Charity that bridges a culture clash

By Jessica Elgot, February 3, 2011
Learning together: Bedouin girls supported by Alnuhud in their classroom with rules they have written

Learning together: Bedouin girls supported by Alnuhud in their classroom with rules they have written

Keren Simons, an intern at Bedouin NGO Alnuhud, knows first-hand what problems can occur when outsiders try to help a traditional community. The 25-year-old Oxford University graduate is the first New Israel Fund UK William Frankel Social Justice Fellowship. She is currently based in Beersheva, promoting education for Bedouin women in the Negev.

"Change from within is an important aspect of activism as outside influence can be unwelcome and resented," she says. "Dealing with this suspicion can be difficult, as 'do-gooder' outsiders all over the world have often experienced. I try to limit it as much as possible by listening to what people want for themselves and supporting that, rather than making the classic mistake of projecting my own background and desires onto them."

She has noticed too, how her own background can be called into question. "Sometimes my 'outsider' status can lead to interesting situations, like the time I had to explain to a group of 14 year old girls why I, at 26-years-old, am not married. Sometimes I feel as though I am pushed to be a representative of issues I haven't chosen to represent, such as when young Bedouin girls ask me to explain why the army have destroyed their house or Israelis ask me to explain why the Bedouin in unrecognised villages don't just move somewhere else."

Through her fellowship, Ms Simons says she has discovered new ways to do charitable work. "The goal of Alnuhud's activism is not to disrupt or dilute the sense of community, tradition or religion that has sustained Bedouin life for centuries, but to work from within. If the men of their communities are against women's education, this would create huge ruptures in community life, including making marriage very difficult for educated women. So the organisation is involved in community awareness, working to change the attitude of the Bedouin communities toward female education and its importance to their society. They also offer empowerment programmes for young girls in Bedouin schools as well as scholarships and advice to prospective university students.

Importantly, almost all the volunteers and employees are Bedouin women themselves. A majority have been through Alnuhud and are now giving back to the organisation."

Last updated: 3:23pm, February 3 2011