From polio victim to special needs teacher

Ethiopian immigrant granted Ilan Foundation scholarship.

ethiopian doctors 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ethiopian doctors 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Twenty-nine students suffering from a range of disabilities were awarded up to NIS 10,000 Wednesday night at a ceremony bestowing the annual Paulina and Avraham Bergman scholarship, which grants a total of NIS 171,000. The scholarships were awarded under the auspices of the Ilan Foundation for Handicapped Children, a national organization that provides living facilities and daily care to the thousands of children and adults in Israel with disabilities. One of the recipients of this year's award was Ethiopian immigrant Yezena Tazuzu, who received the award on the basis of her personal journey to become a student of special education at Achva College in Kiryat Malachi. "I could not believe it," the 21-year-old student, who was crippled by polio as a child, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. "I was very excited, it is a large sum of money and will be a big help in funding my studies." Tazuzu does not remember when exactly she contracted polio but family and friends have recounted that she was probably about five years old. As a young child, her father sent her away from the village to study in a special school in the town of Gondar. She does not remember much of that period, only that "it was very difficult" and "there was really no help for someone like me." Five years ago, Tazuzu's father thought that he had found a lucky option for his then 16-year-old daughter, a path that would give her a better chance at improving her life, she recalls. "A man that my father had helped offered to bring me to Israel," explains Tazuzu. "My father was not keen at first but the other man convinced him that I would have a better life here." Finally her father agreed and at the tender age of 16, Tazuzu left her family and made aliya. At first she stayed with the family who had brought her to Israel and they all spent 10 months learning Hebrew at an absorption center in Arad. However, when the father of the family tried to sell her off to a divorced man so that she could become his wife, Tazuzu knew she had to get away. Her escape came in the form of the Acre youth village, where she was offered a place to live for free while she studied for her matriculation exams at the nearby Western Galilee College. While receiving assistance from the youth village with her living expenses, an Israeli man called Itamar Reshef befriended and also decided to help her. "He was well-known at the college for helping those with problems," says Tazuzu, adding that Reshef has since become her adopted father in Israel. It was he who encouraged her to pursue her dreams of becoming a special needs teacher and he helped her fill out the forms to apply for the Ilan scholarship, she says. Of the award she received at Wednesday's ceremony, Tazuzu says it will help her fulfill her dream of being independent and contributing to society. "Without it I would probably not be able to go to college," she says. Tazuzu says that one of the main reasons she has chosen to study special education was so that she could help children with disabilities similar to her own. She believes that because of the hardships she has suffered in her life, she will be able to relate directly to the children she plans to teach. A nonprofit organization, the Ilan Foundation for Handicapped Children was stared in 1952 and today deals with thousands of disabled people, including adults, throughout Israel. There are more than 40 Ilan centers countrywide, including dormitories and day centers, which run activities and provide equipment for those with disabilities. On Tuesday, the foundation appointed former Knesset member Ehud Rassabi as its new chairman.