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About Step Forward:

Establishment of Step Forward for the Promotion of Education in Rahat

Step Forward was founded in 2000 by a group of young educators motivated to change the existing social, economic, and educational status of the local community. They strive to empower the Israeli Bedouin population in the city of Rahat and improve its social and economic status by providing better educational opportunities for children and youth, economic independence to Bedouin women, and community-ownership to the entire population in Rahat. This bright and dynamic group of young people who united to initiate Step Forward built a board of directors including 11 members, 5 of whom are women, most of whom are teachers and students in their seventh year of donating their time volunteering for the organization. Each year, talented youth from within the community join Step Forward to contribute to projects on different levels.


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Statistical Background: the City of Rahat

Rahat is the largest Bedouin settlement in Israel and is located in the Negev Desert, the southern region of Israel. Rahat was founded in 1972 as one of seven cities newly established as part of the Israeli governmentís strategic plan to encourage Israeli Bedouins citizens to abandon their nomadic traditional lifestyle in favor of settled living. However, the government did not provide sufficient assistance and support during the transition, raising many issues within the community and creating unanticipated needs that remain unmet by the Israeli government. Today 40,000 residents live in these cities, and a total of 160,000 Israeli Bedouin live in communities throughout the Negev Desert making up 30% of the regionís population.


Rahatís community of 38,000 Bedouin is among Israelís most underserved constituencies today. The Bedouin population in Rahat is the poorest in the country holding Israelís highest birth rate and facing daunting social and economic challenges. Over 50% of Rahatís families and 60% of Rahat's youth live under the national poverty line. Many students drop out of school between ages 6-12, high school matriculation rates are low, and only 2% of Rahatís residents have advanced degrees. Over 70% of Bedouin families receive welfare assistance, and unemployment rates are over 50%-- reaching 98% among women. Over 80% of women in the community are illiterate. The lack of regional industry decreases job availability throughout the region, and the sharp transition from nomadic to settled living caused many traditional Bedouin jobs to be lost.


Because of the heavy economic burden, the community of Rahat cannot address the basic needs of its children and youth, including education, recreation, and extracurricular activities. Basic needs such as food and clothing must be satisfied first.


There have been few developments in the education sector, especially relating to womenís education. The weak education system does not have frameworks to allow operation of informal educational networks. There is no municipal or neighborhood library serving the community.



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