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מרכז לקהילה האפריקאית בירושלים

Using Language to Communicate With Their Past: A Mother Teacher Collaboration

Azieb Tekie and her family, one can safely say, are dedicated members of JACC’s community. Her husband, Benjamin, was taking English classes with the founders of JACC even before it had become a formal organization.

Azieb, too, took a Hebrew class in the years before JACC’s foundation in 2014. Of her seven children, two were involved in different JACC programs last year—one took an English class and the other was a mentee in a mentoring program run by students studying social work at Hebrew University.

This summer, Azieb is teaching Amharic at JACC’s youth summer camp in the hopes that learning their mother tongue will help her students communicate with their families back home.

During the three day-a-week camp, students take classes in addition to going on field trips. While all eleven students take an English class on Wednesdays, on Mondays the students break into two groups—some to study Amharic, and the rest to study Tigrinya.

The students are placed in either class based on which country their parents are from. The Ethiopians study Amharic and the Eritreans study Tigrinya. Although the students’ parents speak these languages, it can be difficult for these children to learn their mother languages fluently because they spend most of their days in Israeli schools, where Hebrew and English are spoken.

“These children know many languages but not one really well,” Ornit Yehushua, one of JACC’s board members, said. Learning their mother languages, Azieb said, will help them communicate with their grandparents and extended family who still live in Africa.

Azieb, who is an evangelical Christian, left Eritrea because of religious persecution. Working with a religious group, she said many of the movements leaders were killed or simply vanished. “We don’t know where they are,” she said. She moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she met her future husband, Benjamin. Soon, however, Azieb and Benjamin were forced to leave when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea at the turn of the century. Fleeing to Egypt, Azieb and Benjamin married and spent 5 years there before again fleeing persecution for their involvement in a movement to help Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees fleeing the war in the south. After Egypt, they came to Israel.

Of her seven children, only two speak Amharic. The other five can understand it but cannot speak it.

“Language is a communication issue,” Azieb said. “I believe that everybody has to know a language.” Azieb said the English and Hebrew classes that JACC offers are important and helpful for her community because they help children learn to better communicate. She hopes that her class, too, will help children communicate better.

This month, JACC is raising money so that JACC can continue to provide asylum-seeking children with meaningful and educational programming, including language classes, that will help them grow and mature. As of now, 65% of the asylum-seeking community’s children in Jerusalem do not receive services from JACC because of limited resources. Help us expand our children’s programming today.

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