On a recent hot and sticky evening, more than 100 Ethiopian-Israeli parents packed a hall of a Hadera community center located in the Pe'er neighborhood, which houses the city's highest concentration of Ethiopian immigrants. The gathering, held in Amharic, was initiated, organized, planned and publicized by the 15-member Peers' Forum, a group of Ethiopian Israelis who work with the community in Hadera in various capacities. The Forum was, in turn, set up by B'chevrat, the SHATIL-led Ethiopian youth-at-risk coalition in Hadera, part of our Back from the Edge project to strengthen immigrant youth.
In the Peer Forum's meetings, distress over the deterioration and alienation of Ethiopian Israeli teens in the town topped everyone's agenda. While the Coalition has taken steps to ameliorate this problem – such as setting up a joint community-police night patrol, organizing a youth leadership group and monitoring projects for youth in the city – Peer Forum members felt communication with parents was a top priority. This meeting of one neighborhood's Ethiopian Israeli parents was a pilot project that the Forum hopes to replicate in other Hadera neighborhoods.
For much of the evening, the parents listened with rapt attention to Melkamu Yacob, an Ethiopian Israeli who supervises rural and boarding school education and Youth Aliyah for the Ministry of Education. Yacob contrasted life in modern Israel with life in traditional, rural Ethiopia, managing to touch on nearly all aspects of modern life including finances, politics, culture, personal identity, interpersonal relations, the responsibilities of living in a democracy, multiculturalism, gender equality, quality of life, the medical problems encountered as a result of a changing life style and more. This may seem superfluous to westerners, but none if it is taken for granted by Ethiopian immigrants who come from another world in terms of politics, values, freedoms, parenting styles…nearly every aspect of life.
Hadera Parents Assembly
In Ethiopia, child rearing was done in the context of the extended family and was completely different, Yacob said. In order to successfully raise children in a modern, progressive society, we need knowledge, education, information.
"In Ethiopia," he said, "we used to monitor the kids who took the cows out to pasture – we knew where they went, when they would return. Here, our kids go out and we don’t know where they are. We have to go into schools, become part of the PTA, have influence." Yacob also encouraged his audience to talk about their problems.
Yacob’s main message was the need for the parents to take responsibility for their children and for their future, which includes taking an interest in what they do and to act as role models.
He emphasized the importance of not giving up on teaching their children Amharic and encouraged parents to talk to their children about where they came from. He also said Ethiopian parents would have to change some of their habits like taking children to celebrations without regard for homework or exams. "Is anyone here willing to spend NIS 15,000 a year on his child's education?” He asked the audience. “That's the difference between us and other Israelis."
Yacob also encouraged his audience: "We can succeed just like any other group. We are in a difficult place economically but we don’t have to interpret this as being inferior. We're defined as being at risk. We have to act to improve our situation."
Other items on the agenda for the evening included electing a representative body of residents so that their voice could be heard in decisions affecting their community and encouraging residents to take advantages of the various services available to them.
Many of the parents expressed a desire to continue to meet in order to tackle the challenges facing them as parents of teens in a new and confusing reality – and next time to include the teens themselves. In a tribute to the importance of the session, not one person left despite the heat and faulty air conditioners.