Monday, August 18, 2014

Reflecting Back on My Summer at ENP

By Lisa Raizes
ENP Volunteer Summer 2014
Student at Southern Methodist University

This summer, I spent two months volunteering in Israel with the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a non-profit organization whose purpose is to help Ethiopian immigrants and their families succeed in Israel. ENP has many programs, but I specifically worked at one of their youth outreach centers.

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!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Diving into ENP

By Nicole Heker
ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via JInternship
Student at Pennsylvania State University

The kids that I had the opportunity of meeting at Petah Tikva this week took me by surprise. A little nervous for my first day on the job, I spent some time surfing the Internet hoping to prepare myself for the cultural diversity that I was to encounter, being that prior to my first time in Israel, I was unaware of the dynamic Ethiopian-Israeli community that existed. Even post-research, I had an image in my mind of what to expect. Walking in to the center at Petah Tikva I was greeted by a group of jokesters and Tupac-enthusiasts. It was an instant connection—music and laughs. After a few minutes of speaking with each other outside they led me to Zehavit, the wonderful leader of the center. I was greeted on the second level by a group of girls around the age of 15 whom I spent the next few hours with. We sat and got to know each other. Some spoke English better then others but their warmth and effort to engage with me and ask questions made me feel right at home with them. Another helping factor was our mutual admiration for the Queen B—BeyoncĂ©.

I work twice a week with these kids in Petah Tikva and the other two days in the office with Adina. Finally putting a face and voice to the emails was long awaited and amazing. My goal in the office is to create and help implement a project that will connect these kids in Petah Tikva with kids in the States. After lots of brainstorming, an idea is starting to form. The office environment and the freedom that I am provided with gives an atmosphere conducive to productivity and creativity and I immediately felt welcomed and part of the team. Getting to know these kids beforehand, and understanding their likes and dislikes gave me so much to work on because I know that what I am creating is designed FOR THEM. I can’t wait to get to know them better and, hopefully, give kids in the States the opportunity to connect with them the way I have and that they have the opportunity to form bonds, knowledge and break cultural boundaries together. 

Goodbye for Now

By Elyse Waksman 
ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel
Student at Clark University

            Today is my final day interning here in Jerusalem, but definitely not the end of my work with ENP. Recently, I’ve been working with a few other interns on designing a layout for the annual report to come out in October. As soon as I get back to campus, I plan to physically create the layout on a computer program so that our original ideas can become a reality. We’re really focused on making the presentation of the report more professional and appealing so that the content will stand out more than in the past. This is especially important this year, as ENP hopes to expand to help more and more youth at younger ages. I also plan to bring ENP to Clark by starting a pen pal club on my campus, which will allow for overseas connections with Ethiopian-Israeli youth, as well as mentorship, cultural exchange, and English practice. I hope that this will continue my relations with the ENP staff as well as the kids themselves.

            I am going to miss a lot about Israel, from the palm trees and sunny weather to the shuk and the Tel Aviv art fair. But first and foremost I will miss working here in the office and at the summer camp with the girls. I know that I will be back to Israel in the future, and I plan to stay in contact and hopefully come back to ENP someday. I’ve benefited immensely from my experiences here this summer and I know I’ll carry the lessons I’ve learned with me into my future endeavors.

Friday, August 8, 2014

L'hitraot ENP!

By Jessica Shankman
ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel
Student at University of of Minnesota

Last Sunday marked the end of my time as an intern at the Lod ENP center. To celebrate the end of the summer, we made a poster with everyone’s handprints and names. We also worked on a project outside where we asked the kids to trace each other on the ground with sidewalk chalk. After the bodies were outlined, we asked the kids to write aspects of themselves for certain parts of their body; they wrote about their dreams near their head, the things they care about most near their hearts, and where they wish to go in their future near their feet.  Of course they added much more creativity to their art, coloring in the outlines and using the chalk to graffiti the ground. Afterwards, the courtyard was glowing with bright color. It turned into a beautiful mural!

At the end of the day, we brought cake and sat down to say our toda rabahs (thank yous) and l’hitraots (see yous). The experience I had with ENP in the past two months has been incredible to say the least. I am so thankful that I had the chance to connect with the kids at the Lod center and learn about them and their unique culture. During some of the hardest times considering the country’s state of war, the center became a place that I looked forward to going every week. The kids were a breath of fresh air from all of the somber news surrounding us. Every day they were in high spirits and excited, which was such an wonderful thing to be part of. 

