YEDID: The Association for Community Empowerment

Through a national network of Citizen Rights Centers, YEDID empowers low-income Israelis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to access their rights, break the cycle of poverty, and achieve self-sufficiency. YEDID ("friend" in Hebrew) was founded in 1997 with the mission to promote social and economic justice in Israel. To date, YEDID has given direct assistance to over 290,000 Israelis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. In addition, we have run hundreds of community empowerment programmes, and have lobbied successfully for public policy change on social issues such as housing, labour, healthcare, and social security. Our approach to creating social change operates on ...
Apr 28, 2014

Progress Report on Vocational Training Course

The second cohort graduates!
The second cohort graduates!

In January 2013, the second cohort of students of the Megemeria School began their training at the YVEL Design Center, situated on the outskirts of Jerusalem. YVEL's location was symbolically fitting for this undertaking: the students, Ethiopian immigrants living in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, felt that they were society's outcasts. Prior to their being accepted to Megemeria, the majority of the students had worked minimum-wage jobs, such as cleaning or mall security, which forced them to work long hours in order to be able to support their families. A complex set of obstacles, such as the students' lack of Hebrew skills, and the vast destabilizing cultural differences between Ethiopia and Israel, stood between them and a successful integration into Israel's workforce and society.

However, after just a few months into Megemeria – which means "Beginning" in Amharic – the students underwent a profound transformation. As they acquired the jewelry making skills that would enable them to have a meaningful and viable profession, the students' self-confidence increased, and their children began to take pride in their parents’ work. The students' sense of belonging to Israeli society began to grow, thanks to the financial literacy courses and classes on Israeli culture, history, and geography that YEDID provided throughout the program.

The Megemeria School would not be possible without the generosity of donors like you – every dollar you donated helped the 22 students of the second cohort gain the skills, confidence, and knowledge that they needed to become self-sufficient workers, who take pride in their creative work and support their families with dignity. The second cohort of students graduated in March, and we are excited to share with you that 20 of the 22 students passed the written and practical exam of the Ministry of Economy accreditation course in jewelry making! The remaining two students are scheduled to retake the exam in the near future, and 17 graduates are now employed by YVEL or Megemeria, along with the graduates of the first cohort.

Megemeria jewelry sales continue to soar! The jewelry collections of both cohorts have attracted national and international interest: in the coming months, the Home Shopping Network will feature four pieces of the Megemeria collection, and Israel’s prestigious Ahava company has purchased $35,000 of Megemeria jewelry to sell! Additional pieces of the collection are being sold at the Padani Jewelry Company in Jerusalem’s upscale outdoor Mamilla Mall. With each new piece of jewelry sold, Megemeria serves as an ambassador of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, sending a clear message: when given the opportunity, this community is capable of great things.

One of the second cohort’s students, Joseph, made Aliyah in 1998. From the moment he arrived in Israel, Joseph was determined to make a decent living for himself and his family. “I didn’t want charity,” Joseph says, thinking back on those first few weeks in Israel, “I wanted to work. I wanted to be a part of Israeli society.” But there were several crucial factors standing between Joseph and his hope for a viable profession and societal inclusion. “In Ethiopia, I was a farmer. In Israel, there aren’t many job openings for farmers. With my non-existent Hebrew, I simply wasn’t a candidate for higher-paying jobs.” Undeterred, Joseph started working a minimum-wage job as a cleaner, while going to Ulpan (Hebrew language school) at night to improve his Hebrew and his prospects. “I kept dreaming of learning a trade, of having a job I could be proud of. But I never got the chance to try.” Joseph worked as a cleaner for 5 years, and as a security guard (another minimum-wage job) for another nine years. “I still held on to my dream,” he remembers bitterly, but I felt like it would never be fulfilled. I was stuck.”

One day, Joseph heard about the Megemeria School from a friend. After checking his suitability he was accepted into the program, and he recently graduated with the second group of cohorts. “I’m so grateful to YEDID and YVEL for giving me this wonderful opportunity,” Joseph says smiling. “It’s not just that you’ve helped me fulfill my dream of learning a trade – you’ve also helped me and my family become more independent and empowered. If in the past I barely saw my children because of the extremely long hours I worked, today I’m much more involved in their lives. I study for tests with them, I help them with their homework, and I get to be a part of their social lives. You’ve enabled me to be a better parent, and for this I am so grateful.”

