ENP Volunteer Summer 2014
Student at Southern Methodist University
I remember my first day: the staff at my center was very kind and the kids were the sweetest! When I arrived, there was definitely a language barrier between the children and myself. They all spoke fluent Hebrew, while I was just a beginner in Hebrew.
Sometimes the kids pulled out their phones to use google translate to converse with me. Over time, my Hebrew improved, but I was still nowhere near the level I would have liked to be at. Through this obstacle, I learned that you do not have to solely rely on conversation to communicate with kids. Playing soccer, drawing together, or playing chess still brought the kids and me together. In times when I was leading an activity, another volunteer there who became my close friend, helped me to translate.
It is very difficult to adjust from a life in Ethiopia to one in Israel. Many people from Ethiopia come from villages and then arrive into a western, urban society. Not only do the Ethiopians have to start from scratch, but they also have to adapt to a new culture. Their kids also have a hard time growing up at the intersection of Ethiopian and Israeli cultures. They sometimes have to be the translator for their parents and their parents cannot always understand the challenges they face. Even asking for help with math homework is something not every Ethiopian-Israeli child can ask their parent. The center allows the children to interact with people who are facing the same challenges, get support, and get involved with different activities. The center also hosts parent’s nights to get the parents involved and help them understand what their children are going through.
Because of these additional challenges, I strived to empower the girls at ENP to give them the self-confidence to believe that they could get through any obstacle that may come their way. I did this through planning and leading girls’ nights. The girls’ nights were my way of building self-confidence within the girls as well as developing unity between them. Each girls’ night we would eat food from a different culture and then participate in various activities. One of my favorite girls’ nights was the one in which each of the girls brought an Ethiopian food dish from home. Before we ate, I wanted each girl to tell me about the dish they had brought – what it was, how they made it. I don’t remember the names of each dish but I won’t forget sitting there and being so appreciative that each girl and their family took the time to cook something and the pride in which the girls talked about their dishes. On this particular day, another volunteer brought her friend to the center. Her friend was born in Ethiopia but moved to the U.S. when she was young. I think she and the kids quickly connected since she was someone who understood their struggles having been born in their same country and also having had to adapt into a new society. It was clear she and the kids had faced some of the same challenges. She also wore her hair natural and short. Most of the girls at the center straightened their hair and I think it was good for them to see someone with the same hair type wear it natural, short, and confident. She was the perfect role model for the kids- an Ethiopian who was able to adapt into a new society, but still maintain her roots and culture. After all of the thoughtful conversation, we ended the night with a fun game. One person would hum the tune of a song and the audience had to guess which song it was. Multiple times one person would guess and then everyone would start singing together. It was a simple game, yet it allowed different cliques of girls to come together through music. It was unifying. Overall, I think the girls’ nights allowed the girls to have fun while exploring their identity as Ethiopian-Israelis.
My last day at ENP was very emotional. The staff gave me a picture frame and a letter. Some of the kids wrote me notes or drew me pictures. I felt that they had seen my good intentions and that even the small things, like playing a game of checkers, had made an impact on them. It’s been almost a month since I’ve been home and I still think of the staff and kids at my center regularly. I won’t forget the memories I made with them!