Focus on Bedouin Youth – A New Dawn creates opportunity for young at-risk population
Jamal Alkirnawi, 35, grew up in the Negev’s largest Bedouin community of Rahat, just north of Be’er Sheva. Since his teen years, he’s not been satisfied sitting on his laurels, instead, he has pushed “to enact real change” in his community.
At 16, he established a never-before-existing student council at his school and through that met students from around the country. That exposure widened his horizons, and he began to see the opportunities possible, he said. At that young age Alkirnawi dedicated himself to activism for his community.
He earned a scholarship to McGill University in Montreal, completed a degree in social work and returned to Israel as an academic counselor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Alkirnawi quickly realized he couldn’t “just be in a nice office, at a university.”
“I needed to get back to the ground,” he said. “I can’t sit on the [sidelines] and say things will move by themselves.”
Alkirnawi also became a father.
“You care about your kids, you don’t want them to have the same challenges, you want to break the cycle,” he said. “This drives me so much.”
In 2009, he and several Bedouin and Jewish colleagues founded A New Dawn in the Negev, for which he is director. A New Dawn provides academic and cultural education and international exposure for about 600 Bedouin youths from ages 5 to 18. Programs range from after-school English instruction, a language exchange that includes German, English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew, the Strings of Change Bedouin Youth Orchestra and a digital media center. Visiting graduate students from around the world also work with the youths.
Imminent approval by the Israeli government will enable the start of a scholarship program for A New Dawn’s international student exchange, beginning with Germany.
“Change is always hard and is sometimes shunned, but we have been successful in the Bedouin communities for a few reasons,” Alkirnawi said. The main reason is the large demand for youth programming, previously nonexistent. The programs stand out because they are “social services for Bedouins by Bedouins,” he added.
“A New Dawn is working to bring the Bedouin community to a higher standard … in partnership with the surrounding society,” he said, “to create a flourishing and blooming Negev.”