In a milestone event, 22 students celebrated their graduation last week as part of the inaugural class of Neve Midbar-Nitzana, a Jewish Agency youth village and boarding school catering to Bedouin high-schoolers from the Negev Desert.

The Jewish Agency opened Neve Midbar-Nitzana four years ago as the first youth village of its kind, focusing on educating Arab citizens. The goal is to equip Bedouin youth with the skills and education necessary to succeed in Israeli society, as well as to effect change in Bedouin society.

“The youth village gave me life tools that will make thing easier for me in the future,’’ said Majed Daraja, a graduate from the village of Bir Hadaj. “It’s important to me that my family be proud of me.”

The village was established in a joint initiative and with funding from the Jewish Agency, Ministry of Education–The Administration for Rural Education and Youth Aliyah, Neve Midbar Regional Council and the Atid Educational Network.

Students take core academic subjects, agriculture, biology and ecology. The school’s educational environment respects Bedouin culture, builds leadership and cultivates the values of the State of Israel: democracy, equality, civics and social activism.

Neve Midbar-Nitzana currently serves 100 children from homes in Bedouin towns and unrecognized Bedouin villages.

More than 200 people attended the first graduation ceremony at the Jewish Agency’s Nitzana educational campus near the border with Egypt, about an hour’s drive from the city of Beersheva.

Over the last four years, the graduates took advantage of educational programs not available within their Bedouin home towns, such as courses in robotics and other areas of technology, field trips, volunteer opportunities, summer-camp experiences abroad, enrichment, leadership development and internships.

“The next generation of the Bedouin community deserves an environment that is inclusive and supportive—one that propels individuals,” said Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog.

During their final year of studies, an alumni program has been developed to help them prepare for university and enter the job market.