May 27, 2010

Unexpected Outcomes

From Steve Schwager, CEO

As you know, PACT (Parents and Children Together) was established to reduce the educational and social gaps between Ethiopian-Israeli and veteran Israeli children by the time they reach first grade. But the following story reminds us that in practice, PACT accomplishes much more—it creates an open channel of communication among kindergarten teachers, parents, and the municipality, while also reflecting a cadre of caring and dedicated professionals who are prepared to go beyond their job description to strengthen—and sometimes save lives in—the Ethiopian-Israeli community. Irv and I want to take this opportunity to thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for their support of PACT in Beit Shemesh, which is creating small miracles like this one every day….

Anat, the PACT Coordinator in Beit Shemesh, received a phone call about a month ago from one of the kindergarten supervisors; she had just witnessed a troubling conversation at one of the kindergartens between the parents of an Ethiopian-Israeli boy, the teacher, and Edna, the PACT Ethiopian-Israeli Liaison.

The kindergarten teacher was telling the parents that their child was very unsettled, wasn't able to sit and concentrate, and was being disruptive; the teacher wanted to hear from the parents how the child behaved at home. Edna facilitated the conversation by translating between Amharic and Hebrew.

Edna immediately visited the family in their home. She found a broken family in distress.

The mother and father explained that one evening, five years ago while they were still living in Ethiopia, the mother was bathing her baby son and asked her 12-year-old daughter, Avinu, to go down to the local shop to buy more baby oil.

Avinu went on the errand and never returned. The mother searched everywhere for her, but she had simply disappeared. After a few weeks of constant searching, the parents decided to seize the opportunity to make aliyah to Israel with their other children, but without Avinu or knowing what had happened to her.

From the moment they arrived in Israel, the parents told everyone the story of their daughter and of her disappearance in Ethiopia—but no progress was made.

Every day life in Beit Shemesh was unbearable: ridden with worry about the fate of their daughter, the parents couldn’t sleep at night and therefore struggled to function during the day. They explained that the stress and distress were affecting their son—and so he had become disruptive in kindergarten.

As for Avinu, no one knew her fate. Was she still alive?

Anat, the PACT Coordinator, immediately turned to a contact at the municipality. He, in turn, shared the girl's plight with his contacts in Israel and abroad, urging them to do everything in their power to facilitate Avinu’s return to her family.

A week passed and the kindergarten teacher contacted Anat to say that the parents had shown up at the school elated, hugging her and saying "mazal tov, mazal tov." She didn’t fully understand what had happened because they didn’t speak any Hebrew; Edna, the PACT Liaison, was contacted immediately to translate.

Edna explained that their daughter, Avinu, had been found in Ethiopia. She had been transferred to Addis Ababa and would soon be reunited with her family.

On May 14, 2010 at 1:00 am, the delegation left for Ben Gurion airport where the emotional reunion took place. After so much suffering and heartache, everyone’s sheer joy was palpable. Avinu safely made aliyah. And her little brother, whose involvement in PACT played a transformational role in the life of his family, was thrilled that his big sister had been found!

Avinu’s mother asked to share one thought with the media:

"I wish to the mother of Gilad Shalit that she will be able to feel what I feel at this very moment. I send you my thoughts and wishes, and I am praying for your son, Gilad, that he will return to you like Avinu was returned to her mother."

He who saves one life, it is as if he saved the whole world.

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