ORT’s work in Ethiopia
Following initial steps in the 1950s-1960s, ORT received permission to work in Ethiopia in 1977, taking over from the Falasha Welfare Association (FWA). Previously the FWA had worked tirelessly to raise awareness to the plight of Ethiopian Jews and had also worked on the ground to improve their standard of living.
ORT negotiated with various international technical assistance agencies and government bodies to raise funds for a rural development project in the Gondar region. During 1977-1982 ORT implemented construction and training activities throughout the province. It set up 22 schools, educating a total of 3,000 students, aged 5-24, as well as a teachers’ training scheme. A variety of vocational courses for adults were created teaching carpentry, sewing, knitting, pottery, metal work and block manufacture. With no factories to provide employment opportunities, ORT helped graduates set up cooperatives or independent cottage industries by providing tools and raw materials for the initial period. In addition, over 3,000 families benefited from a credit system allowing them to borrow funds to purchase seeds, fertilisers, tools, and livestock. In its schools, ORT planted vegetable gardens, which produced food for the villagers.
ORT also helped with infrastructure and improved health services in the region. A new road was constructed, and new wells were dug, maintained or reconstructed with new pumps and taps, reducing the risk of disease through contaminated water. Two health centres were opened in Ambober and Teddah and a mobile medical unit that travelled to more remote villages was also set up. Trained health workers provided the community with health, sanitation and hygiene education.
Cultural and religious activities were also organised by ORT and the JDC. This included adult Hebrew classes, Kosher Shechita and the running of synagogues. ORT also imported Matzot from Israel and distributed them among 3,400 families in 103 villages for Passover.
In the summer of 1981, following allegations that ORT staff were involved in aiding emigration from Ethiopia, the Regional Governor of Gondar province refused to allow ORT to continue working in the region, forcing the programme to close prematurely.
Following two secret missions to airlift Ethiopian Jews to safety and a new life in Israel – Operations Moses (1984-85) and Solomon (1991) – ORT went on to support the Beta Israel community in Israel and continues to do so today.