Caring for Israel's At-Risk Children
June 29, 2010
I had the honor to see love in action during a recent visit to Afikim, an after-school and family enrichment center that serves children from impoverished families, many of whom are immigrants from Ethiopia. The Fellowship has supported Afikim centers in Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Shmona, and Jerusalem since 2009.
While I was there we met Michali, a third grader whose widowed mother has to work long hours as a seamstress, making minimum wage which barely covers rent and food each month. While she understands why her mother has to work such long hours, Michali still finds it difficult.
She told us, "Staying late after school each day until my mother could pick me up was not fun, but I realized it was what had to be done. The hardest part was that I was always hungry, because my lunch was only white bread and a piece of cheese. I wouldn't eat again until I got home at 6:30 p.m."
Schools in Israel generally end at 1 p.m. For some children, the open afternoons are a time to schedule extra activities such as music lessons or participating on sports teams. But for children from low-income families whose parents work, it means hours of unsupervised time. Often there is a lack of support at home, so many of these children also do poorly in school. The parents are equally at risk. Most are single parents; many are recent immigrants having difficulty integrating into Israeli society. They often don't have the income to adequately provide for their family's most basic needs.
That's why programs such as Afikim are so important. Children like Michali not only receive a hot lunch and a light dinner, but they also receive educational support and the opportunity to participate in constructive activities. Parents can also enroll in programs at Afikim to improve their parenting skills and develop vocational and workplace skills.
While visiting Afikim, the children performed for us some of their "best moves" in a girls' dance and boys' capoera (martial arts training) program. I was deeply moved to see how much these children have learned and the self-confidence they have gained since attending Afikim.
As Michali said, "For the first time in my life I have someone other than my mother who cares about my well-being and success. Because of their fun learning techniques, I enjoy doing my homework and actually understand it. This is also the first time in my life that I have had friends—Afikim has changed my life."
We have the opportunity to change even more lives through programs like Afikim. If you are interested in helping children like Michali, please give to Guardians of Israel today
Thank you again for your partnership and support in this important ministry.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein