I couldn’t say exactly what made me so apprehensive to visit Rahat, a city outside of Be’er Sheva, Israel where 60,000 Bedouins have settled over the past 20 years. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t know a single word of Arabic. Maybe it was the fact that I was wearing pants and showing my hair instead of dawning a long dress and hijab. Or maybe it was the fact that two buses had to drive past me before one finally realized that yes, the white girl wanted to go to Rahat.
All I knew was that I hadn’t felt those nerves since I stepped on my flight to Israel last September. Thankfully, those apprehensions lasted only until I met the incredibly motivated high school students I would be working with once a week in the Bedouin city.
I shook hands with each of them, most who were shy at the start. Some knew more English than others. Some were dressed like me and some were not. After our introductions, I looked around at the timid smiles that overtook the stark white classroom which we commandeered after school that first Monday.
With a foreign perspective, I judged the classroom with concern, spotting out the graffitied desks and wall art that seemed to stop mid way through its full vision. The school layout looked familiar, although the grounds were anything but your average high school. Trash was scattered through the grass and and even horse manure dotted the pavement in some particularly curious locations.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much to work with at the high school. Lack of WiFi and even white board markers made my job at the beginning a difficult one. But with a few meetings under my belt, I learned to get by with what we have.
And we do more than just get by in that small classroom in Rahat, we enjoy and and we learn. As part of their welcoming and nurturing custom, some members bring snacks and traditional Bedouin tea. It’s delicious. The teens are so hopeful, so positive and well adjusted. They are smart and have goals for their futures. Some want to be teachers, doctors and biologists. They love to speak English which makes my task an easy one.
We, myself and the members of A New Dawn, want to expose the students to the world outside of Rahat while emphasizing the importance of assessing their own culture objectively. As the founder of this Bedouin-Jewish organization says, “You must first learn about yourself and where you come from before you can understand and appreciate other cultures.”
Most importantly, I want them to have fun. It’s one of the few times they can do something for themselves without parents or siblings dictating their time and efforts. Many of them have 5 or more siblings making home a difficult place to breathe and reboot. They choose to come and expose themselves to new people, ideas and languages. I didn’t realize how proud I could be of people I am just beginning to make relationships with, but really, these young adults are inspiring.
It makes me want to do all I can to give them the best hour and a half of their week. It makes me want to do more than that hour and a half. Recently, members of the program and I have been toying with the idea of sending a group of girls on a trip somewhere outside Rahat. The “girls trip” comes as a result of Bedouin gender views on traveling with the opposite sex.
I want to take them to a concert or to the sea. Their reality is a life within 8 square miles of Bedouin land, and for some of their cohorts, that is enough and that is OK. But I know for a fact many of them desire more.
Which leads me to the second and main reason why I am writing this post. This is my attempt to raise awareness, and yes, money. Help me take these girls somewhere special. Help me make a small impact in the lives of those who are already so motivated. Help me at least show them what Israel, their own country, has to offer, because right now showing them the world isn’t an option.
Below is a link to my fundraising page which funnels all of its earnings to A New Dawn. Know that your money will go straight to my after-school program in Rahat and will help cover costs of learning materials, volunteer transportation and trips outside of Rahat.
Continue to check back and read about my journey working with this special group of people. This is only the beginning.