By Michael Krape

For the last year I have been writing about Hadassah Australia’s critical support for young Ethiopians to join the ranks of the Israel’s inspirational nursing community.

Little did I know I would come face-to-face with one of them in an unplanned visit to Hadassah Hospital’s emergency room in late February.

I was sent to the hospital as a precaution after displaying symptoms of COVID-19.  Fortunately, my test result was negative.  In the 24 hours before I received my result and while in lock-down in the ER, I had an opportunity to experience the hospital’s response in the very first days after the pandemic was reported in Israel.

It demonstrated in real-time what a remarkable institution Hadassah is, and how caring and supportive its staff is.

While I didn’t get an opportunity to ask the young nurse her name, I later discovered that she is a graduate of Achotenu (the Ethiopian Nursing Scholarship Program), a special initiative for the Ethiopian community launched in late 2016 as a joint venture between philanthropy, government and the Hebrew University.

In 2019, Hadassah Australia adopted Achotenu and embraced young Ethiopians.  It’s proving to be one of the most empowering national initiatives we have ever been involved with.

Achotenu was developed to provide a unique pathway to this socially and economically-disadvantaged community beginning with Mechina, a one-year preparatory program.  This is a profound first step towards entry into a four-year nursing degree at The Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing.

Achotenu is a lifeline for young Ethiopians and for Israel.  

For too long after their dramatic arrival into Israel in the 1980s and 90s, literally under cover of darkness, the Ethiopians struggled to find a place in their new home.  For a number of reasons, they continually fell short of the entry requirements needed for a university placement in Israel.  For too long their dream remained largely unfulfilled.

Thanks to the generosity of Australian donors, the entire fourth Achotenu cohort, entering their degree program this year, has been ‘adopted’.  Fundraising will continue for the fifth and subsequent cohorts of the program.

No-one could have foreseen the impact of COVID-19 on the health of Israelis in 2016 when the program was launched.  What was evident, however, was the lack of sufficient nurses to meet the needs of the population.  This fact was highlighted in an OECD report which declared that Israel needed at least 1,000 additional nurses over the next ten years.

Achotenu is not only adding to the pool, albeit in relatively small numbers at this stage, but actively encouraging young men and women who regard nursing as a profession of choice.  To understand how committed this community is, consider that while 70-75% of Israelis complete their nursing degree, 98% of Ethiopians graduate.

Not only is Achotenu helping to address this shortfall, it is inspiring other marginalised communities to step-up at this time of extraordinary need.

Ethiopians are the flag-bearers of Jewish identity having carried the flame for thousands of years, often completely detached from the mainstream Jewish community.

It’s an honour for Hadassah Australia to support Achotenu and do its small part to support young Ethiopians to find expression for their skills and passion for healthcare.

Click here to donate to the Ethiopian Nursing Scholarship Program.

*Michael Krape is a member of Hadassah Australia’s National Committee