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Gavriel Tigabo Speaks at University of Louisville

[Archived from April 3, 2009]

Gavriel Tigabo is a 28-year-old Ethiopian Jew now living in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, where he says rockets go off all day long. He recounted this and more during a brief talk that resonated with students at the University of Louisville’s Interfaith Center on March 25.

Born in 1981 in a small village near Gondar, Ethiopia, Tigabo’s family tried twice to reach Israel through the Sudan desert, but was turned away. Finally in 1991, they made their way to Addis Ababa, where they were flown to Israel.

He attended high school near Petach Tikva and in 2000-01 was named the national Israeli Champion of Athletics. He joined the IDF and became a personal trainer for combat soldiers. Following his release from the army, Tigabo worked at several jobs and then began his university studies in education and human resources at Ashkelon College, where he is a senior and serves as vice president of the student council.

His real job, however, is working as a counselor in an Ethiopian National Project (ENP) Youth Outreach Center for Youth at Risk. There are 20 Youth Centers located in areas throughout Israel, but they can only serve 8,000 out of 16,000 students who could benefit from their programs. In Ashkelon, for example, there are 980 teens (ages 12-19, grades 7-12) in an Ethiopian population of 6,000.

“Education is the basis for everything,” says Tigabo, so these centers are important in helping teens to accomplish something. “Yet,” he says, “we are only able to handle 200 young people at a time, which means there are more than 700 left on the street with no supervision.”

On top of that, Tigabo and just one other counselor are the staff to handle the 200 teens in their charge. They run an after school “education through sports” initiative, coach soccer and football teams and even hold dances. Many of the youngsters call him “father” because he serves as the male figure in their lives.

He worries about the young people being traumatized by having to run to the shelter when the sirens blare. Just three months ago, he was in his car and heard the siren. In seconds, fire rockets fell just feet from him; two people died and seven were injured. “Even as adults, people are traumatized,” he laments. “When you see Israel, you see beauty,” he says quietly, “but not in Ashkelon.”

He is not negative, however, but instead holds onto his dream of seeing kids at the Center grow up strong and healthy and seeing himself winning a gold medal in the national Israeli championship. “Then,” he smiles, “I will go on to become the president of Israel.”

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