Project Spotlight: Afikim

The Fellowship  |  July 9, 2019

Children at Afikim
Children at Afikim

In Israel, one in three children live in poverty. It’s a startling statistic that means far too many Israeli children – even those in loving homes – are forced to go to bed hungry and spend their afternoons alone as their parents work long hours at low-paying jobs. Often, no one is around to help these children with homework, and they can easily fall behind.

Which is why The Fellowship supports Afikim, an after-school program for at-risk children from needy families. At this center, the kids from disadvantaged families receive a hot meal, academic help, life-skills classes, and activities such as music and art – and the parents attend weekly seminars on parenting, home management, and workplace skills. In 2019, The Fellowship will provide $200,000 to Afikim, helping over 500 children in Israel.

Children from families of immigrants to Israel are especially at risk – like Genet’s three children. Genet made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Ethiopia as a young girl. Life in Israel has been challenging, but thankfully, she can rely on The Fellowship.

Running Towards Israel

Genet has endured hardship most are unable to imagine. She grew up in extreme poverty in Ethiopia where death from hunger, malnutrition, and disease is far too common. Like many families, Genet’s longed for the promised land where their Jewish ancestors had once thrived.

Genet says that more than running away from poverty, they were running toward Israel. She calls it her destiny.

In 1989, 9-year-old Genet was told by her grandmother that they would make the difficult journey to Israel. Genet’s father had died when she was a baby, and her mother left with her young brother to make the journey separately.

A Dangerous Journey

With limited options, Genet’s grandmother took her resolutely by the hand, and they set out on foot with what little they could carry. She remembers being told it was a secret journey, but soon, more than 300 others were walking along with them. Genet can still recall the overwhelming fear of not knowing where they were going, or if the police had been notified of their escape.

The journey took more than a month by foot through Sudan and then by boat from Khartoum up into the Red Sea and on to southern Israel. Many in their group died. Some from sickness, others from starvation and some from the animal and human predators of the night.

Challenges in Israel

When they arrived in Israel, Genet and her grandmother were sent to a refugee camp in Be’er Sheva. The lived in the camp for two years. During this time, despite their best efforts to find her mother and brother, they were unable to locate them. Genet’s eyes glaze over as she says that 38 years later, she now has no memory of either of them.

After the refugee camp, Genet moved to Sderot and then Jerusalem. She married, but her life remained a series of hardships. She had three daughters, now ages 17, 15 and 11. But they began to find themselves the target of her husband’s abuse. One day, she and her girls made the difficult decision to flee, seeking refuge in a women’s shelter where they lived for eight months.

Today, they live in a public-housing apartment in Jerusalem, but Genet fears they will be forced to leave. The family’s financial situation is severe. To make matters worse, Genet was partially paralyzed by a stroke, and is mostly immobile and confined to the apartment – she cannot work. She uses a small disability stipend to pay the rent and for utilities. There is no money left for food, and the gas bill is overdue.

Turning to Fellowship-Supported Afikim

This makes the food support she receives from the Fellowship-supported Afikim program so vital. The director of the program brings meals to Genet every day, while her youngest daughter Emuna participates in the afterschool activities.

“It saves our lives,” Genet says of the support.

The family’s fridge and cupboards are usually bare, and Genet has no friends or neighbors for companionship. To her great surprise, The Fellowship went one step further and sent her a food box and grocery card that moves her to tears.

“I’m so appreciative of these donors who help. I bless them for their support. It really strengthens me. It moves me,” says Genet. “Thank you!”

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