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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