"Our investment - bright young people from the periphery; our return - a stronger Israel".
Dana Faran, the enthusiastic Marketing Director of Friends of Atidim, quoted these words to me. They echo the hopes and dreams of those who care about the future of Israel, strive to mend mistakes of the past, and improve education to bring new life and increased development to Israel’s outlying communities. Higher education teaching professional qualifications was impossible for the disadvantaged children and ambitious youth from families born and raised in the outlying towns and villages of our country. Educational opportunities were - and still are - lacking in these communities.
Eitan Wertheimer, one of the founders of Atidim, felt that motivated, talented kids without financial resources have almost no chance of making it, which was a tragic waste of potential none of us can afford. In 1999 the first steps were taken to offer hope to these young people and change their future. With the encouragement and assistance of Shaul Mofaz, then the IDF’s Chief of Staff, the initial phase of improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth commenced. The great advances in the high-tech world and the need for qualified engineers in the armed forces had become obvious, so the Academic Reserve Program was offered to the youth of the periphery. This project enabled deferment of regular military service allowing people to complete their studies and then to enter the IDF with the necessary academic qualifications in professions such as engineering, medicine, and law. The initial sponsorship from Eitan Wertheimer, Bank Leumi and the Jewish Agency, allowed Atidim to promote the initiative. As a result, 40% of soldiers in the army reserve unit are from the periphery. The initial program is continuously being extended and is now also receiving backing from government ministries and local municipalities.
Atidim’s three main principles, Encouragement – Empowerment – Enrichment, hope to instill and encourage the desire for further learning by to schoolchildren from age 13. The program has been so successful, today it reaches some 16,500 pupils. Post-army opportunities increase if the students obtain a Bachelor’s degree, mainly in engineering. During their studies, students receive personal mentoring from the company that adopts them as well as getting at least three years of experience with an on-the-job internship. The company pays tuition fees and provides a living stipend and the students get a full-time post with the company after qualifying. At present, some 200 companies are participating in the project and close to 900 students have graduated from this program.
Each year 100 pre-Atidim girls ages 16-17 from Netivot, Sderot, Ofakim, Kiryat Gat and other villages from the southern region, take part in the annual woman empowerment conference
Atidim also introduced the Take-Off Program, which is a part of the post-army studies program, for young people who made aliyah, served in the army, and are here alone. Special and necessary assistance for outstanding students is also an important contribution to the Ethiopian sectors of our society.
The peripheries are also home to many Arab communities and it is not easy also for them to acquire further education locally and enter the framework of Israeli society. Atidim decided to adopt this sector as one of their new projects. The Technion in Haifa gave their encouragement to the proposed program called NAAM. The program provides an opening for talented young Arabs to get on track for careers in the sciences and engineering, required in all regions but especially in the outlying areas, home to the Bedouin and Druze sectors of Israeli society.
Another start-up project adopted through Atidim is for the ultra-Orthodox community. Atidim-Halamish, established in 2007, assists and encourages young men who wish to widen their horizons through further education and study for a career. Their learning abilities, discipline, and determination to overcome educational gaps to open their world to employment possibilities are being proved as the program expands and progresses.
A further vital requirement of today is a need for new blood within all sectors of public service across the country. Atidim, together with the Ministry of the Interior, is now assisting prepare 150 young ambassadors who will complete their studies and enter into the service of municipalities. Sapir College in Sderot, specializing in law, is part of this program, while Beersheba University fulfills the other degree requirements. The majority of students studying in this course are from the peripheries, and hopefully they will bring their knowledge and abilities into their local municipalities and government offices.
Nowadays, there are also a number of small, very specialized points of encouragement – in Hebrew ‘Shpitzim’ - that have pushed themselves forward. One is in Safed and is called ‘The Flowers of Safed’ which is related to the new faculty of medicine and research. The ‘flowers’ are planted and helped to grow during their school years as they prepare for studies in the fields of medicine and research. The program has high standards; both theoretical and practical preparations are given to the students, and in return, they have to meet the high standards expected.
As we parted, Dana smiled as she quoted one of the students’ slogans: “Be realistic – DREAM!”
And that is what we all dream of – that there will be many more educational possibilities and proper development in our peripheries, where many young people would like to make their lives and improve Israel’s future.