Ethiopians reaching new heights through Yeechalal

Yeechalal's youth squads are helping Rehovot in its fight against crime.

Yeechalal 311 (photo credit: Yeechalal Web site)
Yeechalal 311
(photo credit: Yeechalal Web site)
There is little to cheer about in Rehovot’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood.
Located on the outskirts of one of Israel’s first cities, Kiryat Moshe has earned the reputation of being the country’s Harlem – the New York City neighborhood known for its predominantly African-American population and high crime rate.
Around 50 percent of Kiryat Moshe’s residents are of Ethiopian origin, while a similar amount of the neighborhood’s inhabitants are unemployed.
Kiryat Moshe made national headlines in recent years when three separate murders were committed by teenagers from the neighborhood, including a particularly horrendous act in May 2005, when 15-year-old Ma’ayan Sapir was raped, sodomized and murdered near her Rehovot home by a juvenile convict.
With one of the highest crime rates among teenagers in Israel, the future looks to be especially bleak for those hailing from Kiryat Moshe.
However, one initiative is aiming to bring hope to the youth of the neighborhood.
The Yeechalal Community Association of Ethiopian Immigrants for Advancement in Sport was founded in 2000 with the ambition of empowering and strengthening Ethiopian children and teenagers in Israel, and has done a world of good since.
“I was trying to find teams for some of the neighborhood’s talented youngsters, but the clubs I came to said that they are welcome only if they can pay the NIS 300 monthly fee,” Yeechalal co-founder and chairman Abay Zauda told me when recalling the founding of the non-profit organization.
“We decided to set-up an organization that would also allow the underprivileged kids, whose parents can’t afford to pay, to take part in organized sports and look for some good people to help us out financially.”
There are over 350 children currently participating in Yeechalal’s different programs, which include soccer, basketball and athletics.
The senior Bnei Yeechalal Rehovot soccer club was set up in 2007 as a contender in Israel’s lowest amateur league, Liga Gimel. Earlier this year, the side was promoted to Liga Bet – the country’s fourth division.
Bnei Yeechalal, which is almost entirely comprised of players of Ethiopian origin, began its first Liga Bet campaign with a 0-0 draw at Ironi Ramle on Saturday, and has already advanced to the fourth round of the State Cup, beating Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem along the way.
Zauda, however, has set much loftier goals for the team, which is entirely made up of volunteer players and staff.
“We started in the lowest division, but we want to become the team of the country,” he said. “We want to slowly climb up the ranks and eventually even play in European competition.
That is our dream.”
More importantly, Zauda, who volunteers every spare minute of his time with the organization, hopes that one day Yeechalal can branch out to other neighborhoods and help as many children as possible.
“If we find the right people to help us and donate the resources we need, we would like to help more neighborhoods like Ramat Eliyahu in Rishon Lezion,” he said. “At the moment we don’t have enough resources to do so.”
Words truly fail to do Zauda’s incredible project justice.
Yeechalal is an Amharic word which roughly translates to “nothing stands in the way of willpower.”
Zauda and his team certainly have the will, and hopefully they will be given the power to continue their wonderful work for years to come.