Saturday, June 29, 2013

This is the first generation

This is a period of massive change and turmoil in Bedouin Israeli society. So many are moving from traditional to modern life.

It’s not an easy transition. There are gaps between age-groups; there are massive cultural and tribal obstacles. Bedouin youth today is very different from their parents, with vastly different exposures to other cultures.

The question in Bedouin society has become, who is the ‘socialization agent,’ on what values do they raise their children.

One of the most fascinating visits I've ever had to an Arab-Israeli program was to Hesegim (‘achievements’) in the Bedouin town of Rahat. It’s a program that provides higher education counseling to young adults in the periphery (geographically or socially speaking).

When you live in the periphery, your access to higher education is going to be very difficult.  And that means your chances at getting a good job are limited too.

So we have Hesegim, which works in 44 locations (hopefully expanding to more) through government and local partnerships.  In each location a single dedicated Higher Education Counselor in the JDC Young Adult Center recruits and counsels young adults to enter higher education, helps them choose a career path, prepare for higher education and secure scholarships and financing to make it possible. 

What I find interesting is that the work impacts not only the young adults themselves, the ones that receive help. It also raises awareness to higher education among their peers, families and younger brothers and sisters. For example, it makes a college degree seem more attainable.

Each year the higher education coordinators from Hesegim reach out to some 20,000 young adults who either weren't planning or weren't preparing for higher education.

So I walked around Rahat … a city with 55,000 residents. 60% are aged under eighteen!
20% of the boys of Rahat go to university; almost 70% of them drop out!

There are 11 tribes and 60 chamulot (extended tribal families) but people have different feelings of belonging. Residents I spoke to said that there are different layers of identity, but very little sense of belonging to the city.

Hesegim, to achieve higher education in Arab society, began with the geographic periphery and then understood that peripheries were also social and demographic. So the coordinator works in various levels: with individuals to provide escort/support, within the community to raise awareness about higher education, and to connect to academic institutions, making sure that expectations are coordinated.

I sat with three volunteers in the program, who explained that the three main obstacles to Bedouin youth are the psychometric exam, financial resources and English. The young people here feel they fall on these issues; many therefore go to Jordan, the West Bank or the US and have a better chance of success there. There are 220 Rahat students studying in Hebron, for example. If you come from a wealthier family, you have means and that makes it easier to make choices.

Nidal, the coordinator, told me that Hesegim has been a success story; but the economic obstacles are still critical. We've been very successful in helping people find and obtain stipends and grants. Sometimes they need a small push from us, a letter, a phone call. Guidance is critical.

Nidal spends his day going into the schools to give guidance and counseling. He identifies and helps with finding loans – there aren't enough resources for these students. If you didn't do the army or national service it’s very difficult to get grants or stipends. He works to prepare students for psychometric courses and English courses. And he’s simultaneously trying to encourage deeper leadership and volunteerism in the community.

“Our society is undergoing a complex process,” he says. “Because this is the first [Bedouin] generation in higher education, and the effect will last for generations.”

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