Poverty is ageless and colorblind. Just ask Liya Abera, age 10.
The child of Ethiopian immigrants who were rescued by the Israeli government shortly after Operation Solomon in the 1990s, Liya is often home alone and hungry. Her parents, Aaron and Nyala, are trying their hardest. But like many Ethiopian immigrants, their absorption into Israel was largely unsuccessful.
“When my mum goes to the bank, she still doesn’t know how to deal with it in Hebrew,” says Liya. She explains that she is embarrassed by this – but also saddened. “I just want to be Israeli.”
Ethiopian Jews have been in Israel for more than three decades, yet the vast majority continue to live in Israel’s social periphery. Major socioeconomic gaps exist between Ethiopian immigrants and their descendents, and non-Ethiopian Israelis.
For example, according to a report published in 2012 by the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute in Jerusalem, some 65% of the children of Ethiopian immigrants are defined as poor. In contrast, only 15% of children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and 23% of children in the veteran population are considered poor.
Furthermore, the report showed that only 55% of Ethiopian immigrants are employed, compared to 72.5% of the overall Jewish population.
Last year Liya became restless and irritable, and was struggling in school. Meir Panim’s After-School Youth Club offered Liya academic assistance – and hope for her future.
“The first to suffer the effects of the economic hardships confronting so many families in Israel are children,” explains Danielle Rubin, Project Director at American Friends of Meir Panim. “The lack of nourishing food and endless hours spent alone while parents work late paint a dismal picture. Kids go to school with empty stomachs and are unable to concentrate.”
Meir Panim’s After-School Youth Clubs help these at-risk children obtain their academic goals, giving them an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Today, Liya still struggles. But she also smiles.
“Thanks to Meir Panim, I have a new outlook on life,” she says.
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This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim.