The overall standard of living in Israel is high, but some sectors of the population still struggle to meet their most basic needs. For the Bedouins of the Negev Desert, access to education and literacy rates have improved greatly, but many challenges remain.
In a diverse society, many groups remain very vulnerable
The city of Arad in the South District of Israel has a diverse population including Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Haredi Jews, as well as Bedouins, amongst others.
There are many vulnerable population groups in the region. It is common for Haredi men to dedicate themselves to the study of the Torah, instead of being in permanent employment, while also having large families. Around 70 per cent of Arad's Ethopian families, who came to Israel in the eighties and early nineties, are poor. Many do not speak or read Hebrew very well and therefore have no option but to work in low-paid menial jobs, if at all. The rates of drug and alcohol abuse amongst Ethiopian adolescents are particularly high.
The Negev Bedouins are a semi-nomadic, pastoral tribe who have lived in the Negev Desert for centuries. Today, around 180,000 live here, making up around a quarter of the population of the Negev region. Grazing restrictions, land expropriation, deportation and relocation have marked the fate of the Bedouins over the last decades. Many have now given up their traditional lifestyle and settled permanently in the legal townships built for this purpose.
However, to this day up to half of the Negev Bedouins live in unrecognised villages – traditional rural settlements, some of which predate the state of Israel. Since these villages are viewed as illegal settlements, their residents do not receive municipal services such as electricity, water or garbage collection. Up to 80 per cent of people here live in poverty, unemployment rates are extremely high and access to health care is very limited. The Bedouin infant mortality rate is the highest in Israel, rising to 13.6 per 1,000 live births in 2010, as compared to 4.1 per 1,000 for Jewish communities here in the south.
Holistic support to make families stronger
SOS Children’s Villages initially began its work in Arad in 1981 and we have been expanding our efforts continuously over the years. In 2008, an SOS Social Centre, which is run as a transit home, was opened. The programme focuses on providing short-term care for at-risk children between the ages of six and twelve. We give children a safe home while decisions regarding their further long-term care are being made.
Since 2011, SOS Social Centre Abu Basma in the Negev Desert has been providing a family strengthening programme which focuses on offering support in the areas of child, woman, family and community development. We reach out to Bedouins, Sudanese refugees and Jewish families alike. We work very closely with the local communities, organising child-minding programmes, for example, in a community-based, self-organised and self-managed approach. The SOS Social Centre will also offer education and therapy for very poor children from Bedouin families in Abu Basma.
What we do in Arad
We have been supporting vulnerable children in Arad for over 30 years. Today, children from the region who are no longer able to live with their parents can find a loving home in one of nine SOS families at the SOS Children’s Village. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.
The children who come to live with us have had very difficult experiences in their young lives. We make sure all their needs are attended to, for example by providing psychological care, as well as extra tuition for those struggling at school. We want to further the children’s creative, social and educational skills, and we offer a range of activities, including sports, music, arts and crafts, computer and English lessons, make-up and theatre, and many more.
The children attend the local kindergartens and schools together with children from the neighbourhood, ensuring that they make friends and are integrated into the local community from a young age.
When young people who grew up in one of the SOS families feel ready to move out of home in order to study or receive training, the SOS Youth Programme continues to support them as they make the transition into independent adulthood.