Daniel Sahalo is a proud Israeli, a Hebrew University graduate, a captain in the IDF reserves, a husband and a father of two little boys. In 2016, he added overseas director of sales and marketing for Mergemeria to the list.
Megemeria is the jewelry school and social business established in 2010 by Orna and Isaac Levy, founders of the fine jewelry brand Yvel, to empower Ethiopian immigrants to succeed professionally and personally in Israel. What makes Daniels appointment especially meaningful is that he has come full circle. Born in Ethiopia, he immigrated to Israel and is now working professionally for the benefit of the Ethiopian community in Israel.
A long journey
Born in 1979 in the farming village of Gaina, Daniel was just four years old when his family decided to make Aliyah to flee famine and political unrest. The family joined a small group, led by a guide, and for eight weeks they trekked towards the Sudanese border crossing. Barefoot and traveling only at night to avoid being discovered, the group faced constant threats, including gangs of thieves, a critical shortage of food, wild animals and the bitter cold of desert nights. Daniels 23-year old sister and her toddler daughter did not survive the journey, joining the tragic fate of the more than 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died trying to make their way to Israel.
After waiting nine months at a Red Cross refugee camp in Sudan, Daniel and his family were flown to Israel where they were placed temporarily in an absorption center. Daniel grew up hearing stories about life in Ethiopia and the journey to Israel, while experiencing and observing how the Ethiopian community struggled to adapt to life in Israel. A fire of passion was kindled inside him and Daniel knew from a young age that he would not only break free from the weight of being a new immigrant but that he would do something to help his family and community.
Daniel paved his own way to success with hard work and perseverance. After high school, he enlisted in the IDFs prestigious paratroopers 101 combat battalion, where he went on to serve as an officer. After his army service he became the first of his relatives to attend or graduate from university, earning a bachelors degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Daniel was now ready to work professionally towards his goal of helping his community. His career began at JDC-Eshel, where he coordinated programs assisting the Ethiopian elderly in Israel. Then came the opportunity to work for Megemeria. Megemeria is a one of a kind endeavor. I came on board with the hope of building on what the school already achieved and creating more positive change, says Daniel.
According to the statistics, Daniels trajectory towards success is an anomaly compared to many others from Israels Ethiopian community. Most of the approximately 130,000 Ethiopian immigrants arrived with no formal education, unable to even read or write their native language of Amharic. The community has struggled with trying to traverse the huge gaps between life in Ethiopia and life in modern Israel. Challenges relating to technology, culture, social customs, education and language are just a few of the many that must be surmounted. Consequently, the community has suffered from rates of poverty and unemployment that are much higher compared to those of the overall population.
The Levys, long sensitive to the plight of immigrants due to Isaacs childhood experience making Aliyah from Argentina, were already making it a point to employ immigrants at Yvel. In fact, approximately 90% of Yvels 100 plus employees are immigrants from around the world. They sought, however, a way to use their experience and success to specifically help the Ethiopian community integrate into Israeli society. An idea came to mind and the Levys took action.
Nestled in the rolling hills along the road to Jerusalem, the Levys established the Megemeria School alongside the Yvel Design Center. Megemeria was established on their staunch belief that equality and success for the Ethiopian community will come by creating opportunities in the job market. True to its name – which means genesis or new beginnings in Amharic – Megemeria offers its students a fresh start and a bright future.
Each year, men and women ranging in age from 20 to 55 apply for the 21 available spots in the school to learn jewelry design and manufacturing. We deliberately look for students who show potential but for some reason or another have fallen through the cracks. People with passion and commitment who are older, or did not have the chance to study, or lack other support, are ideal candidates, explains Isaac Levy.
Not only do the students learn from experts in the industry, but they also take classes in Hebrew, math and other subjects to acquire skills needed to become economically self-sufficient. The yearlong program is free, students receive a monthly stipend and graduates are assisted with finding employment in the jewelry industry.
Of the graduates, many are hired to join the Megemeria social business, a natural outgrowth of the school, while others are employed by Yvel. The Megemeria employees design and create their own independent line of jewelry inspired by their personal and collective journeys. The sterling silver and 24k gold-plated pieces incorporate inspirational inscriptions in Amharic, Jewish verses and prayers in Hebrew, and meaningful symbols. All sales revenue is reinvested to ensure the continued development of Megemeria.
Daniel is a valuable addition to the Megemeria team, explains Isaac, because both in Israel and abroad he is an inspiration to people. He is a role model. The Megemeria students look at him and say, I too will make my dream come true. As the overseas face of the brand, Daniel spends much of his time exhibiting the jewelry and sharing Megemerias story with communities across America.
In 2016, Megemeria launched a new collaborative initiative with Ethiopian-born Israeli ceramic artist Admahon Galor Mekonen, a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Admahon designed and created a handcrafted line of clay candlesticks exclusively for Megemeria. Daniel explains that the candlesticks offer a new way, beyond the jewelry, for people to support Megemeria and by extension help the Ethiopian community. And that is what Megemeria, and Daniel, is all about.
For further information about Megemeria, please visit www.Yvel.com