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 Permanent Home for the Mechina - the Yemin Orde Leadership Program for Immigrant Youth
BACKGROUND – YEMIN ORDE
Yemin Orde’s experience with disadvantaged immigrant youth has clearly proven that when marginalized and at-risk youngsters are given the tools and opportunities to succeed they are able to excel. Since it was founded in 1953, by Youth Aliyah of Great Britain and Eire, Yemin Orde Youth Village has taken in wave after wave of immigrant teenagers from, among other places, North Africa, Iran, Brazil, Russia, and Ethiopia. Although very different in their backgrounds and native cultures, all of these young immigrants faced the same difficulties in assimilation: a severe language barrier; unfamiliarity with the culture and values of Israeli society; lack of an Israeli identity; poor academic levels due to limited language and communication skills; lack of role models; often lack of a strong (if any) Jewish identity; and low socio-economic status.
Yemin Orde has developed an educational philosophy which addresses these issues and a community which helps children acquire a firm sense of self, confidence in their future and the tools to benefit from opportunities to advance. The success of this philosophy can be clearly seen in the achievements of Yemin Orde’s graduates. As noted by the Ma’ariv newspaper in 1998 “almost the entire young leadership of the Ethiopian community in Israel has passed through Yemin Orde.” Israel’s first Ethiopian lawyer and Ethiopian architect were Yemin Orde graduates; a former Israeli Consul in Ethiopia is a Yemin Orde graduate, other Yemin Orde graduates have advanced to high levels in the military, industry, and in civil service careers.
Children generally come to Yemin Orde for the four years of high school, but as many graduates lack a support system in Israel, Yemin Orde continues to care for them beyond 12th grade. Yemin Orde’s Graduate Program provides financial and emotional support for the Village’s graduates on an “as-needed” basis during their army service, university studies and even beyond.
BACKGROUND – THE MECHINA
The majority of Israelis begin their compulsory military service immediately following high school. Over the past 20 years, there has been a rising awareness that not all 18-year-old Israelis are prepared for the complex challenges they face during their service. Mechina (meaning preparatory in Hebrew) programs have been established to prepare high school graduates for meaningful IDF service; they work to develop young leaders prepared for the
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challenges they will confront. There are now thirty-five Mechina programs around Israel, each with a different character and focusing on a different sector of society. Most of these programs are expensive courses for affluent or middle-class youth.
Twelve years ago Yemin Orde established the Mechina - the “garden of late bloomers”, for those immigrant youth who need a post-high school program to imbue them with the emotional fortitude and leadership skills that will enable them to excel during their army service and as adults. The Yemin Orde Mechina is the only program that has been specifically designed for young immigrants and which takes into consideration their financial means. The program is open to youth from throughout Israel, regardless of where they attended high school; a very small percentage of Mechina participants are Yemin Orde graduates.
The majority of the participants in the Yemin Orde Mechina have been on the margins of Israeli society for most of their lives. A positive outcome of compulsory military service is that it can be a tremendous social equalizer as it provides the same opportunities to everyone – whatever their background. Israelis from all backgrounds meet, often for the first time, in the army. By having the opportunity to assume tremendous responsibilities at a very young age and being able to demonstrate innate talents in different fields, youngsters are able to break out of their regular social status and experience a sense of achievement and belief in their own abilities. This is particularly important in Israel where a person’s army service can often be a critical factor in any future success, as Israelis list their army rank and service on their resumes. Serving in certain units or any kind of officer training are strong indications of achievement, character and potential. If a youngster enters the army with the capacity to be accepted into these positions, s/he gains a tremendous advantage for the future.
The Mechina program has evolved over the years to teach important leadership skills such as understanding the democratic process, public speaking, and decision making as well as essential skills for military service. Mechina graduates not only serve in admirable positions in the IDF, they also serve as invaluable role models for youth in their own neighborhoods. Mechina graduates often visit and talk with youth, to help guide them as they make decisions pertaining to their own future.
HATZOR - THE LOCAL COMMUNITY
The Yemin Orde Mechina is located in Hatzor, a development town in northern Israel. As are many of the communities in Israel's periphery, Hatzor is populated mainly by socio-
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economically challenged first generation Israelis and new immigrants. Locating the Mechina in Hatzor was a calculated decision intended to benefit the local community. One of the most important elements of the Mechina program is the community service requirement. Based on Yemin Orde’s philosophy of tikkun olam, all participants work within the local community on a regular basis in order to experience the empowering benefit of being able to help people-in-need, as well as to become further engaged with the local community bringing a sense of vitality and energy to the town of Hatzor. Participants volunteer in after-school programs, in community centers with local youth, with physically challenged young adults and with the elderly. Many of the staff members live in Hatzor, and several graduates of the Mechina have recently settled in Hatzor following their army service and are studying and/or working in the area. The graduates receive support through Yemin Orde and volunteer both at the Mechina and at other locations in Hatzor, demonstrating Yemin Orde’s commitment to strengthening the community.
THE YEMIN ORDE MECHINA
Now beginning its thirteenth year of operation, the Yemin Orde Leadership Program for Immigrant Youth, the Mechina, encourages Israeli immigrant youth to acquire leadership skills in preparation for their army service and in civilian life following a period of meaningful service. Its unique and essential characteristic is the population which it seeks to attract and the support which it offers its participants over an extended period of time.
The overall goal of the Mechina is to enable underprivileged immigrant teenagers, all of whom are from the lowest end of the socio-economic scale, to achieve their potential and become leaders in the IDF – thereby ultimately creating a cadre of educated and motivated young people who can subsequently make a significant contribution to their communities and society in general. The Mechina has built on the successful educational methodologies of Yemin Orde, enhanced for this critical period in the lives of young Israelis. The beneficiaries of the Mechina are all immigrant youth, mostly from Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union.
A PERMANENT HOME FOR THE MECHINA
In the first 12 years of its operations, the Mechina was located in a rented facility in a residential neighborhood of the Upper Galilee town of Hatzor. As the program has become increasingly successful and has attracted a rising number of participants, it has outgrown the makeshift facility. The dilapidated dorm rooms and cramped and public spaces served multiple purposes, posing logistical difficulties with the programming. The dining room also served as a classroom, auditorium and central gathering area necessitating moving of furniture many times a day. The kitchen was initially built for a single family and has been
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adapted to enable preparation of three meals a day for over 50 young men. Most important, the program has had to turn away applicants for lack of space. Potential participants cannot simply attend a different mechina as there is no other program designed specifically for immigrant youth and for which they do not have to pay tuition.
Years of intensive work and the generous support of devoted friends have resulted in the completion of the program's new, permanent home – the Mechina Campus. Since its establishment, over five hundred immigrant youth have benefitted from the program, gaining the tools they need to become productive members of Israeli society and to shape a future filled with promise. The successful integration of Israel’s immigrants is contingent upon development of a cadre of young leaders from within the community who will serve to bridge the social and cultural gaps and lead their community into the Israeli mainstream. The Mechina endeavors to cultivate such leaders. Yemin Orde Educational Initiatives aspires that the permanent home will anchor the Mechina in Hatzor and will create a hub of activity which will revitalize the town and the surrounding area.
The building complex contains living quarters, classrooms, a library, offices for the staff and a central gathering area. The total constructed area is 3,000 sq. m. The construction has taken over three years to complete.
The permanent home for the Yemin Orde Leadership Program for Immigrant Youth, the Mechina, will provide an element of stability crucial for its continued success.