Environmental Education in Rahat

by Sadie
Negev

SPNI and the Bedouin Community

Just a few miles from Be’er Sheva, I had the opportunity to visit the Bedouin city of Rahat this week. With a population of over 50,000 people, Rahat is the largest Bedouin settlement in the world, and it is the only one in the country to have city status. As a recognized city, Rahat has the lowest socioeconomic status in Israel. It wasn’t long after my arrival before I was able to recognize the environmental damage that occurs within a Bedouin town. Throughout the city, it is evident that there is a serious lack of effort to protecting the environment, which is expressed through the neglect of public areas and the extreme excess of waste in the streets. Although the houses themselves are very well kept, local initiatives to improve the dire environmental situation are rare.

Social and Environmental Leadership Program participants
Surprisingly, efforts to improve the current situation are coming from the city’s youngest members. More than half of the city’s residents are under the age of 18, and they are working hard to improve the future of the environment. Six years ago, the Social and Environmental Leadership Program was established in Rahat through the efforts of Nader Alafinish and Aya Rimon. Although this innovative program was not easily implemented in such a disciplined and formal educational atmosphere, the youth are deeply responding to the new environmental material, and its effects are consequently rippling throughout the community. The program aims to empower youth in Rahat, creating a local youth leadership that will promote environmental and social activities to improve the welfare of the community and the environment. The program has successfully created graduates with high self-confidence and personal skills that demonstrate initiative and lead environmental action both in Rahat and abroad.

Garden at the school
Schools in Rahat participating in the Social and Environmental Leadership Program are already branching out to transform the community at large. I visited one school in Rahat which uses its compost for the school garden in which herbs, trees, and flowers are grown. The students are all active in the garden, labeling all of the different plants, learning about agriculture, and decorating its surroundings. The school also began a project which gave families within the school's community the opportunity to plant a tree of their own in the city. This project allows community members to beautify the city, feel more connected to their environment, and gain a heightened sense of responsibility to the land.

Herb garden at the school

Trees planted at the school

Students playing games- learning about garbage and recycling
I was also able to sit in on a classroom of students as they participated in the formal education program. The topic of the day was trash & recycling. They learned all about garbage--where it comes from, and where it ends up. They also learned about recycling, the symbols for recyclable materials, and what can/can’t be recycled. For the next class, they have plans to bring in recyclable materials so they can make something new from something old. An important lesson taught in this class was that it is always better to USE LESS. After the lesson was taught, the students played games, where they were quizzed about the information they had just learned. The class was so much fun! It was really something special to see how excited the students were to learn about these issues.

Two of the students showing each other the recycling label on the bottom of a plastic bottle
Playing games- The teacher was quizzing us on the information we learned in class
Display of items the students made out of recycled materials

Learning about compact fluorescent light bulbs
Lastly, I visited another school, where I was able to sit in on the informal education program-- an after school class which is taught for students who are specifically interested in learning more about environmental issues. Many of these students have been participating in the program for 4 or 5 years, others are first-years. Regardless of their age (grades 4-12), students participating in the program are busy leading environmental and social actions, volunteering in various projects such as planning  and running special event days, clean-up days, creating a tourism map of the city to encourage domestic consumption and tourism, rehabilitation of the city’s nursing home, and running a second-hand market for waste reduction. During my visit, the students in the class were learning about energy and sustainability. They compared incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs, and learned more about sustainable ways to use energy. The students were all active in the conversation, and had many questions that were answered through demonstrations.

 It is truly amazing that this program is such a success in this deeply marginalized, low socioeconomic community. The program is making a big impact on the lives of not only the participants, but other members of the community as well. The program is touching the lives of program graduates, their friends, their families, neighboring residents, and additional students and teachers that do not take an active role in the program. Of the participating students, 72% have reported that their behavior has changed following the program. In addition, the success of the program has encouraged city hall to invest in environmental education programs and encouraged other organizations to initiate activities within the Bedouin sector.

An award that was given to the program by the government
It was such a great experience to have the opportunity to visit Rahat and see the students who are working so hard to improve environmental conditions in their communities. Their improved connection to the land in which they live is an important value to have, and is something they will pass on to their families and friends. At SPNI, We believe that creating a sense of belonging, providing tools for leadership, creativity, and initiative, and encouraging self-confidence are all essential to promote the city socially and environmentally.

Category: Education

Tagged under: Rahat, Arab Sector, Environmental Education, SPNI, Israel, Bedouin Sector