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The Bedouin women breaking with tradition in the Negev

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In several government-planned villages in southern Israel, trailblazing pioneers are empowering local girls through business and education.

Amal Abo Alqom dreamed of becoming a doctor. An unusually brilliant student, she especially excelled in English. Yet as soon as she finished elementary school, her family put her to work in the fields by her home in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi Na’am.

Desperately anxious to continue her education, Amal went on a hunger strike. And when that didn’t help, she threatened to hurl herself into the deepest well she could find. No problem, said her parents: let us know which well, so we can take your body out and bury it.

Today Amal not only runs a successful tourist attraction, but is the founder of a non-profit organization that helps younger women achieve their goals and, at the same time, provides older women who didn’t attend school the opportunity to boost their self-esteem by passing ancient traditions and expertise onto the younger set.

Amal Abo Alqom, resident of the Bedouin village of Segev Shalom and founder of the non-profit Women for Themselves. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Kudos to a number of government offices that offer them assistance: the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Social Justice, and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee; the Negev Development Authority coordinates their efforts.