As I travel back to the states, I am so excited to bring the stories of the kids I met and the experiences I shared with them this summer. ENP has shown me a side of Israel that is incredibly special. The sense of community and the Ethiopian culture are so closely knit. I will never forget the time I spent with the kids in the Lod ENP center and I am excited to keep in touch. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Coming to a Close

By Ryan Youra 
ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Hillel
Graduate from American University

I can't believe my time with the Ethiopian National Project here in Jerusalem is ending. After helping organize and run a summer camp for Ethiopian-Israeli girls, I worked in the office, helping redesign ENP’s annual report. We had a chance to think critically about ENP’s work and its overall message. We thought about what makes a project. Is it resources? Is it the initial goals and missions? Is it a program? The people? The supporters? The community?

From my time here, it’s clear that a successful project is truly a combination, a melting pot of all those component parts. This past week I heard an incredible Ethiopian proverb: “Many spider webs can catch even a lion.” I’ve learned that this summer. I’ve learned a lot about the Ethiopian-Israeli community here, its challenges, and its vast potential. I’ve learned to communicate without a common language. I’ve learned to work with a group of 12-16 year old strangers. And I’ve learned that it takes a village, not just an individual, to make meaningful change.

Thank you!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Reflecting Back on an Incredible Summer

Tatiana Hasson
Onward Israel Intern
University of Maryland

  Looking back on this summer and my work with ENP, I can truly say that my experience was eye opening, unique, challenging and unique all at the same time. Working with the population of teenage girls who recently made aliyah from Ethiopia was not a simply undertaking- yet there is no doubt in my mind that it was worth it. While it was initially difficult for us counselors to connect with the girls, due to language and cultural barriers, by the end it was just as difficult to say good-bye. Through activities, learning, and joking with our campers, I truly felt a bond with the girls. While I personally have had much experience working with Ethiopian Israelis, this experience was different. I had never spent so much time consistently with such recent olim from Ethiopia. Being that they are so new to Israel, their Ethiopian culture is so deeply engrained and apparent in almost everything they did. Whether it was through listening to their Ethiopian music, eating Ethiopian food, or simply hearing stories about their lives in Ethiopia, I was so lucky to be able to share and learn from their rich culture. While there were many moments that were memorable from the summer, one specific incident stuck out to me. One day during a break I was talking to one of the girls and we started talking about Ethiopian food. I had mentioned in passing that I like dabo, traditional Ethiopian bread. The next day she came to camp with a freshly baked loaf of this bread. The memories, skills, and exposure to other cultures that I experienced this summer are truly unique and will stay with me forever.            

Closing the Book at my ENP Experience

By Maya Katz-Ali 
ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel
Student at Clark University

            In this last week in my internship I really have developed so much in my research and interview methods. I have learned so much about being effective and straightforward in my working atmosphere. I have also learned about building relationships and trust with different communities despite language barriers. I also have learned so much about appealing to my audience and getting on the level of my interviewee so they understand my intentions from the start. Trading STORIES, MINE FOR THEIRS. I feel I could go on about what this experience has taught me. Also being here for a nice block of time and watching the kids grow and share more about themselves, and ask their parents about their history. I’ve grown attached.
            It's my last day here and it feels so weird! They all said thank you to me so sweetly! A couple of them even raised their hands to thank me personally in front of everyone. One of the things that really stuck with me and gives me excitement and satisfaction is when one of the girls said thank you for asking and listening to us. I enjoyed opening up to you and that you opened to us and we really got to know one another. And they all are obsessed with the book!! They won't put it down and everyone wants to see. I am so happy and pleased that it worked out so well.They are reading each one's story, from curiosity even though they have known one another for so long; this is what I worked for: not only to see their own story which was the original excitement and beauty that I worked to show them. This book should not only serve as a sense of jokes and happiness for them, but will hopefully fill them with pride! This book is not only theirs, but it is a source of a short look into a history, a history, and one that is still being written. 

            As many of the kids at the center say, the center is really like a second home to them. For me it has also become a place of such familiarity. The Staff that I work with has really been so kind to me! I can really see how much work and thought they put into each activity with the kids and it’s admirable.  Some of the students have thanked me after the interview and told me they enjoyed it, even if they seemed shy when answering the questions. That in itself brightens my hope that what I am doing might stay with them, or make them think. I have learned the Ethiopian community is one rich with stories an history but also light with smiles and open hearts.