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PROGRAM SPOTLIGHT: July 2009

The Ethiopian National Project: Scholastic Assistance

Melkamo, an Israeli teenager whose family emigrated from Ethiopia had a secret, something embarrassing, something he had to hide from his teachers at school. He was in 11th grade and he couldn’t read.

Like 12.3% of Ethiopian-Israeli youngsters in school today, he was on his way to failing or dropping out of high school. And even if – by some miracle – he made it to graduation as a functional illiterate, his prospects for employment afterwards were dim.

“At some point, I realized that if I didn’t learn how to read before I finished high school, I’d be in a really bad situation after. I knew I would have zero chances of getting into university, and employment opportunities for me would be limited to low-wage jobs like being a janitor. I wanted more for myself,” said Melkamo in an interview with an ENP staff member.

Melkamo is definitely not alone in his predicament. In Israel today, the majority of Ethiopian immigrant families live in low-income areas, and their local schools often cannot provide the enrichment -- or even the basic educational support – that Ethiopian children need to succeed. Their parents, having themselves made the adjustment from an agrarian society to a modern technology-based society, also lack the resources or knowledge base to give their kids the needed push.

By junior high school, some 74% of Ethiopian students are at a below average level in Hebrew, mathematics, English and science. As high school approaches, they have to prepare for the challenging “bagrut” (matriculation examinations). If their grades on these critical exams are low, they will not be accepted to any institution of higher learning – a handicap which can follow them throughout their lives. 

That’s a fate that ENP won’t let these young people suffer.

The ENP Scholastic Assistance Program reaches out to students aged 13 to 18 and works within the school system to provide the missing scholastic and emotional support. The six-year enrichment program offers supplementary tutoring in small groups for an average of four hours every week to make sure students achieve academically. Concurrently, the program addresses the very vital areas of self esteem and leadership skills –  helping the students find strength in their cultural heritage as they navigate a new world of scholastic achievement.

It helps that everyone who stays after school gets a good meal every day they are in the program. It also helps that ENP employs youthful role models, often from within the Ethiopian community, who can well understand the opportunities and challenges of being ethnically different.

They identify well-hidden problems and get to the core of the issue.

For Melkamo, who struggled with basic reading, it was the ENP advisor at his school who realized he needed extra help. She arranged for him to get assistance in Hebrew, in addition to the hours offered as part of ENP’s scholastic program.

“My ENP teachers work with me side by side in all my studies, making sure I understand everything. Not only that, but my teachers also arranged for the school to provide me with extra help. Everyone is working so hard to help me, so I must work hard to help myself. I know it will pay off,” Melkamo explained.

The statistics on this relatively new program confirm that ENP’s Scholastic Assistance program has arrived at the right remedy for the problem. Even at 1/6 of its full strength – only one year of programming rather than the six years that 7th graders now get – ENP had immediate and significant impact: In 2006, 32% of Ethiopian-Israeli seniors who attended high schools with ENP programs tested well enough to get into colleges, compared to 23% who attended high schools without ENP programs.

In the 2009-2010 school year, the cost for one year per child is $1,000. 

In 2007-8 ENP's scholastic assistance programs were reaching more than 7,500 teenagers, nearly half of the children in the 13-18 year age bracket. In 2008 the number dropped by 2,000, and by 2009-10 the number will fall to a mere 2,900 in ENP's Scholastic Assistance programs—altogether a drop of 4,600 teenagers since 2007-8.

Participation is proven to have a transformative effect on these children—ENP seeks funding so as to enable it to carry out the full response as envisioned by North American Jewry when it launched ENP together with the Government of Israel and in partnership with the Ethiopian Israeli community.

Melkamo’s reading skills have improved since he has started on his intense program of study, and perhaps most importantly, he has transformed from a nervous youth hiding a secret to a self-confident young man headed for an exciting future.

For more information, visit ENP's website

The Ethiopian National project is a partnership between the United Jewish Communities/ Jewish Federations of North America, The Government of Israel, representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel, and Keren Hayesod-UIA.