“Hana! Du! Sa! Na!” – seven children, new immigrants from Ethiopia, stand in two rows and shout in Korean, an the absorption center in Beer Sheva. The children start the session with high kicks – the trademark of martial arts – and use special pads to absorb the blows.
The Taekwondo lesson takes place weekly at the Absorption Center in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva. Surprisingly, this mix of colors, cultures and languages does not feel unusual in the Beer Sheva landscape. In fact, it seems to be a perfect fit. There’s quite a resemblance between Korean culture and Ethiopian culture: both respect the elderly and teachers and encourage the avoidance of conflict.
Although she was born in South Korea, 37-year old Ziona Rio came to Israel to volunteer out of love for the country. “I arrived nine months ago, and I’d be happy to stay here forever. I love everything in Israel – the weather, the people, the food.” She found herself teaching Taekwondo to Ethiopian immigrants. “When I say I’m from Korea the children are all excited.”
The lessons which take place next to a large green park, were the initiative, in close cooperation with The Jewish Agency, Joyce Tom, a Korean philanthropist aged 52, and founder of the Christian organization LOVE153 that helps vulnerable populations all over the world.
“At first I thought Taekwondo was just silliness for boys but now I’m really into it,” says Mahalat Kassa, a tall girl aged 11.5 who came with her parents from Ethiopia 8 years ago. “The discipline, the uniform, it gives me confidence to protect myself and others. It helps me to control my body and calms me.”
“I feel good here. We’ve started training and it’s fun,” says Sorpal Mekonen (“angel” in Amharic) aged 13, who came from Ethiopia at the age of 6. “I won’t use Taekwondo to hurt anyone, it calms me and gives me self-confidence, for example at school.”
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by Jewish Agency Staff, The Jewish Agency for Israel