LisaThis summer, as part of the Maguire Fellowship and my Engaged Learning project, I have been in Israel volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to help Ethiopian immigrants and their families succeed in Israel.

ENP has many programs, but I am specifically working at one of their youth outreach centers. I’ve been at the organization for over a month now. There are about 30 kids, ages around 12-16. They love Jason Derulo, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Beyonce. They enjoy soccer, basketball, checkers, and more. Sometimes the kids are rowdy, but I also think they are some of the sweetest people! One time I was playing basketball outside with some of the girls and another two girls came and brought me water from inside the center in case I was thirsty. How thoughtful!

There is definitely a language barrier between the children and myself. They all speak fluent Hebrew, while I am just a beginner in Hebrew. Sometimes they pull out their phones to use Google translate to converse with me. Since I’ve been here I’ve gotten better at Hebrew, but still nowhere near the level I would like to be. It is a good thing you do not have to solely rely on conversation to communicate with kids. Playing soccer, drawing together, or playing chess still brings the kids and me together. In times when I am leading an activity, another volunteer here who has become my close friend helps me translate.

The initial purpose of my Engaged Learning project was to promote intercultural understanding between Ethiopian-Israeli and Israeli kids through soccer. However, the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve realized I needed to adapt my project’s purpose. There are many hurdles integrating into a new culture, and I feel that the Ethiopian-Israelis here need empowerment more than anything so they can succeed when faced with certain challenges.

It is very difficult to adjust from a life in Ethiopia to one in Israel. Many people from Ethiopia come from villages and then arrive into a Western, urban society. Not only do the Ethiopians have to start from scratch, but they also have to adapt to a new culture. Their kids also have a hard time growing up at the intersection of Ethiopian and Israeli cultures. They sometimes have to be the translator for their parents, and their parents cannot always understand the challenges they face. Even asking for help with math homework is something not every Ethiopian-Israeli child can ask their parent. The center allows the children to interact with people who are facing the same challenges, get support, and get involved with different activities. The center also hosts parents’ nights to get the parents involved and help them understand what their children are going through.

Because of these additional challenges, I want to empower the girls at ENP to give them the self-confidence to believe that they can get through any obstacle that may come their way. Just recently we had a girls’ night. and one of the games we played was called “guess the song.” One person would hum the tune of a song and the audience had to guess which song it was. Multiple times one person would guess and then everyone would start singing together. It was a simple game, yet here were different cliques of girls coming together through music. It was unifying. I hope I will continue to see more of this at future girls’ nights!