UIA-HA partnership will help heal Israel’s Ethiopian community

September 5, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Only 11% of Ethiopian Jewish students reach university in Israel, compared to 42% of their counterparts in the general population.  This worrying statistic is behind a ground-breaking agreement between the United Israel Appeal (UIA) and Hadassah Australia (HA) that will deliver up to 20, five-year nursing scholarships to this marginalised community.

Ethiopians learn in hospital

Each scholarship is valued at $120,000.

This important initiative will continue Australia’s long-standing commitment to the resettlement of Ethiopian Jewry in Israel, championed by the UIA in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Hadassah Ethiopian Nursing Scholarship program (Achotenu– ’Our Nurses’), represents one of the few times that the UIA has formally partnered with another community organisation in joint fundraising.  It follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties on August 26.

Ethiopian nurses

Hadassah’s Achotenu initiative tackles head-on one of the key problems facing students from Ethiopia and other marginalised communities in Israel – the cultural bias in the Psychometric Entrance Test (PET), a standardised higher education entrance exam that screens students before they gain acceptance to an undergraduate degree.

In late 2016, Hadassah and the Hebrew University determined that an alternative strategy was necessary to ease the path to tertiary study. The Hebrew University set new tests and Hadassah agreed to fund a pre-university preparatory year involving mentors and special courses that prepared the student candidates for the revised entry tests.

Students who successfully navigate these tests are admitted to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing. (Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, introduced westernised nursing to then-Palestine at the turn of last century).

Ron Finkel,  President of Hadassah Australia, says the admissions committee is looking for students who are motivated, have a strong self-belief in their abilities, have an aptitude for healthcare as a profession, and are passionate about nursing.

“For many young Ethiopian-Israelis, a place in Israel’s internationally-recognised healthcare system is a matter of pride as well as providing them with economic security,” he said.

“To be a nurse is to be at the coalface of community health and to represent the very best values Israel offers.”

Many cases involving young Ethiopians struggling to enter university are heart-breaking.  In one celebrated case, Yehudit Armas failed the PET not once, but twice and was convinced that her dream of becoming a hospital nurse was over.

Yair Miller, CEO of United Israel Appeal says it was a chance Facebook post directed to young Ethiopian-Israelis that not only changed Yehudit’s life but the life of her family and the Ethiopian community more broadly.

“Yehudit was born in Israel, but her parents made aliyah from Ethiopia in 1991 as members of Operation Solomon,” Yair said.

“Like many in the Ethiopian community, there was no-one in their family who had attended, let alone graduated, from university.”

But it wasn’t until she was chosen to meet the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, in May this year as a representative of Israel’s student nurses that she realised how far she had come in her life’s journey.

“My parents couldn’t be prouder of what I’ve achieved,” an emotional Yehudit told President Rivlin at the ceremony. “It wasn’t only an honour for me but for them as well.”

Nursing is a desirable profession because of its respected status in Israel.  It is also a way out of poverty for many families.  Almost 25% of the Ethiopian community in Israel live below the national poverty line, so the new accelerated pathway to this profession is attracting widespread interest.

“We shouldn’t forget that with Israel facing a chronic shortage of nurses, the Hadassah Ethiopian Nursing Scholarship offers real benefits to society,” Ron Finkel said.

As Yair Miller notes, “Australia has ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to the Ethiopians.  Our financial support in the 80s and 90s was transformational, and now we have another opportunity to enhance the fabric of Israeli society in partnership with this community.”

To donate to the Hadassah Ethiopian Nursing Scholarship, please visit https://www.hadassahaustralia.org/achotenu

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