71% of Ethiopians report feeling like outsiders

JAFI unveils new program to address stress faced by immigrant community.

Ethiopian demo 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ethiopian demo 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jewish Agency for Israel will release plans Tuesday for a new $500,000 program aimed at addressing the extreme stress faced by many new Ethiopian immigrants as they attempt to settle in Israel. Developed under the auspices of Prof. Muli Lahad, director of the Community Stress Prevention Center of Tel-Hai College, and other experts in the field of psychology, psychiatry, social work and education, the program was originally implemented on a small scale last summer during the Second Lebanon War to help Ethiopian immigrants based in northern absorption centers cope with the hail of Katyusha rockets that fell in the region. "Thousands of Ethiopian immigrants were under immense stress during that period and we had very little tools to help them," Dr. Mira Keidar, JAFI's director of Social Welfare, told The Jerusalem Post Monday. "During the war, Lahad treated them with group therapy and created an Amharic-speaking hot-line manned by professionals to allow them to express their fears." Since then, explained Keidar, JAFI staff, Lahad and other professionals in the field of stress prevention and post-traumatic stress disorder have been developing an expanded program aimed at helping Ethiopians tackle all types of pressure, with an emphasis on the issues linked to moving to a new country, adopting a new culture and language and adjustment problems encountered by children and youth. "The Ethiopian community is very focused on group therapies and community healing," she continued, explaining that the new program includes puppet therapy and photography workshops for young children and teens, as well as an Amharic-language film with tips on how to relax and remain optimistic through difficult times. "This is the first time such a disc has ever been created," said Keidar, adding that JAFI has also trained 38 Amharic-speaking social workers and educational professionals to present stress prevention workshops to the immigrants, who are currently arriving here at a rate of 300 per month. A recent study conducted by the Tel Hai Community College examining the Ethiopian community, both veteran and new immigrants, found that 71 percent experienced difficulties in becoming part of Israeli society and 67% feel they don't belong to society. In addition, 65.5% of Ethiopian immigrants suffer from emotional distress and 46% said they had experienced some form of discrimination since arriving here. Two-thirds of all Ethiopian immigrants have open files with social welfare services and close to 75% live below the poverty line. Among the teenage population, violence is also a problem. The new program is presently running in the Safed-area's three absorption centers and the one in Nahariya. With the new wave of funding it will be expanded to include absorption centers in Nazareth, Beersheba and Kfar Saba. Additional budgets are needed to make this a nationwide program, Keidar said. She also said that the plan could also be applied to Ethiopian communities even after they leave the absorption centers. "I am hopeful that we will be able to pass these tools on to professionals working with the community outside of the absorption centers too, as well as to the programs currently being developed by the government for children and youth at risk."