Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Family Visit Anyone?

Shalom everyone…

The ENP experiences continue to move this blogger to share. About a week ago (forgive the lapse in time once more, what else can you do when your computer goes up in smoke?), I had my second mission trip with ENP. Another unique experience indeed. At the CC and CD Mission, we had visitors from various federations in the United States come to visit the homes of some of the students that participate in ENP sponsored activities.

I will spare you details about how the day was humid and sticky, how great the tuna sandwiches were and how a cat stole one of said tuna sandwiches because, frankly, this was all overshadowed by the success of the visit in which I participated. I was part of one of the sixteen simultaneous home visits that took place that day. The bus took us to Lod, a city located in the heart of Israel, but poor in resources and struggling to stabilize the city's infrastructure. Here, 43.3% percent of residents find themselves earning a minimum salary or less and only 46.5% of twelfth graders qualify for matriculation certificates. We had not even finished getting off of the bus when a friendly man approached us, grinning widely and his hand already extended to greet us. He led us up the elevator and to the home, where once more, inviting grins, extended hands and a bowl of small pretzels awaited.

We listened to the family's story intently as the hosts handed us glasses of cold water. The story was more quenching to us than the cold water. It was a story entangled with struggle, endurance and love. When the child began to share her story of her involvement in ENP, hope and perseverance rang in the room. A couple of details stand out.

The father directed his attention to the donors and shared, "If it was not for your support, my daughter would not be able to get the assistance that has gotten her this far. I want all of my children to be able to participate in the Scholastic Assistance Programs." This came after she shared that she passed her level 4 Matriculation Exam in Science due to ENP's Scholastic Assistance Program.

"I want to be an engineer and I know that ENP will help me get there," she said.

I wish I had the words to describe the sincerity in the family's voice and the gratefulness that they exuded. At the end of our visit, the group began taking pictures with the host family expressing that they wanted to be able to remember people that had inspired them. As I got in the elevator with of few of these visitors, I asked, "What did you think of the experience?" One of the women looked right at me and said, "I had Goosebumps the entire time that they were talking." I am assuming that means that she enjoyed it. I could overhear how everyone had discussed their experiences on the bus ride back to our meeting point in Beit Shemesh. Among the chatter, my thoughts slowly drifted back to the future engineer and once more made me excited about the multiple stories that I have yet to hear.

Monday, July 19, 2010

5, 4, 3, 2 1- LIFT OFF!

Last night, we began our “caravan camp” with a blast, literary, as we launched rockets into the night sky at Ethiopian National Project’s (ENP) Gadera Youth Centre (don’t worry these rockets where of the innocent variety intended only to teach the kids about aerodynamics, friction, gravity etc.)
This was the first day of a two week travelling camp where a group of volunteers from all over the world (our group includes volunteers from America, Israel, Australia, South Africa, Poland and Uruguay) will be travelling to ENP’s various Youth Centres to run camp-like activities for the Ethiopian Youth. Our activities include science experiments, animation workshops, teamwork and empowerment exercises, public speaking lessons, yoga and whatever else we come up with along the way.
The idea of holding a Summer Camp for Ethiopian youth originated with a group of MA students at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School. One of the students, an Ethiopian man who lives in an Ethiopian Absorption centre recognised the need over the long summer months to put together activities for the teenagers who had little to do and where getting themselves into trouble out of sheer boredom. Based on his experience in running a camp last year they decided this year to put together a full three week summer camp for these youth. Unfortunately, a bunch of bureaucratic and political obstacles meant that this was not to be and so at the 11th hour we contacted Grace Rodnitzki from the ENP who graciously accepted our volunteers. Since ENP no longer has a youth centre in Jerusalem (this was closed recently due to lack of funding) we altered our plan and instead of working daily with the same kids, a new idea was born our travelling or “caravan camp.”
If yesterday was anything to go by the next two weeks are going to be a lot of fun. Sunday night in the Gadera Centre is a "לילה לבן , “a white night” the Israeli way of saying an “all night stay awake” where activities begin at 7:30pm and go on until 2 in the morning. Not surprisingly, the one staff member Mentamer and Israeli soldiers who work there were very excited to have us entertaining the kids, at least for the first few hours. After playing some name games and having the kids guess where we were all from (the fact that I’m the whitest person in the room and am also from Africa usually causes quite a reaction) we began with the rocket making. The kids were explained a little bit about the aerodynamics of the rockets and then set to work building their own rockets out of plastic bottles and cardboards which we then launched into the air with a home-made rocket launcher made from PVC pipes, cable ties and a bicycle pump.
However it was not only the kids that learned new things in the rocket making process, we were able to practise (and be corrected on) our Hebrew which also proved highly entertaining, especially after I walked around the area handing out scissors “"מספריים shouting “מי רוצה משקפיים” “Who needs glasses” and then when I saw the kids laughing, correcting myself to “מי רוצה מכנסיים” “who needs pants”- Eventually finding the correct word, I guess the evening was a learning experience for us all and I am confident I will NEVER forget the word for scissors ever again!
ENP’s Youth Outreach Center in Gedera is supported by UJA-Federation of New York

