Asmait Merhatsion is a women’s health educator and activist in Israel, where she is seeking asylum. Her contribution to her community has won her a UNHCR Scholarship to pursue an “Educator of Human Sexuality” certificate.
From a young age, Asmait was determined to work in healthcare. Born in Ethiopia and raised in Eritrea, she was a scout who received training in first aid and the prevention of sexual diseases, a topic that she volunteered to teach in her high school.
When Asmait was drafted into Eritrea’s military service, as part of compulsory service to all high school students in the country, she was sent to study Economics and Business Administration at a military college. During her first school year, Asmait organized religious prayer meetings, which are prohibited by law in her country. Due to her desire to practice her religious beliefs she was arrested several times until her life became unbearable. She was forced to drop out of College, and while only at age18, she made the difficult decision to flee Eritrea.
After arriving in Israel, Asmait was still facing many challenges that prevented her from building the life she wanted. Upon arrival to Israel she was detained at the Saharonim Detention Facility and after her release, she was unable to enroll in school or find work in her field due to her limited legal rights under her legal status. To provide for herself, she became a cleaner, but never gave up on returning to her studies.
“I was very into learning for the sake of my future,” she says. “To think ‘oh this is so hard’ – I try not to let these thoughts enter my mind. I focus on my future and how to advance in life.”
After three years, Asmait was given the opportunity to start her career in healthcare through a course that trained asylum seekers in sexual health education, disease prevention, and the treatment of AIDS patients. After graduation, she was offered a position at the Israel AIDS Task Force. There, Asmait lectures on sexual diseases, monitors the treatment of AIDs patients, and manages the Task Force’s phone hotline every day, helping countless people with health-related questions.
On the side, to raise awareness of important issues facing her community, she has created informational videos on sexual health and domestic violence that have been viewed over 175,000 times combined. She also runs a manicure-pedicure business which acts as a safe space for women to voice concerns and receive professional help.
“I don’t do it for money. I do it for experience and to help the community,” she notes. “Now their lives are less difficult. They have someone who believes in them, who they can speak to, who they can open their hearts to. For me, this is a huge victory.”
Due to her hard work and potential, Asmait received an UNHCR scholarship to pursue an “Educator of Human Sexuality” certificate at Open Door (Delet Patuach), a professional training program approved by the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF). In October 2020 Asmait graduated her studies and she is abpout to start the first training for asylum seekers on human sexuality, in April 2021.
“Wherever I go, I want to work with refugee women…because I had this experience. I understand her. I am strong and can help her overcome it. What I started here, I will continue.”
Once the situation in Eritrea is safe, Asmait hopes to return home with her daughter and continue the work she started in Israel.
“We also miss our country, our land, our place,” she says. “I didn’t leave Eritrea because I don’t love my nation. I had to leave to survive…It’s not as if I wanted to come to Israel as a refugee or asylum seeker.”
“The next time, I hope to come [to Israel] as a tourist …A country may be small, but if you have love, there is enough for everyone.”