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!
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