip to explore their volunteer opportunities. The work ENP does to help the Ethiopian-Israeli community is only available with the help of donors.
Hannah Miller is a junior at Phoenix Country Day School.