Ethiopia Blog 2012 - Friday - Blog Post 3
What can we do to help? This is why we came out to Gondar this time. To find out.
It is estimated that when the Jewish Agency leave – in something less than a year -there will remain about 5,000 individuals who claim Jewish descent and who, to varying degrees, are practicing Judaism in the synagogue today. They will not go to Israel because they do not have an unbroken matrililineal Jewish link, or because, by some quirk of mismanagement, they were wrongly identified when registered.
While for many of these families their rejection is a blow, nevertheless, they will cope. Some are middle class and assimilated into Gondari culture. But a great many are not; particularly those who left their livelihood in one the many Jewish villages in the Wollo and Gojam regions and came to the town fully expecting to be in Israel in a matter of months. These families had not the means to adapt well to town life. Illiterate farmers mostly, they have been forced to take the lowest paid jobs, to rent some of the worst accommodation, their life one of constant struggle. They cannot go back to the villages as their land has been taken over by others and they cannot progress in the town as their skills are largely redundant.
This is my fourth trip to Gondar. I started by teaching in the Jewish school, where I was impressed by the intelligence of the children and their sincere desire to learn. I subsequently took two groups to visit the community and they were impressed by the quiet dignity and deep spirituality found in the synagogue there. Through these trips, I got to know individuals; got to understand something of the dilemmas for those left behind. I cannot now, simply walk away.
So what to do?
My visit this time had a very different agenda. It was to meet with the Ethiopian team of a British charity – the Kindu Trust www.kindutrust.org and with representatives of the patrilineal Jewish community and see if together something can be done. The result is Meketa www.meketa.org.uk a British based organisation that aims to raise money for the Jews in Gondar in order to improve their lives and social position. Our Jewish contacts will identify needy families and the Kindu Trust will administer the funds. Meketa is the Amharic word for ‘support’ or ‘protection’. The aim of the charity is to ensure that every needy Jewish family in Gondar has the means to get out of poverty.
One way is through child sponsorship. By sponsoring an individual child to keep them in education, the whole family will benefit from the scheme. While education is free in Ethiopia, many do not take advantage of it because they cannot afford the uniform and other extras required, or because they lose an income that children can earn from selling on the streets. Through Meketa sponsorship the child will receive a school uniform and all the books and writing materials they need, as well as an annual health check. The whole family will be covered for medical expenses and in addition will receive a small allowance every month. Kindu employs two social workers who will follow up the leads given them by the Jewish representatives and will assess the level of need, make a list and send it to us to find sponsors in this country. They will visit the families regularly to see how they are getting on and send the sponsors an annual report with pictures so they will be able to see the child grow and develop.
The other way to improve the prospects of the least advantaged is through training and developing sustainable work projects. The Jewish community has had the good fortune to secure the site of the old offices of NACOEJ the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, which supported the community for years, but who are now working exclusively in Israel. It is a sizeable compound in which Mekete plans to set up workshops and small-scale industry while others prepare for a future cheder and synagogue there. Two projects are currently underway: to buy looms and raw materials to re-establish the traditional Beta Yisrael occupation of weaving shawls and blankets, and to raise money to buy an oven and start a bakery. Kindu has a development worker who has taken on the research for this. He is local and knows the conditions and has several successful projects already running. He can’t wait to start the bakery, but it will depend on some serious fundraising on our part.
And that is where all of you, dear readers, come in.
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