Megemaria Shines as it Trains Ethiopian Immigrants in the Art of Jewellery

Internationally renowned jewellery company Yvel, the Israeli NGO, Yedid: The Association for Community Empowerment, and World ORT’s arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, have teamed up to provide an inspirational training program for Ethiopian olim.

Megemaria - Genesis - is a creative start to a better life for Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.
Megemaria (Genesis) is a creative start to a better life for Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.

A new intake of 21 students has just embarked on the one-year jewellery making course, graduates of which will work at Yvel or in Megemaria, the company set up by Yvel founders Isaac and Orna Levy to generate employment and profit for the funding for further training. Meaning Genesis in Amharic, Megemaria’s pilot year program has seen the development of a truly beautiful line of jewellery made by trainees and graduates inspired by Ethiopian culture and language.

It is an exciting model which the Head of World ORT’s International Cooperation Office in Geneva, Daniel Kahn, who has developed World ORT’s role in the project in cooperation with the organisation’s arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, is keen to encourage others to adopt.

“We’re working as social entrepreneurs, trying not to be totally dependent on public and international funds but instead developing self-sufficiency. I see a lot of potential in adapting the concept for the benefit of other sectors in Israel and beyond,” Mr Kahn said.

A critically important component of the program is that the trainees, most of whom are aged around 30 and with children to support, are paid the official minimum wage of about $1,000 per month while they learn.

In addition, trainees receive Hebrew tutoring and there is a social worker, Genet, who gives them practical and emotional support.

“Many of the trainees, particularly those in absorption centers, have really difficult backgrounds. They are isolated, know little or nothing of their civic and legal rights and find it very hard to cope. The social worker is there to listen, advise and guide and helps the trainees acquire the life skills they need to succeed in Israel,” Mr Kahn said.

Among them is Yaelmworek. Married at the age of 13, she made aliyah with her husband and two children.

“Eventually we got an apartment in Maale Adumim and I began work as a cleaner. But I wanted to learn a profession. I applied for the Megemaria program and was very surprised when I was accepted. Now I’m learning a profession and I really love it and hope to continue in it,” she said.

Mr Kahn said he was impressed by the very high motivation of the candidates he met in the final recruitment interviews.

“One of them – a single mother – said, ‘I’m doing this for my kids; I must give them an example, to show them that things can be accomplished if you persevere. I want them to be proud of me.’ Like most of the candidates she had not received a formal education after grade 4 in her village school in Ethiopia and she has tremendous difficulties in reading and writing,” he said.

This single mother can, like the other trainees, expect to make extraordinary progress over the coming year. With the support of mentors from Yvel, they will learn goldsmithing, silversmithing, gem setting, design processes and other elements of jewellery production to enable them to undertake an approved five-month accreditation course in jewellery making provided by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.

The program is testimony to the vision of Yvel’s founders Isaac and Orna Levy. Like most of his employees, Isaac Levy is an immigrant to Israel. Born in Buenos Aires, he found it difficult to make his home in the Jewish State but managed to build a business particularly famous for its designs with pearls and gold – Yvel jewellery is now found in stores from Hawaii to Hong Kong.

But with success came the desire to give back by helping those going through similar experiences: “I was looking to do my personal tikkun olam,” he said. And he would love for others to follow suit.

“I hate when people copy our products but this is one of the products I would be proud and more than happy to sit and teach them how to copy, to take the format and build it into their own business!”

courtesy World ORT