Joseph and the rest of the students in second cohort have embarked on an exciting new chapter of “Megemeria,” an in-work program of work-related skills training to strengthen their English and Hebrew skills, while developing the critical business skills they need to develop and grow Megemeria as a social business that will help them advance in family-supporting careers. YEDID will continue to provide social, economic, and legal support for all of the program’s graduates, to ensure a positive transition of the graduates into the workforce. Through individual rights counseling, family budget planning courses, and confidence-boosting empowerment courses, YEDID will continue to help this extraordinary group of people grow personally and professionally. 

On behalf of YEDID's staff and the students and graduates from Megemeria, I thank our supporters for their partnership. Without help like yours, 44 talented individuals would not have had the chance to embark on the path to a brighter future. Thank you so much!

Feb 6, 2014

Progress Report on YEDID's Mobile Center

The goal of YEDID's Mobile Citizen Rights and Health Center is to empower and strengthen residents of Israel's socioeconomic and geographic peripheries in the areas of health and social rights. The Center's objectives are to help its clients navigate the national health system; to provide preventative medical services; and to supply information about legal rights and social benefits in the area of health care and other areas (such as housing and National Insurance, to name just two).

From the beginning of November 2013 through the beginning of February 2014, the Mobile Center provided 127 clients with rights counseling. The most prevalent subjects for which people turned to the center for non-health related issues during this period were matters related to debt and repossessions (42%), issues concerning public housing (20%) and mortgages, and problems with the National Insurance Institute (12%). Clients served included immigrants and veteran Israelis, Arabs and Jews. The following story provides a recent example of YEDID's work.

Alex, a new immigrant from Russia, came to the Mobile Center while it was stationed in Carmiel; he was homeless, with no job or any sort of income. He spent every day wandering aimlessly around town, and spent each night at a different friend's house. This went on for five years. 

Alex didn't understand Hebrew, and had no knowledge of his rights. A number of years ago he approached Welfare Services in Carmiel to try and better his situation. However, due to difficulties in communicating with him, Welfare Services dropped Alex's case, and Alex was left frustrated and despondent. However, when a friend told Alex about YEDID, he decided to approach us for assistance. We began by going with Alex to the Employment Bureau and helped him register there. At the same time, we accompanied him to the offices of the National Insurance Institute, the  to apply for income support. Alex had to go through a complex bureaucratic process, and bring many certifications and affidavits, as a result of having an apartment under his name from the time of his marriage - we accompanied him and aided him throughout the entire process.

In a short amount of time, the application for income support was approved, and Alex began to receive his stipend on a regular basis. After years of wandering, Alex has begun to feel a sense of permanence. Today, Alex rents an apartment on his own, and is looking into Ulpan programs to learn Hebrew. Now that his financial situation has become more stable, he feels less pressured, and has even started talking to his friends about jobs that he's interested in. 

The Mobile Center's plans for the coming months are to continue running Health Days, to recruit more volunteers with specific skills such as fluency in Arabic and Russian, and professional experience in relevant fields. Thanks to a generous donation, we are planning to increase the Mobile Center's operation from three to six times a week! An increase in days will allow us to access and assist more clients in Israel's underserved peripheries. 

On behalf of YEDID's staff, volunteers, and clients, I thank our supporters for their partnership. The immediate and essential assistance that the center provides to individuals across the country could never happen without your help. Thank you so much!

 

Feb 3, 2014

Progress Report on Vocational Training Course

Megemeria
Megemeria

The second cohort of 22 students (18 women and four men) began their training at the Yvel Design Center in January 2013. This course provides an introduction to the elements of jewelry making, such as working with gold and silver, gem setting, and design process. In April, the group began the Ministry of Economy accreditation course in jewelry making. At present, the students are spending a number of months continuing to learn Hebrew and jewelry making, and are working hard to pass the practical and written exam.

