Spotlight on Civil Society

Welcoming mini-revolutions, one by one

Khitam Bader ( far right), who directed Project Raidat for the past four years, with recent graduates of the gap year program offered by Desert Stars.

We often forget that so much real change happens on the micro level – that we are in fact surrounded by mini-revolutions, many of which we don’t notice at the time. Of course, being a trailblazer is not for the faint of heart. You have to step out on a path that is being paved as you go. To gain a sense  of these mini-revolutions, we can consider what is happening in girl’s education around the globe. Here in Israel too there are mini-revolutionaries all over.  And one easy place to find them is at the gap year program called Project Raidat.

The young women who sign up for Project Raidat understand what groundbreaking could actually mean for their own lives. A pre-college preparatory year for high school graduates, the program is the first of its kind for the Arab community in Israel, and specifically for Bedouin girls in the Negev. It is leading a whole new generation of young women who are navigating the potentially rocky transition from village life to campus life. Being brave helps, as does a lot of extra support.

From left to right, Project Raidat alumni  who are each leading student engagement projects on their respective campuses – Esraa Abo Mdega from Rahat, currently a student at Sapir College, Heba Alsana from Lakiya, a student at Ahava College, and Shereen Refayaa, from Beer AlHamam at Ben Gurion University.

All over the Negev, girls who rarely left their villages are now on their way to college, bringing higher education to their families for the first time. It is a daunting responsibility that they take on, to be ‘first’ in so many ways. This is where Project Raidat comes in. The gap year program is designed to provide a very specific toolkit for high school graduates prior to heading to campus. It not only works to help young women prepare for the enormous academic leap that they will take, but it also helps them gain a better sense of who they are and how they fit into the world.

Think of Project Raidat, now welcoming its fifth cohort this Fall, as a variation of a ‘rite of passage’– a step that has grown increasingly common in recent years for college bound kids. This experience sits squarely in the continuum of programs offered by Desert Stars, a nonprofit that focuses on empowering the younger generation to lead the Bedouin community towards a better future.

A ceremony celebrating Project Raidat’s participants in Fall 2021, with Khitam Bader welcoming parents and community members.

Khitam Bader, who herself took these bold steps over 15 years ago, has shaped and led Project Raidat since its establishment. She can easily draw on much of her own personal experience to build in the needed components of the program. Khitam was the first in her family and one of the first young women in her village to attend university. And now Khitam spends her time mentoring girls who were just like her – stepping out of the traditional path for generations of women – and who are on their way to becoming college graduates.

As part of the academic preparation, Project Raidat participants become familiar with all aspects of college life, visiting college campuses all over the country. Career and academic guidance are notable components of the program, as are courses in math, Hebrew and English, and trainings in topics such as mediation, financial planning and technology.

For these girls, navigating familial expectations of their future responsibilities as wives, mothers and primary caregivers always goes alongside any career ambitions that they carry for themselves. Understanding how to negotiate their way through these formative years is a skillset that is prioritized throughout the gap year. Khitam, her team at Project Raidat, and the circle of support including alumni and mentors, are all working to welcome new possibilities for what a woman’s life could look like within the Bedouin community.

Efforts to advance girls education in traditional communities around the world can be described as a ‘positive disruption’ – where shifts in social norms can take place while honoring aspects of cherished cultural values. Project Raidat’s curriculum encourages the girls to carefully consider how their own contributions, ideas and talent will fit into their village lifestyles and culture. Leadership opportunities and community engagement are built-in components. With weekly volunteering as an integral part of the program, each participant can gain experience in skillsets such as initiating local social action projects and facilitating group dialogue among community members.

And while Project Raidat participants are encouraged to examine aspects of their own individual identity, they also explore how their collective Bedouin community fits into the complex tapestry of the country, something especially relevant given the current turmoil of Israeli life. Girls who had never interacted with members of other Bedouin tribes spend their year traveling all over Israel meeting Jewish, Christian, Muslims, and Druze members of these diverse communities.

Participants are given opportunities for various kinds of community outreach including Arabic instruction, as featured here. Othe examples of community projects take place with partnerships such as with Kibbutz Hatzerim, where each of the girls is assigned a mentor in a career field of interest.

Sounds like a lot to shoulder at a young age? It is. And there is more. The over one hundred alumni of Project Raidat can describe their journeys as ‘firsts’ in many different ways. They can talk to you about how their gap year focused on preparing them for college, including training in social entrepreneurship and practical life skills, on everything from time management to job interviews. Graduates of Project Raidat can also take you on a tour to places like their alumni center at Ben Gurion University, which offers a home base for ongoing social support and professional counseling.

In setting out to make a big change in our communities, we often use ‘proximity’ as a test of our credentials. We need to stay close to the problem, understand the needs, listen attentively, and then listen some more. For changemakers like Khitam, recognizing the complexity of bringing higher education to girls around the Negev requires constant proximity. Khitam stays centered on the real-life implications – each time one girl gets educated, it brings a spark of possibility. Every college graduate can set an example for those who follow.

Mini-revolutions can happen in many ways, and often it starts one at a time. Project Raidat shows us what this kind of work looks like in practice, what it means to set a new bar for oneself when there are no current measurements. And each of these courageous graduates reminds us how, one by one, you can amplify a life.

Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives Launch Night with Project Raidat participants and alumni celebrating the social and community projects they developed. Summer 2021.
About the Author
Dr. Nancy Strichman teaches graduate courses in evaluation and strategic thinking at the Hebrew University’s Glocal program, a masters degree in International Development. Her research has focused on civil society, specifically on shared society NGOs and gender equality in Israel. She lives with her family in Kiryat Tivon.
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