A program aimed at bolstering Ethiopian Israelis in higher education by allowing young women to improve their high school grades while at the same time fulfilling their National Service commitments, is in danger of closing in the coming weeks, after its main sources of funding, including from the government, have dried up.

Second Chance, which is a program of nonprofit organization Achy – The Unity of Israeli Society, was launched in 1995 and has since provided more than 1,000 young Ethiopian-Israeli women from disadvantaged backgrounds with the chance to rework their matriculation scores in English and Math. The program also offers a track to prepare them for the university admission process.

“We used to get support from the Education Ministry, but cutbacks meant that they also cut funding to our program a few years,” Merav Derner, Second Chance’s National Coordinator, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Since then, Second Chance has had to rely on individual donations and one-time grants from a wide variety of sources, which recently have become fewer and fewer in number.

“We now we have no group supporting us at all,” said Derner, highlighting that the program, which has helped to reduce educational gaps between Ethiopian-immigrants and veteran Israelis, is in serious danger of shutting its doors if no alternative sources of funding are found.

“We are continuing to sign girls up for next year and we have a bigger demand than ever before, but there is a strong chance that we might not even be operational come next year,” she lamented.

Derner explained that all the places they have turned to for help have been either unwilling or unable to come up with any part of the NIS 250,000 needed to pay teachers’ salaries and keep the course going even until the end of this academic year. The core of the problem is that most funding bodies can only provide assistance to students under the age of 18, she said.

A spokeswoman for the Education Ministry said that while the program is valuable because participants are over the age of 18, it cannot provide funding via its educational welfare department, Shahar.

“We are trying to find alternative ways to help them,” the spokeswoman said.

According to employees at Second Chance, which has more than 90 young women enrolled in its three centers in Ashkelon, Jerusalem and Ramat Gan, this is the only program that allows participants the chance to combine their national service with a study element, enabling them to end the service with good enough grades to seek a place in higher education.

“It really helps them and really gives them another chance in their lives,” Derner said.

Yafit Eneiyesh Tarekegn, 21, took the course two years ago to improve her matriculation score in English. She told the Post on Thursday that the program not only improved her overall grades but also helped gain her admission to Efrata College in Jerusalem.

“It meant that I did not have to sit the college preparatory exam and it really helped me overall,” said Tarekegn, who made aliya from Ethiopia just over 10 years ago.

She said the program was not just about learning but that it also gave her confidence a boost, with teachers encouraging students to improve their lives by studying and not just heading out to work.

Over the past few months, publicized accounts of institutionalized discrimination and racism in society against Ethiopian Israelis have highlighted the difficulties faced by the immigrant community.

A disproportionately high number of Ethiopian immigrants receive social services support, a recent report by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services showed. From within the 115,000-strong community, 61.4 percent had open files with social services and even among those in the second generation the chance of them having met with a social worker was twice as high as in the population as a whole.

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with representatives of Ethiopian Israelis to discuss ways to improve the community’s integration into society.

Netanyahu expressed regret and outrage at the recent spate of racist incidents and said he was committed to helping to improve the situation.

He urged community representatives to become involved in tackling the problem and promised to continue meeting with them on a regular basis.

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