Overseas Students Provide English Enrichment <BR> To Ethiopian Immigrants

Overseas Students Provide English Enrichment
To Ethiopian Immigrants

It is Monday at six o’clock in the evening. Two white mini-vans pull into the trailer park at the entrance to the city of Haifa. Suddenly children appear from among the trailers, broad smiles on their faces, sharpened pencils in their hands, eyes scanning the buses in the hope that they’ll find their “teachers” from the week before.
This is the Neve Carmel Absorption Center, the largest Absorption Center for Ethiopian immigrants in northern Israel. About two hundred new immigrants arrive here every month, according to Zalman Gordon, the Internship and Volunteer Program Coordinator for the University’s Overseas Program. Originally from Philadelphia, Gordon is a retired mental health officer for the Israeli Army.

“This Center serves as a temporary housing facility until permanent housing is available. Currently 3,500 people live here. An average stay is one to two years.” In addition to solving the problem of insufficient housing, he adds, the Center serves as an effective transition living arrangement for the Ethiopian immigrants.

“This is a rural population, accustomed to living in small villages, without modern conveniences,” Gordon explains. “The Center eases the transition between their former lifestyles and their new lifestyles in Israel. They become acquainted with Western society and the Israeli way of life, all the time surrounded by a supportive and familiar community. They are provided with services to facilitate their adjustment, such as Hebrew classes, baby clinics, nutrition and hygiene information, and convenient schooling.”
Every Monday, about fifteen student volunteers from the University’s Overseas Program become teachers for the evening. This is the second semester of the “English Enrichment Program,” as Gordon calls it, supported by the Weilheimer Fund for Immigrant Absorption. Both Gordon and the student volunteers are learning, with experience, how to prepare for lessons, how to most effectively work with the children, and how to make learning fun. Hopping off the mini-vans, the student volunteers share in the children’s excitement.

“The volunteer experience is an integral part of the Overseas Program. Through volunteering, overseas students become involved in and get to know the Haifa community. In addition, they get to know a very different Israel than they would have seen otherwise,” Gordon observes.
Avraham, red baseball cap turned backwards, is focused on the number cards on the desk in front of him. “One..two.. three..four...,” he counts, in unison with Shira Seri, a 19-year-old sophomore from Boston University. “I love working with kids,” Shira says. “These kids are enthusiastic about learning and so eager to talk to us. At the University I have no contact with children, so I really look forward to coming here every week.”
For over an hour, she sits beside Avraham, patiently reciting and repeating the numbers. “I think it’s more important to interest the children in English and to get them excited about the language than to worry about how much they are learning,” she says. “I want to be a professor one day...this is good practice!”

“Working with these kids is fun and extremely rewarding—it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in Israel,” says James Kaplan, a twenty-year-old junior also from Boston University. “Tutoring makes me have a lot more respect for educators. This is demanding!”
Today Erez and Yair, two fifteen-year-olds with inspiration in their eyes, are learning the days of the week.
“What day is today?” James asks them. “Monday!” Erez answers excitedly, although with a noticeable wobble of uncertainty in his tone. “Very good!” James reassures him. “And what day was yesterday?”
“With my broken Hebrew, it’s a little bit difficult to communicate,” says Debby Mendelsohn, a 23-year-old fourth-year student from Groningon University in Amsterdam, Holland, “but the children are really motivated and intelligent, so they help me out. Today we are going to learn colors and “school” words— book, paper, pencil, desk... Wish me luck!”
It is hard to figure out who is enjoying themselves more—the “teachers” or the kids. “Everybody—the kids, the community, and the student volunteers—is so enthusiastic about this program,” Gordon comments.
Then he so rightly phrased it, “It’s a wonderful meeting of cultures.”

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