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Rachel Ellison in Israel
"The students ... will have vital skills to offer back to Israel"
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Friday, 18 February, 2000, 15:42 GMT
Training for a new life in Israel

A student nurse working in the maternity ward

The BBC's Rachel Ellison travelled to Safed in northern Israel to see how a British-based charity is helping Russian and Ethiopian immigrants integrate into Israeli society.

It's damp and foggy - you can hardly see the hospital as our car climbs the winding potholed roads up to Safed, a sizeable town in northern Israel.

Jewish and Arab settlements sprinkle the mountainsides. Olive groves give way to Cedar forests. Lebanon is not far away.

It's here that the government has settled tens of thousands of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants - some in development towns, others in muddy caravan parks.

Young and old sit around aimlessly - there are no jobs, there are cultural prejudices and in many cases, the young have turned to alcohol for escape.
Israel's newest immigrants are also its poorest.

Even years after arriving in their promised land, many families have become disillusioned.

Young and old sit around aimlessly - there are no jobs, there are cultural prejudices and in many cases, the young have turned to alcohol for escape.

Training scheme

With all this in mind, a British-based charity United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) is sponsoring vocational training schemes.

The idea is to equip young people with professional skills that will help them find a job and help them integrate into Israeli society.

Sara Maharat is 23. With the help of the scholarship fund, she hopes to become a nurse.

Sara came to Israel from Ethiopia in the 1985 airlift, Operation Moses.

She is one of 11 children - her parents are struggling to learn Hebrew and have found adapting to modern life in Israel very hard.

Without financial backing, Sara says she would probably be working in a factory.

"I'm thrilled about the nursing training - I wouldn't be able to do this without financial help because my family can't support me. The course has given me the tools for society," she said.

Broad curriculum

The nursing programme has been designed with the needs of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants in mind - lectures range from physiology and anatomy to communication skills and even Israeli history.

Sara Maharat Sara Maharat: Hopes to become a nurse
Olga is another student nurse. She is taking blood pressure on the maternity ward.

Like many Russians, Olga has found the medical training easy to absorb, but her bedside manner left something to be desired.

With the Ethiopian students it's the other way around.

They find textbook learning harder, but they have tremendous compassion for the sick and their culture teaches them a deep respect for the elderly.


Changing attitudes is no mean feat for a large district hospital in one of the most deprived regions in Israel.

In the Ethiopian community, unemployment is 78%. For Russian immigrants, it's a similar picture.

It only takes one person in the family to be earning and on the career ladder to bring the rest of the family up.

So one nursing scholarship has the potential to help several generations.

nurses Training takes up to four years to complete
Twenty-seven-year old Leul Mogass qualified as a nurse last year.

"Because I had a scholarship I'll now be able to provide for my children - they won't depend on charitable donations as I have," he said.

Nursing scholarships cost between 4,000 per pupil per year. The money pays for fees and textbooks, living expenses and food.

The course takes up to four years - it's hard work but judging by the smiling faces on the hospital wards, it's well worth it.

The students are gaining expertise and confidence all the time, and once they're qualified, they will not only be able to help support themselves and their families, but they'll have vital skills to offer back to Israel.

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See also:
22 Jun 99 |  Africa
Last exodus for Ethiopian Jews
23 Jun 99 |  Africa
Ethiopia's Jews: The last exodus
30 Apr 98 |  ISRAEL TODAY
Israel - key facts
03 Apr 98 |  russian mafia
How Russia's mafia is taking over Israel's underworld

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