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Beginning of my ENP Journey...

Shalom, my name is Linda Castillo and I am the newest addition to the wonderful ENP blog. I am a study abroad student at Hebrew University's Rothberg International School from the University of Pennsylvania. I will be starting my fourth, and final, year of college in the fall. I arrived in Israel with the intention of staying for one semester, approximately four months. Faced with the bitter idea that I would have to leave Israel, I decided to extend my stay for one year. I hope to volunteer with ENP for the rest of my stay.

It has been a couple of weeks since my first mission with ENP which took place in Beit Shemesh. To most, the idea of a post about an experience that occurred "that long ago" may seem daunting. However, the impression it made is long lived and fresh. It was my first mission, and actually, my first time volunteering with ENP. I had already read the 5 Year Report on ENP's work, browsed through the site and received a general idea of what ENP does. However, when I arrived with the ENP team, I must admit that nothing I had read did justice to ENP's work.

When the group of visiting Rabbis arrived, we watched an introductory video about the problems that Ethiopians face and are struggling to solve. I was in shock at my own lack of knowledge and understanding on the subject. During the video, it was interesting to see other jaws drop as we all learned about the topic together.

After the video Michelle, the International Relations Coordinator led everyone through an exercise about how the leaders of a community come together to consolidate their thoughts and decide where funding should be allocated. Difficult indeed.

The most heart moving part of the night was hearing first hand from someone who had benefited from ENP’s work. Efrat Mekonen shared her amazing story of her journey to Israel, including unbelievable miracles that made my skin line up with goose-bumps. I even noticed that some of the visitors pulled out handkerchiefs and shyly tapped away their tears. Efrat serves her community as an Ethiopian-Israeli lay leader in Beit Shemesh. She has participated in the ENP Community Empowerment program in Beit Shemesh supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It was moving to listen to her explain that her political activism and her strong will stemmed, in part from ENP’s work – an organization in which I now participated.

At the end of the mission, an Ethiopian Rabbi gave his personal story and shared the differences between Ethiopian Jewry and what many people would call "mainstream" Jewry. I was fascinated by his words. He made Aliyah 12 1/2 years ago and studied at a Yeshiva school and then attained a college education. It was the first time that I heard a first hand account of how a person bridges the gap between the traditions taught in Ethiopia and a Yeshiva teaching here. His wisdom seemed well though out:

"Bridging the gap came with time. I just decided to be as religious as I want to be in my home and participate outside of my home just enough to bring the community together through our traditions."
As I look back to my first time volunteering with ENP, I cannot help but grin. I remember thinking that night, I too am now a part of a movement of empowerment, of change, of active participants. The mission added a personal component to my newfound volunteering experience. I cannot wait to see what other members of the Ethiopian community have to share with me. I cannot wait to learn and to see the development of a community.