The Yahel program sits on a few guiding principles: humility, collaboration, cross-culture, empowerment and sustainability.
Although these might seem like they are just “buzz words” – this program is truly unique in the fact that we are making each one of these principles come to life throughout our work in Gedera. This program isn’t a typical American-led volunteer program to Israel that I have been a part of before, it is a program where we actually act as an extension to Friends by Nature (FBN), are paired up with our Ethiopian counterparts, are going into the Ethiopian homes doing educational work on our own and are attempting to speak the language of community empowerment – a language that I have never been exposed to before, and a language that is sometimes very hard to grasp.
I have been taking some time to think about what each of these words mean to me and how I will apply them to my time and experience in Gedera because it truly is the groundwork for the mission of Yahel.
There are three main programs we will be working on while living here. One is the “Homework at Home” program, where I will be working in the Ethiopian homes by myself with one, two or maybe even three kids on their English homework. Although this might seem simple, the Ethiopian children struggle greatly with their education. The parents are not involved now that they live in Israel because the parents can’t speak English, let alone Hebrew, in order to help or encourage the kids.
Additionally, the children have fallen so far behind the other Israeli kids in school, that they feel like “what’s the point?” This is where we come in…we go into the homes to work with the kids to empower them, encourage them and help create an educational atmosphere where the parents and family are also involved. It’s a very huge, long and sometimes daunting process, but I am ready to jump in feet first and see what it’s all about.
The second program is working in the FBN Youth Center. This multi-faceted program really helps to get kids off the street, teach them leadership, train them to be hiking guides and most importantly give them a safe and fun, social space. Each of the Yahel participants will be working side by side with one of the Youth Center leaders – as we are now considered Youth Center leaders as well.
The third program is an initiative that is set up solely by us, the Yahel participants, in the community. For the first couple of months we will be analyzing, recording and working to fully understand what the community needs and from there will design a program.
In between it all, we have also had quite a social calendar stacked up. We’ve thrown a few gatherings at our house where at least 30 of the community members have come by to celebrate our friend’s birthday, celebrate our work together and just get to know each other on deeper levels than I could even imagine for only knowing one another for 2 weeks. We’ve gone to BBQ’s around town, visitors have stopped by our house to give us welcome-to-Gedera gifts and we have been greeted with open-arms.
At this point in the trip, I’ll be honest with you all in the fact that although it has been a wonderful couple weeks so far in Israel, it has also been very overwhelming at times as well. I have been on information overload. Besides the obvious fact for me that it doesn’t feel like we’ve been here for only two weeks, each and every day has been fully packed with sessions, social events, Hebrew learning and more cultural experiences than one can count on two hands.
I knew I was going to be challenged, and I knew I was going to need to step outside of my comfort zone – that is one big reason why I decided to go on this trip. But, saying it and actually experiencing it are sometimes two very different things. In addition to immersing ourselves in a brand new city and community, we are also processing a relatively new language, attempting to grasp the cultural atmosphere and learning the in’s and out’s of social justice, social change and community empowerment.
If you couldn’t tell already, I am so excited to be here, but there have been a few days where I have just felt so overwhelmed and emotionally insecure with my ability to do some of the things placed in front of me. I think more than anything I am attempting to conquer a huge mountain– stepping outside of my comfort zone and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It has all tied back to that.
I want to end this post by telling you one of the positive influences that Yahel has had on the Gedera community so far. Besides the fact that the word around town is that Americans are here and will be here for the next five months, something that is close to unheard of in this small town, our presence has brought out members of the Ethiopian community that FBN has been trying to reach for years. These hard-to-reach youth that FBN has either never seen before, or have been trying to get involved in their programs, are so excited that we are here working and want to be a part of it all. It’s quite amazing.
That being said, for me this program isn’t only about the feel-good moments when we learned that we have had this positive impact, but rather it is about the relationships I have been building along the way. It’s through these relationships that we will be able to make the biggest impact on this community.