To Give Is to Receive

By Brenda Katten

ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) whose Hebrew equivalent means “Help” is geared towards Anglos in Israel. The organization was founded in 1979 by Zimbabwe Oleh Merle Guttman, who recognized the necessity of providing a forum for English speakers especially for newcomers. For the past past 40 years, ESRA has become the largest English-speaking volunteer-based organization in Israel.

ESRA’s branches cover the country from Nahariya in the North to Eilat in the South. It provides dynamic inter-active programs embracing lecture courses, musical entertainment as well as the opportunity to volunteer.

ESRA volunteers find a wealth of activities with which to become involved. Some 600 volunteers throughout the country assist Israeli schoolchildren with their spoken English — a dynamic activity receiving the full support of the Ministry of Education. Volunteers enjoy their conversations with the youngsters gaining an insight into their lives in exchange for providing them with the opportunity to speak English.

Aside from providing a stimulating life for its members, ESRA supports a number of projects geared specifically to creating a better tomorrow for those coming from depressed backgrounds. The “Students build a community” project — in existence for 14 years — enables carefully chosen students to live rent free in areas of severe deprivation in exchange for mentoring other children in the neighborhood. Aside from set hours — helping their pupils with their schoolwork, the students are available virtually 24/7 because they live on the job. Often youngsters who knock on their door outside of mentoring time receive a warm welcome plus the opportunity to have a chat.

The first SBC project started in 2006 in Hephzibah — an area that, up until today, houses predominately families from an Ethiopian background. A sign of the win/win situation of the SBC program is that a high proportion of the student mentors come from an Ethiopian background; they are graduates of ESRA’s “Right Track Project” (after school classes geared specifically to help teenagers with their Bagrut — final school exam). The majority progress into the army and then return to ESRA as SBC students proving to be the most wonderful role models for those they mentor.

Funding for the various projects comes both from events organized by ESRA branches — a number have their own specific project — plus individual donors who provide scholarships for the students. Many students not only have to find the funds to cover their college fees but also provide financial assistance to their parents and families.

One of ESRA’s newest projects started three years ago. The “Journey to identity” program encourages Ethiopian teenagers to return to Ethiopia and discover their family’s origin stories. The youngsters return home imbued with an understanding of the sacrifices their families had made in order to come to Israel, plus an intensification of their love for Israel.

ESRA provides a better tomorrow especially for thousands of youngsters which, simultaneously, contributes to a better tomorrow for Israel.

To learn more, visit esra.org.il.

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