Early Intervention Gives Ethiopian-Israeli Mother and Daughter Renewed Hope

February 8, 2012


At age three, Shirel mirrors the challenges of two generations of Ethiopian-Israelis…and the possibilities for change.

Shirel’s mom Ilana, 38, emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in Operation Solomon in 1991 when she was 18 years old. She found acclimating to the new society and learning Hebrew extremely difficult and longed for a sense of home and community. By age 27 she was married and soon she had four children.

But economic and personal issues created strain in the family, and Ilana lived in a constant state of anxiety. The troubles at home became evident in Shirel, who showed physical signs of severe developmental issues by the time she became a toddler.

When Shirel began daycare at age two, she barely ate solid foods and didn’t interact at all with other children; she cried incessantly.

An evaluation by JDC’s Parents and Children Together (PACT) physical therapist revealed that Shirel had critical developmental delays in every area. She showed signs of emotional and social trouble; her muscle development was lagging, visible in her dragging feet as she walked. She desperately needed more help than Ilana could provide.

The physiotherapist began to work with mother and daughter, demonstrating exercises for Ilana to do with Shirel and training her to help the child develop. The doctor also advised the daycare staff on the kind of attention and support that Shirel needed.

Over time, Ilana opened up to the physical therapist about her personal anguish, which freed her to be more emotionally available to her daughter. Ilana gained parenting skills that today are helping Shirel grow more self-confident and strengthening their bond.

PACT works in over a dozen socioeconomically disadvantaged, predominantly Ethiopian-Israeli neighborhoods throughout Israel to ensure the healthful development of kids just like Shirel and their families. It provides nutritious meals, clothing, and health services, as well as support such as after-school care, literacy enrichment, and educational reinforcement. PACT also tackles the obstacles that keep Ethiopian-Israeli children and their families from successfully integrating into Israeli society by offering parenting groups, women’s empowerment groups, and education for educators and other professionals to help bridge the cultural gap.

To provide this comprehensive range of services, PACT teams up with national and local governments; partners in the health, welfare, and education sectors; local NGOs; and the Ethiopian-Israeli community.

Today, thanks to the therapy and Ilana’s hard work, Shirel is a healthy and happy child. She is still undergoing physiotherapy to support her motor, language, and social skills, and gets additional support from early childhood staff at her daycare center who have been trained to encourage Shirel’s motor and linguistic development. Shirel has made friends in the daycare center and now participates enthusiastically in every activity.

Ilana is grateful to PACT for the specialized and continuous care she and her daughter have received. “I can see Shirel is on the right path now and I hope she will continue to develop and learn. My dream is for Shirel and all of my children to succeed in their education and one day study for a career that they enjoy.”

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