As part of its holistic approach to each client, YEDID provided the second cohort of students with a financial literacy course that gave them essential tools – from basic numerical skills to keeping their accounts and saving for the future, as well as understanding the differences between their "needs" and "wants," so as to enable them to make sound and informed choices based on knowledge. The students and graduates of the course also make use of YEDID's counseling and education lectures, on topics such as How to Apply for Tax Credits, Overcoming Past Debts and Pensions and Saving Plans. Additionally, all participants who were eligible (20 in all) to collect money through Israel’s system of negative income tax were able to jointly submit documents through YEDIDs arrangement with the tax authority – which included fiscal years 2012 and 2013. All of the students who had been in employment in previous years received between 1,000 and 8,000 NIS.

Continued attendance and participation of the second cohort has been excellent. As for the first cohort, 22 graduates are currently employed at YVEL and the social business Megemeria. One student set up a private business marketing her work. In 2014, YVEL and Megemeria will be ready to accommodate the 22 new graduates. All participants from both cohorts improved/are improving their Hebrew and have reported an increased sense of familiarity with the country and its culture and a strengthened sense of belonging. Sales of the students' jewelry have been steadily increasing: in 2013, the sales for Megemeria Jewelry reached over $109,000!

All of the students have said that their greatest hope is to transform their lives by attaining an economically viable and personally meaningful profession. Megemeria's greatest achievement is helping these students realize this dream. Thanks to Megemeria, 40 Ethiopian Israelis are in (or on the way to) meaningful and viable employment, creating and selling beautiful jewelry where once they were cleaning floors or checking bags at entryways to malls. The presence of 18 graduates in the YVEL design center also gives students from the second cohort a chance to see with their own eyes that there really is a professional future waiting for them upon completion of the course. The participants of both cohorts have improved their future prospects in life as well as their present-day quality of life. Those who are parents serve as proud role models for their children of integrated and successful Ethiopian-Israelis.

We're not stopping at two cohorts. There is a third cohort planned for 2014, and we are continuing to advance this growing social business, which produces jewelry that is in demand in Israel and abroad. YVEL and YEDID are looking into developing the school and social enterprise into a community based tourism to house a craft shop, a café, and space for Ethiopian artisans to demonstrate traditional crafts and skills: weaving, pottery, woodcarvings, cotton spinning. This will create a place to share the Ethiopian Israel story with visitors from home and overseas while generating revenue for the local community.

One Woman's Incredible Journey in Megemeria

Asnika moved from Ethiopia to Israel in 2003. The village that she came from had no school, and in order to go to school she would have had to travel far. Asnika was one of the oldest children in her family, and her father was worried about sending her so far from home. As such, she had not had any formal schooling. Upon arriving in Israel, she began working as cleaning worker, with work shifts that usually lasted 10 hours at a time. This meant that she only saw her children late in the day, for short periods of time. Although she went to Ulpan (a school for the study of Hebrew) upon coming to Israel, her Hebrew language skills remained poor, leaving her dependent upon her husband for even the simplest interactions with the outside world, such as going to the supermarket or the post office. Her lack of Hebrew also kept her from being involved and aware of what was going on with her children's education.

When Asnika came to the interview for the second cohort of Megemeria, the interviewers sensed her hesitancy, her lack of self-confidence. They were concerned that these qualities, together with her poor Hebrew skills, would make it likely that Asnika wouldn't be able to handle the course's demanding requirements, and would drop out. However, they also saw the creative potential that she had in her hands. She was accepted to the program.

After only a few months in Megemeria, Asnika went from being one the weakest students, to one of the class leaders. Aside from the jewelry-making abilities that she acquired, Asnika gained important life skills. After undergoing a financial literacy course as part of the Megemeria program, Asnika began to actively participate in the running of her family's finances, something that she had been too timid to do before. Her children have also benefited from their mother's empowerment. She is much more involved in their schooling, doing homework with them in the evenings, and maintaining contact with their teachers. Sometimes she brings home assignments from Megemeria, and as she works on them her children watch her. "Mom," they say, "we are so proud of you." Reading the newspaper or even texting in Hebrew are no longer daunting tasks, but daily occurrences for Asnika. Looking back at how far she's come, Asnika remarks: "I have started to dare, to assert myself. It is wonderful, to feel so fulfilled. I have Megemeria to thank for this."  

On behalf of YEDID's staff and the students and graduates from Megemeria, I thank our supporters for their partnership. Without help like yours, 44 talented individuals would not have had the chance to embark on the path to a brighter future. Thank you so much!

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