Immigrant has uphill battle in attempt to return to teaching

Sileshi Mengistu 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sileshi Mengistu 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Compared to many of his fellow Ethiopian immigrants, Sileshi Mengistu has done pretty well since arriving in Israel in 2001. He lives in Beit Shemesh, his seven children are each succeeding in the education system and he has found himself a job as a security guard at the nearby Harel mall in Mevaseret Zion. However, all this is just not enough for the 42-year-old who was a math and English teacher when he lived in Ethiopia. In fact, for the past three years, Mengistu has been striving to improve his status by enrolling in courses at Jerusalem's David Yellin College of Education to become a qualified teacher in his new homeland. "I want to succeed and be an example to my family," Mengistu told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week. "If none of us succeed in education or in culture then what will happen to our children?" Mengistu's determination to succeed and his desire to improve his own status and that of his children's future has been marred in recent months as he struggles to pay the college's NIS 5,000 tuition fees. The minimum wage salary that he draws from his job barely covers his and his family's living expenses, let alone his studies. "My income is very low. I did get help from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption for the first two years and last year from a scholarship fund for Ethiopian immigrants, but this year I applied for those scholarships too late and now there is nothing left," explained Mengistu, who in his limited spare time tutors his own children in their schooling. Mengistu said that because he was late paying the NIS 1,600 deposit for his courses last August - money he had to borrow from a friend - the college was late in returning to him the required paperwork needed to apply for any of the scholarships offered to Ethiopian immigrants. Now Mengistu is trying to secure funding from other sources both official and personal. He has even turned to the Jewish Agency for Israel for help but it is still unsure whether he will be successful. A spokesman for the JAFI said it was looking into the matter. Air Tewave, program director at the Ethiopian National Project - one of the organizations that Mengistu went to for help - told the Post that the cut-off date for applying for a scholarship was December 30. "If he did not put his forms in on time we cannot help him this year," said Tewave, adding that there were several other applicants that also did not receive funds this year. However, Tewave said that Mengistu is deserving of the scholarships handed out by the organization. "Teachers of Ethiopian descent are our priority," said Tewave. "We are specifically looking for those immigrants who fall between the cracks." Tewave also said he would look into Mengistu's case and see if the ENP can help him out for next year. Mari Samara, Mengistu's mentor at David Yellin, said that enabling Ethiopian immigrants to succeed in education is the key to improving the status of the community in general. "It is very important that Mengistu become a teacher, there are many problems with Ethiopian students and someone like him, who was also a teacher in Ethiopia, can really help," he said. "Mengistu has got no help from the college's student authority due to his advanced age but every year he just about manages to pay for his studies with the help of grants and a part time job. Hopefully he will find someone who is willing to help him." "At my age I cannot take a break in studying for a few years," said Mengistu. "If I can't complete these studies then I will not feel satisfied. We always have to improve ourselves even if it is not a simple process."