Publication date: 13/02/2019
KHA Annual Scholarship Distribution Ceremony
How one woman’s vision changed a community
Keren Hanan Aynor’s 25thanniversary –
an interview with Dr Tsega Melaku
On a lovely sunny winter morning, Tsega and I sat in a Jerusalem café and she told me the story of The Hanan Aynor Foundation through her eyes. As she shared with me, her eyes lit up and she smiled each time she mentioned Sarah’s name. “The excitement is palpable. 2019 is going to be an exciting year at the foundation”. For the first time in over a decade, the KHA educational program will be distributing 240 scholarships to talented Ethiopian Israeli students studying in 53 fields of study in universities and colleges throughout Israel. This is a much higher number than in years past…
“This year is a pivotal one”, she exclaims. We at the foundation have the opportunity to bring to the forefront many issues affecting the community when it comes to educational achievement. The work of Keren Aynor reminds each and every one of us of the importance of promoting the successful integration of the Ethiopian Israeli community into society at large, the creation of leadership and strong role models for future generations. The idea is a simple one -to provide personal accompaniment, guidance and support for motivated students who dream of completing academic degrees. Through the tool of education for social change, KHA is setting an example for this generation of Ethiopian Israeli students and many more to come.
Tsega first became acquainted with KHA one year after its foundation through Uzi Gdor, who was at the time, responsible for Ethiopian absorption at the Absorption Ministry. They worked together and Uzi kindly introduced Tsega to Sarah Aynor. At that time, the Student Authority did not support Masters Degrees for Ethiopian students and there were very few Ethiopians studying Bachelor’s degrees at all. Following two Aliyot, the community was in survival mode and most of the adult population was working. Few had finished high school, and, as such, were not able to move on to University. When Tsega joined KHA as one of the first scholarship recipients in 95, there were only four other scholarship recipients, three of whom had received their Bachelor’s degrees in Ethiopia prior to their Aliyah.
Following Hanan Aynor’s death, Sarah initiated the foundation and made it her life’s mission to support Ethiopian Israeli students on their journey to attaining academic degrees. Sarah was kind-hearted and determined. She took in each student as though she or he were family and provided as much support as each individual needed in order to succeed. Sarah provided empathy, guidance, advice and the financial means to each student to succeed. She asked Tsega to join the Board and continue her studies. Tsega was reluctant, as many of the Board members at the time were older and were former ambassadors. Tsega admits she “felt out of place“. However, Sarah would not let her back down. Tsega joined the Board then and today proudly serves at its Chairperson.
Tsega described Sarah, as a one woman show. She would single-handedly do the PR, project coordination, fundraising and student support all on her own. Her vision and commitment were enough to provide support to each student who approached the foundation. It was her life’s work, taken on with the genuine love of a woman who wished and worked tirelessly for each student’s success.
In the early years, the foundation dedication its finances and emotional support to students studying in Masters and PHD programs, however as the needs of the community changed, so too did the foundations’ goals and criteria. Keren Aynor quickly became the address for parents with children who were returning to school and trying to balance family, employment and their studies.
KHA alumni are a huge source of pride and success, many of whom became leaders in the community and the society at large. When Sarah passed away in November 2016, she left behind a legacy of love. Tsega refers to this legacy as a revolution of sorts – education, employment and integration – the formula for success.
When I asked Tsega what her dream is and how she views Sarah’s legacy, she replied simply. “My dream is that someday soon, Ethiopian Israelis will no longer need Keren Aynor. Until that day comes, we are proud to be supporting students as they work towards their degrees. ‘Sarah imeinu’, our matriarch Sarah, as she fondly refers to Sarah Aynor with admiration and respect, would be proud of her life’s work if she saw us here today celebrating a quarter century of commitment to her vision. Half of the KHA Board today are Ethiopian Israelis who were once scholarship recipients two decades ago. Many of our alumni are doctors, teachers, lawyers, social workers, nurses, artists, filmmakers, comedians and engineers. Sarah wished to see Ethiopian Israelis in every sector of society. And we are! I think she would be the most proud to see the generation born to students who were our first scholarship recipients currently attending university and becoming role models for their children. The community is changing and we are here, the way Sarah would want us to be, modestly assisting students each day. Who ever thought that the five scholarships recipients in those first years would grow into over 3700 recipients over the past two decades?”