Today's Israel is a modern, advanced society - but amid the malls and startup successes there are pockets of Israelis trapped in a cycle of poverty, unable to lift themselves or their kids to a better life.
Looking for a practical way to help, some of the top figures in Israeli high-tech, with help from groups like the Jewish Agency, established Appleseeds Academy in 2000.
Since then, about 700,000 participants have benefited from tailor-made job-training programs developed by experts from Israeli branches of companies such as Intel, Microsoft and Cisco. The academy is based at 350 learning centers targeting underemployed groups such as ultra-Orthodox men and Bedouin women. Appleseeds also trains teachers in the latest e-learning methods.
is behind Appleseeds' newest venture, Ambassadors of High-Tech
, which offers after-school computer classes for dozens of youths from Arab villages and Jewish towns in peripheral areas. The classes are taught by National Service volunteers, Jewish and Arab youth who choose to serve the state by working in communities instead of in the military, in return receiving the same grants and benefits provided to soldiers.
"The volunteers that we work with get intense training for a week from top Intel personnel," says program coordinator Gal Horowitz. "They then go back to their home communities to lead and teach groups in basic and more advanced computer skills. It's as much an opportunity for kids from peripheral areas to see themselves as leaders in their communities as it is for them to teach groups of children or adults, helping to foster a spirit of high-tech modernity in their towns."
Making positive role models
"We find that tech training, and participation in the Ambassador program, has produced some excellent results," says Horowitz. "For Arab youths living in semi-rural villages, going to Haifa and Tel Aviv in order to attend the training program is itself a real eye-opener, giving them an opportunity to see a side of Israel they never knew. The prestige that accrues from the skills that they pick up also makes them positive role models for the groups they teach, and since it's done in the context of National Service, it encourages the relationship of Arabs to the state."
Appleseeds has been running the Ambassador program for three years, enough time to gather some statistics, says Horowitz. "We recently did a study of the lasting results, if any, on the first group that participated three years ago," says Horowitz. "Eighty percent of the participants in the first group said that they felt like they were 'better Israelis' after the program, 60% are still in their hometown, and 40% still volunteer. All the participants said that the program had helped them with their self-confidence and self-image, and that they felt proud they had done something to help their communities and Israeli society."
The Ambassadors program has trained dozens of participants, who have in turn helped thousands of community members. Unfortunately, says Horowitz, there aren't enough positions in the National Service program to satisfy the demand for participants, as many communities have contacted Appleseeds seeking to get involved.
"We are working hard to increase funding of the program in order to enable more youths to participate," she says. "We hope to expand the program to include others who cannot serve in the IDF, such as the disabled. The Ambassadors program is an important addition to Appleseeds, and helps us to spread the good word on Israeli high-tech to groups that would otherwise not have had the opportunity to get involved."