New Roots – One Ethiopian Immigrant’s Story

Osheila of Beit Canada

Osheila on the newly rennovated Beit Canada playground

A shining young Ethiopian woman sips her coffee – black. She’s calm, collected and clearly very smart. She breathes deeply as she looks around the 200-square-foot room, a gentle smile crossing her lips as she glances at her supervisor.

“It’s hard to be an immigrant for anyone. It’s especially hard to be an Ethiopian immigrant,” says Osheila. “Being here at Beit Canada is great for me. I can learn. I am calm.”

Osheila lives in Ashkelon, where she is working towards a Master’s degree. She moved to Israel as a young girl, in the early 1980s. Shortly after her arrival – with her father, his second wife and her three half-siblings – Osheila was estranged from her family. She pushed her way through school under foster care and achieved the role of physician’s assistant in the IDF. But when she left army and was faced with creating a life for herself, she had few resources.

Osheila enrolled in a Bachelor’s program at Ashkelon College. She wanted to study criminology. But paying rent, keeping her home clean even putting food on the table was nearly impossible, as she struggled to balance work and school. She nearly dropped out. Then, she came to Beit Canada.

“They let me live and work here. I was able to finish my degree,” says Osheila. “My friends here became my family. If not for Beit Canada, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Beit Canada is an Ethiopian absorption center in Ashkelon, partially funded by an allocation to the Jewish Agency for Israel, from THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Primarily, its staff assists new Ethiopian immigrant children acclimate to their schools and society, through tutoring and enrichment programming. In addition, the program offers conversion courses for parents and a place to live, while the family transitions to life in Israel. Osheila came to Beit Canada many years after her move to Israel, but at the apex of her transition to life as a girl to life as an Israeli woman. Working and living at Beit Canada, she found the network she needed and, as she became more and more successful, she has given back, serving as a mentor and example to the Ethiopian children there.

“It was very hard for me to ask for help,” says Osheila. “But as I have gotten older, I have learned not to be embarrassed to ask for assistance. I realized that asking comes from a place of strength. I asked for help and I got it from Beit Canada. Today, I give help to others like me.”

Osheila is just months away from completing her Master’s in social work. She plans to find her own apartment soon, but will continue to work with the children at Beit Canada.

“My roots were in Ethiopia,” says Osheila. “I was uprooted from my home. Now I feel I have replanted them in here, in Israel, in Ashkelon – thanks to Beit Canada.”

THE ASSOCIATED provides roughly one-third of its Annual Campaign dollars to support the needs of Jews in Israel and around the world. View our 2011 allocations>>

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