Bedouin women in Israel’s Negev Desert aim ‘to go the distance’

Twenty working mothers from the local Bedouin population who work in the SodaStream factory are participating in a new workshop that covers subjects related to the daily struggles that Bedouin women in the Negev face at home and at work.

Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in Israel. Photo by David Shankbone.
Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in Israel. Photo by David Shankbone.

A workshop aimed at advancing the lives of Bedouin mothers was launched this week in Israel’s Idan HaNegev Industrial Park at the initiative of the Harry Oscar Triguboff Institute and the Switch-Triguboff Center for Training and Advancement of Employment. Explaining her decision to join the workshop, one of the program’s 20 participants said: “I’m here because I want to go the distance.”

The workshop, dubbed “Family and Work on the Path to Success,” is being run in partnership with SodaStream at the carbonated drink manufacturer’s factory. Twenty working mothers from the local Bedouin population, each of whom works in the SodaStream factory, participate in the workshop, which covers subjects related to the daily struggles that Bedouin women in the Negev face at home and at work.

Bedouin in the Negev, both men and women, have some of the lowest incomes per capita in Israel. Unemployment rates are also high. While a bare majority of Bedouin men have work, just 24 percent of women are employed. Consequently, 70 percent of the community’s children live in poverty.

The 20 women participating in the workshop represent together more than 100 children who will grow up to a different and better reality. At the workshop, the Bedouin women learn many personal tools and skills that help them not just cope with the challenges of poverty, but successfully progress in spite of their economic situation. The excitement among the 20 women was very apparent. A number of them asked to discuss the personal dilemmas they faced as a result of having entered the labor market. Many also expressed a desire to be a role model for the rest of their families and especially for the children, who comprise the future of Bedouin society in the Negev and in other regions of Israel.

The duration of the workshop is approximately three months. The workshop was developed by Dr. Sarah Abu-Kaf, a member of the center’s steering committee and a senior faculty member at Ben-Gurion University, in cooperation with social worker Bataina Al-Atwanah Bataina Al-Atawneh, who serves as an instructor for the 20 participants. SodaStream was represented in the development team by Sima Katsavich, a manager in organizational development and training at SodaStream, along with other members of the company.

Trigoboff Institute Director Shalom Norman noted that such workshops underscore the holistic vision of the center to offer tools to cope with existing challenges in Bedouin society at home and at work.

The center, which is currently under construction, will occupy an area of some 5,300 square feet and feature classrooms, workshop rooms, therapy rooms and an auditorium. Located in the Idan Hanegev Industrial Park near Rahat, the most populated Bedouin community in Israel, the center is being built in cooperation with members of the Idan Hanegev Joint Vocational Park under the auspices of Moshe Paul, the Rahat Municipality, the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, JNF-Australia, Moona—a Space for Change and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JOINT).

The center is also named “SWITCH” to characterize its overall mission, which seeks to “switch” the opportunities and living standards of Bedouins in the Negev for the better. The Switch Center will serve as a regional anchor for Bedouin society by offering local Bedouin vocational training and help in advancing their employment options and prospects. The center will also place a particular focus on helping to empower Bedouin women by offering them training for not just employment but entrepreneurship as well. After its upcoming opening in May, the Switch Center will be running additional programs geared towards advancing employment prospects for the Bedouin population in partnership with employers and other organizations.

The Switch Center project was launched approximately two years ago after Harry Triguboff paid a personal visit to the region. Triguboff, nicknamed “High-Rise Harry,” is one of Australia’s wealthiest individuals, a celebrated philanthropist and owner of Meriton, the largest construction company in Australia. During his visit, he signed the Foundational Scroll that symbolized the launching of the project.

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