The goal of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) is to enable Ethiopian-Israeli youth to achieve their full potential and increase their chances of social mobility and future integration into the labor market. The ENP is a partnership between the United Jewish Communities-Federations of North America (UJC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel (JDC), the Government of Israel (Ministries of Immigrant Absorption, Education, Social Affairs and Social Services, and Finance), representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations, and Keren Hayesod. In 2004, following a mapping of needs by the ENP, a program was established to meet the needs of Ethiopian-Israelis through scholastic assistance, youth centers for after-school activities, workshops for prevention of substance abuse, a community leadership program and more.
The youth centers are chiefly for Ethiopian-Israeli youth and they aim to be a positive setting offering the youth a place to go and something to do during their leisure time. The centers play an important part in preventing delinquency and reducing risk behaviors, identifying youths with particular problems and referring them to the appropriate agency. The youth center program was expanded considerably between 2005 and 2008 and in the 2007/8 academic year, there were 23 youth centers all over the country.
The Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute conducted an evaluation of 14 centers that had been in operation for over a year. This was the second stage of an evaluation program examining activities at the centers. The data were collected through interviews with program implementers, the center staff, and 579 youths attending the centers.
Among the findings:
The centers offer a normative afternoon framework where participants can spend their leisure time freely, thereby keeping them off the streets, which could lead to risk behaviors. In addition, the centers offer courses and extracurricular activities, personal development and leadership development workshops, organized social activities, external activities, and informal help with homework.
The average age of those attending the centers is 15 and, typically, they are from a low socioeconomic background and highly exposed to risk situations.
The participants reported that the activities had made a considerable contribution to them and played a significant role in their lives. Most said they had things to do at the center and they did things that interested them and were important to them to a great extent or a very great extent.
The counselors were rated highly and a significant majority of the youth said that the counselors understood them. Most participants consider the center counselor to be someone to turn to when they run into difficulties.
Many of the participants noted that the centers had helped improve their self-confidence, enhance their problem-solving skills, think about life differently, broaden their social circle, etc.
The main challenges are the need to improve registration and follow-up procedures, establish effective referral to professional therapy services where needed, and develop efficient ways to cope with youth who have behavioral and perseverance problems.
The findings have been presented to agencies involved in implementing and funding the program and form the basis on which to improve it and disseminate it further. The study was initiated and funded by the ENP.