Teaching the right lessons

The Forgotten People Fund brings underprivileged children to summer camp and smiles to their faces.

Summer camp for Ethiopian kids 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Summer camp for Ethiopian kids 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It was a hot summer day and the swimming pool at the Shefayim water park was busy. Shouts and laughter filled the air. This was a special day trip for a group of 200 people, children and their parents, who traveled by chartered bus from Netanya. This is a short trip in terms of distance but almost unimaginable for people with barely enough money to put food on their tables.
They were able to come to Shefayim with the assistance of the Forgotten People Fund (FPF), an organization that has helped Ethiopian families in Netanya since their mass aliyot, Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991).
Sima Biton, volunteer administrator for the FPF Summer Camp Projects, remembers the day at Shefayim.
“This year, subsidies for summer camp experiences for needy communities were slashed across the board by the Netanya Municipality. Nevertheless, the FPF succeeded in raising enough funds to send children and parents from the Ethiopian community to experience a day of fun together. When you see the children and families you work with, smiles with sparks of happiness in their eyes, you smile too because you are thankful the project was successful and know that for these families to have fun together is a rare and important experience.
The FPF Summer Camp Experience also sent 80 children, from six years old and on into their teen years, to summer day camp with complete coverage for all the day trips and extras that camp entails.
“For some children,” says Biton, “day camp is a luxury. Their families are stable and their parents provide enjoyable activities. For the children, who were selected with the recommendation of social workers, summer camp is a necessity. More than food is scarce in their homes and often the entire family structure is unstable.
“For these young people, the alternative is to find ‘action’ on the streets and this means drugs, crime and violence. The framework of a camp experience and the skills they learn build positive memories and influence the child all year long.”
“We want to give these children lessons and experiences that will remain with them their entire lives” says Aida Miller, vice chairman of the FPF, who oversees the “hands on” outreach program for FPF. She is one of the representatives of FPF who works with FPF Rapid Response Team and with social workers to identify families in distress with regard to food, repairs, bills and domestic violence. During the summer, Aida’s special project is to oversee the FPF’s “Swim Safe” program.
“We decided to do it after an incident that happened last year when a young Ethiopian boy from Netanya drowned at the beach,” she explains. “In Ethiopia, swimming is foreign to the culture but here it is a necessity. We decided that we must help these children learn how to swim. This year we assisted 56 children from the Rashi school, which has a large population of children from the Ethiopian community in southern Netanya, and 26 children from the Vatikim neighborhood to take swimming lessons.
“The FPF paid for lessons, swimsuits, equipment and taxi rides to and from the pool, so that they should feel like any other child in the swimming class. You cannot imagine the nachas we have watching them with new skills that will enable them to be safe in the water.”
“In every case of assistance, the honor of the parents and family is of utmost importance,” explains Biton.
“The parents in the community came from a different world and although in many cases are now employed, are still struggling to hold their family together and still be a part of Israeli society. On the other hand, the first priority of their children is to be ‘part of the crowd,’ and they do not want always the same foods and pastime skills that their parents are famous for.
“Whatever we do for the children is with the permission of the parents. Financial and emotional support from the FPF is carried out quietly. We have watched these children grow up in very difficult situations, and it is with pride that we have helped many of them become solid members of their community and Israel. We are delighted with their ambition and have a waiting list for scholarships as they choose to further their education both in academia, in professional courses and advanced degrees, particularly in nursing, social work and master’s degrees in educational counseling.”
“DURING A child’s life, there are many facets to his or her education,” continues Biton. “During the year FPF helps provide the fees for after-school activities that round out a child’s life. These children want to have experiences like the other children in their class.
Therefore, hugim [activities] like football, dance and jazz are very popular. Also successful are the afterschool hot lunch and studies programs in the schools, as well as an English tutoring program given by FPF volunteers that provide edge to the child’s studies and an additional needed framework for their days.”
Biton’s personal dream for these children is that the instrumental music program in Netanya schools, which provided violin and piano lessons to the city’s youth, be reinstated. “Unfortunately, It was discontinued for lack of funds,” she explains. “It was so wonderful to see how many Ethiopian children were interested in learning these instruments that brought an entirely new dimension to their lives. I wish we could find the means to continue it.”
The FPF has initiated new projects for the adult members of the Ethiopian community, which now include a budget and banking course focused on reading bank statements, writing checks and dealing with credit cards.
For the older members of the community, FPF operates a Senior Citizen Club with a hot meal three times a week. Their grant from a Dutch organization expired and for the continuation of this project they are looking for additional funding.
Following the dictum of our Sages to help a person by giving him or her the tools to help themselves, FPF has initiated a Gardening Project with the city of Netanya.
FPF has an agreement with the city to hire Ethiopian gardening crews who take care of the public gardens and green areas. This is a cooperative that provides employment for five workers per crew. The city covers the costs of the operation, including salaries, but the FPF must buy the equipment which comes to about $15,000 per crew.
The FPF has a commitment from the city to employ as many crews as they can equip. This provides not only an income for the workers but also a sense of selfworth.
“We want to see a better life for these lovely, hardworking and gentle people,” says FPF chairman Anne Silverman. It has been our good fortune to have had solid support not only from our members in Israel but also from various overseas sources, including funds and foundations in the US, Holland, Switzerland and the British Friends of the Forgotten People.
“It is our joy to be able to supply not only assistance and basic needs for this community but also some of the needed extras in life which give people the strength to help themselves.”