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!
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."
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.
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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