With New Possibilities, Israeli Arab Youth Thrive

September 6, 2012


Until recently, Amir, 21, was adrift, bouncing around various construction jobs in Sakhnin, a densely populated Arab community in Israel that is primarily agrarian and substantially impoverished.

“My dad wanted me to be a builder with him and I didn’t know I could be anything more,” he explains.

Amir, like many oldest children in Arab families, was expected to become the family breadwinner. He would follow in his father’s footsteps because he couldn’t afford to go to school or dream bigger.

“I wanted to take the easy road, because I had no direction for my life. That’s all changed now.”

For many Israeli Arab youth, what begins as a lack of direction and guidance in early adulthood continues as a pattern of poverty that leaves them unemployed and increasingly vulnerable as they age. Of the 220,000 young Israelis that are unemployed, almost half are Israeli Arabs, Bedouins, or Druze.

JDC works to break this cycle of unemployment and to reverse the trend of the growing disadvantaged underclass through the Afikim (Channels/Paths) program. The initiative helps young Israelis like Amir learn to operate within society’s frameworks and to excel in work and life. Group workshops and personal guidance help youth to develop self-confidence, set goals, craft a resume, learn how to pursue a degree, and find good jobs. Counselors take great care to ensure the participants enroll in accredited schools and choose tracks that will ensure they’ll be employable down the line.

In the Arab sector, there is a parallel, culturally adapted program for young women, who face different challenges to pursuing employment.

After degree completion, Afikim participants continue to receive support in their career planning and advancement. As they progress on their path and begin to bring home new incomes, these young adults literally break the cycle of poverty for families who have always relied on government entitlements.

Amir says for him the program was “not just about work, but about life. People really invested in me and empowered me to change my course. I learned that I can be more than a builder—and today I am working towards becoming a dental technician.”

When asked about his dad’s reaction to his change of course, Amir explains that Afikim’s counselors educate the larger community and each participant’s parents so they can ensure support for their journey.  “Now my dad is excited for me and congratulates me on my accomplishments, saying ‘Well done!’” he adds.

All Afikim participants benefit from both individual mentorship and group workshops that help them gain self-assurance, develop professional skills, and learn real-life problem-solving strategies. Then they take a vocational assessment to choose a professional direction and work with social workers to set their objectives. When they set out on the academic track necessary for them to accomplish their dreams, they are guaranteed support throughout. As they complete their studies, they return to learn interview skills and get help integrating into the workforce.

Muhammad, 20, a fellow Afikim participant who has gained a new view of his future, says he lacked confidence and employable skills when he went into the program. Through Afikim he built up his self-image, and decided to utilize what he’s good at—working with his hands—to learn about cars and study electronics and mechanics. “I knew I had to work but now I know what I want to do and what skills I need. I am on my way to a more fulfilling life.”

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