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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