it takes a village to raise a child.

Since I last wrote, the Yahelnikim (the Hebrew word describing us as Yahel program participants) started what we were brought here to do…volunteer! As our orientation period concluded, we all looked forward to getting our hands a bit dirtier and actually beginning our work in the community.

To begin, my normal week from now on will look like a little something like this:

Sundays: usually set aside for group block activity, volunteer work or study tours around Israel
Monday-Thursday afternoons: I will either be working with the Homework at Home program, at the Youth Center or with my specific individual group of kids
Monday and Thursday mornings: I will be working in my individual placement in the FBN home office
Tuesday morning: Yahelnikim go to Ulpan for Hebrew language study
Wednesday morning: We have a Beit Midrash session and/or speakers regarding our topic for the month – this month’s is “roots”
Friday and Saturday: I usually tour around and visit friends and family around the country…every weekend is free except for the last weekend of every month

FBN headquarters
As I just quickly mentioned, each Yahel participant has an individual placement around the community in addition to our other volunteer work.  I am working in the FBN home office with the communications and development team of two people.  I was so eager to begin my work with them this week because this project taps right into my exact background and skills.  My past training and exposure in journalism, graphic design, public relations and grant writing will really help me give all I can give to FBN during my time here in Gedera.  This week I conducted research on the link between youth envisioning their future as a factor in staying out of trouble and the connection between at-risk youth succeeding in poverty and the presence of a community role model in their lives.  These findings will be used as support in the grant proposals that FBN submits.  My individual project will entail creating a photo-bank on the organization’s server, creating and designing a newsletter/one-pager, re-designing the brochure and website, creating a social media presence for FBN and helping to write better English materials. I appreciate the opportunity that Yahel and FBN are giving me to work on these materials – it’s really right up my ally. 

This week we had the pleasure of hearing from Professor Hagai Erlich from Tel Aviv University on Ethiopian roots.  He has studied the Ethiopian connection to Israel for about 40 years, so we were all very interested in hearing everything he had to say.  One of the things we talked about was how Judaism was alive in the Ethiopian countryside for many, many years, but when Jews left the countryside and came to the cities, they quickly converted to Christianity.  In order to stay a Jew in Ethiopia, you needed to stay in remote areas.  After talking about where Jews stood throughout Ethiopian history, we had a very interesting conversation about what it is to live in Israel and to be Ethiopian.  Many Ethiopian youth in Israel are ashamed of their roots, mostly because they don’t know about them.  One of FBN’s main missions is to connect youth to their Ethiopian roots so that they can better succeed in Israeli society.  For my readers who can relate, this conversation begged the question…what does it feel like to be a Jew in America?  Would you refer to yourself as a Jewish-American or an American-Jew?

preparing for the "happening"
Our main task while in Gedera is working with the FBN staff on creating and implementing programs around the community.  We have participated in numerous staff meetings where we prepared skits to introduce the youth of the community everything that will be happening this upcoming year.  Because it is the beginning of the school year, the Yahelnikim arrived just in time to be a part of it all. This past week was the big “happening” as they like to call it, which was a start-of-the-new-year opening event at the youth center (a small trailer in the middle of the community).  

We performed skits introducing all of the programs that the kids could sign up for such as: Homework at Home, hiking guide and leadership training, international summer camp preparation and all of the youth center activities available to the community.  In addition, the musical styling's of the FBN youth music program, Anshe Aish Kolot, performed a few songs.  It was a great chance to see the energy and potential of the Gedera community – also a great chance to see all of the hard work that FBN has been doing over the past few years.

anshe aish kolot performing

The Garin in Gedera also held a country-wide staff training this week where youth leaders in other communities came here for a few hours to learn various leadership strategies, bounce ideas off one another and participate in bonding or group activities that they can then bring back to their respective communities.  It was something special to meet the youth leaders and staff from communities around the country.  These leaders implement community-wide youth programs in their Ethiopian communities much like we do here in Gedera.

This past Thursday, I did my first ever Homework at Home session.  I was pretty nervous about it because I was unaware as to how much English the kids would know or even how much Hebrew the parents would know.  This first experience was quite the culture shock... 

As I walked with Ziva, the head of the Homework at Home program, into my first apartment, we both stopped in our tracks as we walked through the door.  I had never seen anything like it.  We couldn’t see the floor, the couch, the table or the chairs because things, clothing, food, dishes and trash were piled up so high.  The kids weren’t wearing any clothes besides for their undergarments and the TV was blasting in the small room.  I had no idea how I was going to conduct an English session, let alone a conversation, in this setting.  Ziva looked at me as though she was shocked as well. Because of the nature of this program, Ziva does not know many of these families, nor is she familiar with their apartments prior to the first day of tutoring.  I was supposed to have two kids that day, so we took the young boy out of his apartment and took him with us to his friend’s apartment instead.  We went to the next apartment building and it was there that we played games, practiced some English and Hebrew words and where the second boy showed me his and his brothers’ unbelievable artwork.  What was most special about this first visit was that as soon as I walked in, the mother turned off the television and we all went into a back storage room and sat on a makeshift bed tucked in the corner.  We began by playing a game where I asked the boys questions in English and they responded in Hebrew and then vice versa. 

Ziva has tried to prepare us for anything.  She told us that we might have to have the children do their homework on the floor because of the absence of a table, or we might have to bring our child a pencil because he/she didn’t know to have one or that we might go there and none of our kids show up – she tried to prepare us for anything and everything.  But, this part of my volunteer work is something that I feel that I cannot exactly be prepared for, but rather will just have to experience.  I am sure that as time goes on I will write more about my weekly sessions and experience with my two groups in much more detail.  For now I think it is this program that will challenge me the most – but it is also this program that I feel will be one of the most rewarding for the kids and for me.

the shapira neighborhood
It might be clear to you now that the Shapira neighborhood, which is the small street where mostly all of the Ethiopian families of Gedera reside, is facing many socio-economic difficulties.  This community is home to some of the most welcoming and warm people, but the hardship they face is very apparent.  It is a community that endured a great amount of tragedy prior to building their lives in Gedera, but also a community that has a lot of potential – it is an extremely humbling experience to be volunteering here and with FBN to help the community slowly work toward reaching that potential.  And as the title of my post states, the Shapira neighborhood is a wonderful example of how it takes village to raise a child…


  1. Rachel, this is beautiful...I already knew you're an incredible person, but this just goes above and beyond. If everyone in the world decided to do as you do, Mashiach would be fast coming. I miss you so much, and I hope we're in touch soon so I can hear all about it in detail...much love,


  2. Rachel-
    Great posts- you must be having an amazing time.
    I look forward to reading more. Have you had injera yet?

    Auntie Ruthie