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 ...
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!

Nov 7, 2013

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 August through the end of October, 2013, the Mobile Center ran one Health Days in Haifa, serving a total of 20 clients. The Center also provided an additional 139 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, issues concerning public housing and mortgages, and problems with the National Insurance Institute. Clients served included immigrants and veteran Israelis, Arabs and Jews. The following story provides a recent example of YEDID's work.

In August, when the Mobile Center was in Nazareth, a middle aged man named Sami arrived on referral from a social worker from the city's welfare office. Sami has no family, does not speak, read or write Hebrew, and depends on welfare benefits and rental assistance.

Sami's absence of Hebrew skills and his lack of knowledge about his social rights had exacerbated his already difficult financial situation. He had debts that had been turned over to the National Agency for Debt Collection, totaling an astounding NIS 75,000. On top of this, because Sami was not clear about the procedure by which he was to make his debt repayments, he had made a fundamental procedural error (about which he was totally unaware), which had resulted in the seizing of funds from his account.

With the help of a translator, YEDID's Mobile Center director, Irena, asked Sami to bring all the relevant documents and bank statements he had so that she could request that the National Agency for Debt Collection consolidate his files and declare him as a person of limited financial means.

Incidentally, when Irena reviewed Sami's bank statements, she noticed that he had not received rental assistance for three months. Sami had not realized this because he did not know how to monitor his bank account. Irena contacted the housing offices responsible for providing rental assistance, and the clerks there admitted that the mistake had been theirs. They fixed the error and immediately transferred three months worth of retroactive rental assistance to Sami's account.

A few weeks later, Irena received a response from the National Agency for Debt Collection stating that Sami had been declared a person of limited means and that they had reduced his monthly debt repayments. Irena met with Sami again and taught him how to properly manage his payments to the Agency so that his file does not get out of control, and also how to monitor his bank account to make sure that everything is going as it should.

Sami now has more manageable debt repayments, and is empowered by the financial literacy that he acquired to exercise more control over his bank account.

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!

Nov 5, 2013

Progress Report on Vocational Training Course

The second cohort of 21 students (17 women and four men) began their training at the Yvel Design Center in January. This course provides and 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 Trade, Industry and Labor (TAMAT) accreditation course in jewelry making. Once that course is complete, the students will spend a number of months continuing to learn Hebrew and jewelry making, and preparing for the TAMAT exam.

YEDID is also helping the students navigate Israeli bureaucracy and understand the country's employment laws. In March, the head of YEDID's Legal Department gave a lecture to the class on Israeli labor law. The students took great interest, asked many questions, and a number of them realized that they had not received from their former employers certain benefits to which they are entitled. These students have turned to YEDID for help in writing letters to their former employers, advocating for their legal rights by detailing exactly that which should have been included in their paychecks. This effort was reinforced in May, when two volunteers from YEDID's Citizen Rights Center in Jerusalem went to the school to offer individual rights counseling to students in need.

Continued attendance and participation of the second cohort has been excellent. As for the first cohort, all members completed the program and all were integrated into employment at the Yvel Design Center or at the Megemeria social business. One student set up a private business marketing her work.

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 steady building.

Prior to joining the program, Megemeria's students from both cohorts had been working in dead-end jobs in fields such as maintenance, cleaning, and security. All of the students have said that their greatest hope is to transform their lives by attaining an economically viable and personally meaningful profession. 22 students are already working; 21 more are on their way. These people 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.

Testimonial

Fantanesh is a divorced woman who is raising five children alone. Born in a small village in Gondar, she immigrated to Israel in 2002 with her husband and 4 children. The family moved into an absorption center in Arad, and one year later, the youngest child was born. In 2004 the family moved to Kiryat Menachem, and in 2008 Fantanesh divorced her husband. She has been supporting herself and her children entirely alone ever since.

Fantanesh labored as a sub-contracted cleaner for years in order to provide for her children. For her, it was a job that offered no hope for a future, but it was all she could find. Then she heard about the Megemeria program at her local community center. Fanatesh applied and was accepted into the program.

At this point in the story, it is necessary to note that this was the first year of the program's operation, and management of the program was being provided by another non-profit organization.

As a single mother whose former husband does not fulfill his child support duties, Fantanesh was collecting child support from the National Insurance Institute (NII). In order to be eligible for this support, a single parent must earn below a certain income ceiling. As part of the Megemeria program, Fanatesh received a monthly scholarship on which to survive. This scholarship, combined with the child support money that Fanatesh received from the NII put her over the income ceiling. But because YEDID had not yet joined the program, no one knew that a serious problem was being created.

The months passed and Fantanesh continued to collect both child support from the NII and her monthly scholarship. Even with both sources of income, she struggled desperately to make ends meet. But in spite of her significant financial struggles, Fantanesh excelled in the program. She finished with honors, passed the Ministry of Industry and Trade's exam for jewelry makers, and was integrated into work at the Yvel Design Center. Her life seemed to be changing.

But then in 2012, Fantanesh got a letter from the NII stating that she was in debt to them - for an enormous amount of 19,000 shekels! The explanation was that Fantanesh had crossed the income ceiling for the entire period of her studies – an income ceiling about which she had never been informed.

Luckily, by this time YEDID had taken over management of the program, and was able to immediately advocate on Fantanesh's behalf. YEDID petitioned the NII committee responsible for erasing debt. After a prolonged struggle, we were victorious – the committee agreed to erase 70% of the debt.

Throughout the entire span of YEDID's involvement with Megemeria, we have been appealing to the NII to relax its criteria regarding students' ability to collect their scholarships without compromising the various forms of income support they may be collecting from the NII. This is not so that the students can become rich and relax; it is so that they may learn and live in dignity, nothing more. At this point in time, the struggle continues.

To provide a quick update on Fantanesh's story:  she has invested some of her recent earnings into equipment for doing additional, independent jewelry repair and design from her home, after she completes her workday at the Yvel Design Center. She sees a future in the profession that she has selected for herself, and she is pursuing that future independently. Fantanesh has left her past of working in dead-end cleaning jobs behind her, and is moving into a brighter, more hope-filled life.

Fantanesh is one example of Megemeria's success in helping participants achieve independence through meaningful and viable employment. She is also an example of the kinds of hardships with which Megemeria's students struggle. YEDID is honored to have joined this program, and to put its expertise behind the program's noble goals.

On behalf of YEDID's staff and the students and graduates from Megemeria, I thank our supporters for their partnership. Without help like yours, 43 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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