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ICEJ helping youth-at-risk to walk a new path

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Posted on: 
18 Jan 2022
ICEJ helping youth-at-risk to walk a new path

There is no doubt that living on the streets is a harsh existence which no one would willingly choose. Yet for some young girls, desperate to escape from difficulties or even abuse at home, running towards the streets of Jerusalem seems like their only hope. Others may find themselves shamed and rejected at school or by family for not being able to conform to strict religious or cultural norms and behavioral codes.

Often these girls are as young as 12 or 13 years old. Upon entering street-life, frequently these young girls become the prey of predators in drug and human trafficking. Unfortunately, if not helped in time, some may get caught up in a web of prostitution and drug use. Often, any hope of furthering their education is completely shattered.

Twenty-two-year-old Sara bravely shared with our team the story of how she ended up being homeless and on the streets. The eldest of eight siblings, Sara grew up in a religious community in Jerusalem.

When she was 14 years old, she was accepted to a very prestigious high school seminary. However, she struggled with the regulations, the teachers and even with friends. “Every time I broke the rules, I was sent home. Often without explanation. After a brief time, I was expelled and found myself at home, without school for more than a month,” recalled Sara.

Another seminary school accepted her, but she was expelled again. “I began to get used to the freedom at home and then I started working though I was still less than 15 years old. I began cleaning stairs in buildings in my neighborhood and naturally this caused my parents and family to feel ashamed” explained Sara.

As Sara started earning money, she bought herself a smart phone and was exposed to social media and dating sites, making friends with people outside of her own community. Gradually, her dress changed from modest Orthodox attire to wearing the latest styles. “Eventually it became very difficult for my parents… and for me. I got tired of seeing them hurting, scared and worried that I may be a bad influence on my younger siblings. At this stage, I made the decision that the best was for me to leave home,” said Sara.

The day came when she packed her suitcase and sought shelter by going from one friend’s home to another. “Each night I slept at the home of a different girlfriend, and after I exhausted my options, I moved on to the streets. I was 15 years old without a normal place to sleep on the bitterly freezing streets of Jerusalem. I began to learn about the way of the street. I needed to survive. I discovered a world that exists behind the shadows of the nice city. I smoked and drank” shared Sara.

The place where she lay her head to rest was a storeroom shared with Sudanese migrant workers. Managing to find work in a supermarket, Sara often worked 18-hour long days, as she tried to escape her thoughts, all the while longing for home, a nice hot meal and contact. With her supermarket wages, she was soon able to acquire an apartment to rent.

“For more than a year and a half, my life routinely involved parties and an extravagant night life. When I was 16 and a half, I met a man six years older and moved in with him. We did drugs and went to parties. He took advantage of me day and night. It was an obsessive relationship, and I had no contact with my family” recounted Sara.

“Eventually he was arrested and went to jail. This was traumatic for me…. Once again, I fell and for almost another year, I abused drugs and alcohol. I was a hurting young girl who moved from place to place and was destroying my life” recalled Sara.

This is where the International Christian Embassy comes in, as caring for children and youths at risk is a key aspect of the ICEJ’s Giving a Future and a Hope program.

“When we heard of an initiative that has been running since 2010 to help these youths-at-risk to meet their psychological and educational needs, the Christian Embassy embraced the project with arms wide open!” said Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah.

“The work of this project ensures that these young girls have a safe place to meet away from the prying eyes of the street. Here, they receive a hot meal, a warm shower, get clean clothes, obtain feminine products, and receive medical attention if they have been beaten-up on the streets” noted Nicole.

This safe place opens its doors three nights a week to approximately 250 girls. As time progresses, the girls start to build a trusting relationship with the staff there. Together with the support of social workers and therapists, the girls are slowly able to navigate their way to a brighter future. This future includes completing their high school education, or enrolling in professional certificate courses to obtain employment in sought-after professions like video editing, photography, book-keeping, and cosmetology. They step into a new street; one which leads to healing their brokenness and rebuilding their self-image.

One Thursday night, Sara’s life changed forever. As she and other youths-at-risk sat at a popular square drinking before heading to a party, two ladies approached them with cookies and hot tea, encouraging them to accompany them to a safe place where they could receive a hot meal. Although they initially dismissed the ladies, the thought of eating a hot meal was compelling. That evening Sara became one of the 250 girls to regularly walk through the doors of this safe place to a new life!

In time, as a trusting relationship grew with one of the workers, together they contacted Sara’s mother. “Gradually, I renewed my relationship with my family. I even met a little brother whose name I didn’t even know”, said Sara.

Sara was encouraged to go to a special school to help her make up for her lost years of study. With dedication and hard work, she completed her high school education. Sara then decided to stay on to complete a post-high school program and begin to take responsibility for her life. “My life took on meaning and I learned to be aware of my strengths. For the first time in many years, I felt safe and in good hands with people who only want to help me to rebuild my life” recalled Sara.

Through therapy, Sara acquired the tools to help her mend her life and a year later began to return to her faith. “I recognize that God is my best friend. I learned who I am and what is right for me,” said Sara.

Today Sara is married to a wonderful man who understands, accepts, and supports her as she continues her journey of rebuilding herself. Her relationship with her family is restored and she currently works supporting girls who are walking a similar path to the one she walked.

Through your generous giving, the Christian Embassy can Give a Future and a Hope to many similar vulnerable youths-at-risk seeking to walk on a different life path. 

 

 

 

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