Yasmeen Abu Fraiha was born 30 years ago in Tel Sheva, the first Bedouin town in Israel. As a Bedouin girl, she says she had only a 20 percent chance of graduating high school. But her parents instilled in her the notion that an education would lead to a better life and an opportunity to make a difference.
“With this notion in my mind,” she said, “I went to med school at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.” This announcement drew wild acclaim at the seventh annual gala of the American Friends of Soroka Medical Center on April 3 at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan.
After graduation, Yasmeen answered the call to give back. She did her internship in pediatrics at the Soroka Medical Center in Beer-Sheva to be able to serve her own Bedouin community in the Negev.
At Soroka she met Ahmad, a wonderful kid afflicted with, Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhydrosis (CIPA). Because of this genetic disease, Ahmad was born without the ability to feel pain or to sweat.
“This is a horrible disease,” Yasmeen said. “When he was two years old, he didn’t know he shouldn’t put his hands around fire because he’ll get burns. When he was older, he got severe infections in his legs which the doctors had to amputate.”
She said such diseases, although rare around the world, are common in the Bedouin community, as a result of inbreeding which leads to a limited genetic pool.
“As a Bedouin doctor, and as a person who also carries a genetic disease, I felt I had to do something. If I combined my medical education together with my intimate understanding of the community, I could help. It is my obligation.”
Yasmeen came to the U.S. for a program called “Our Generation Speaks.” It brings Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs for a three-month session in Boston. She met her partners there and formed an NGO named Genesis (Genes-Is or Genes-Israel). “It means a new beginning,” she explained.
With the collaboration of Soroka, Yasmeen and her group are providing free genetic screening for young Bedouin couples to help them begin a healthy family. “We combine innovative scientific research with religious tradition— and it’s working.”
Yasmeen’s group has tested more than a thousand people and helped raise awareness of genetic diseases in the Bedouin community.
At the Soroka dinner, the American Friends board president Ruth Steinberg and executive director Rachel Heisler Sheinfeld joined Dr. Shlomi Codish, CEO of Soroka Medical Center, in honoring Edward Oates, a co-founder of Oracle Corp. in 1977; jewelry designer Orna Simkhai; and Julie Ratner, co-founder of the Ellen Hermanson Foundation dedicated to cancer research.