On August 12, 2019 the “First Source” news website in Israel carried an interview by Bethal Coleman with Indira Biadse, Principal of Sindiana — the Arab Youth Village for Leadership. Sindiana was launched in September 2017 by the Society for Advancement of Education in partnership with local Arab communities.
Interviewer Bethal Coleman greatly enjoyed interviewing Indira — “Do you know why I really like my new section on Education? . . . Because it fills me with hope. I meet inspiring education people, and that education is a field of hope. . . I interviewed Indira Biadse, the principal of the first Arab youth village of this kind in Israel. A smart and wonderful woman. I came out of the conversation with her with a smile.”
Bethal Coleman — Hello Indira, you are called to run the first youth village of Arab society. We will talk about it soon, but first tell me a little about yourself.
Indira Biadse — I was privileged to be among the first Arab women to run a school. And if I’m not mistaken, I’m also the first woman to run a high school. To date, there are almost no women who run high schools in Arab society. For 11 years I led the East Baqa Al Gharbia school, and then was able to switch to Sindiana.
How did you manage to break your glass ceiling as an executive in Arab society?
I grew up in a very strong home and support my parents. My mother was one of the first women to be involved in politics. She began to deal with the issue of Arab compulsory schools and later was responsible for the status of women in Arab society. Beyond that, my window of opportunity to become a high school principal opened precisely because of a Jew. At that time there was a reading committee headed by Yitzhak Weld – the former mayor of Kfar Saba, and when the job of managing and opening a tender was vacant, he was there, devoid of clerical interests and considerations and put me in. Arab society is slowly loosening this behavior, it still exists. But 14 years ago it was another very powerful one.
And when you came into the management role, not so much a routine for a woman as you mentioned, did you feel that you were being looked upon with a single eye?
I was recognized and appreciated in the community because I worked at the school for 18 years as a counselor, but that still does not mean that I will succeed as a principal. I was definitely aware of all the watchful eyes. A high school woman? How and what? Constitutive moment. Suddenly I saw things I hadn’t noticed before. The first thing that caught my eye was the neglect. The poor physical conditions. How is it possible for a teacher and a student in a public education system not to use a computer? Classrooms with peeling walls, dirt and deserted, no yard, no kiosk.
Doesn’t want to learn.
Not at all. Although the most important resource is the teacher team, and it was very good. My agenda was that even a student who does not have money to attend a private school should receive a good education. This is his right. And the most basic honor for this student is to allow him to study under proper conditions with proper resources. I started a fundraiser and managed to raise a million shekels from the community.
Not everything was in money, there were those who donated wages or materials – someone donated lighting, other bins, someone who knew about flooring, someone else donated ceramic cladding – 500 meters, 600 meters, lawns, trees, everything we needed. From the municipality I got the tables and chairs and asked them to fix the roof so there were no leaks.
What was amazing was to find out how important education is to people. I saw it in my eyes. Once people are convinced that a person is coming to work and help, everyone is enlisting.
In the simplest way, I believe that every person has the ability to succeed, and that we as educators should help him get there. The school won the Education Award, and at this stage I was approached to establish the first youth village for leadership and social and educational excellence.
It takes courage to leave the place you built and cultivate with ten fingers towards the unknown.
Really. I was in a difficult personal dilemma. I could stay in my comfort zone, recognized and loved in the area, but the project of establishing a youth village, which is the first project of its kind in the Arab sector, appealed to me — the first time there is an Arab youth village that has three elements: boarding school, home school and farm. I have not yet gone on vacation. I am still preparing for the village’s third year of school, and something amazing is happening here. There are about 450 students enrolled for next year, in three years, and this is after some fought us and predicted that we will not open.
Who fights you and why?
Many mayors in the Wadi Ara area feared there would be a brain drain from their cities because they want to keep the strong with them. I understand that. It’s a matter of having a lot of selective private schools in the area that don’t leave good students in public. I, as a principal, also fought for the good students. In the Arab sector, there have never been selective schools from the seventh grade, and in order to deal with this we have limited the quota of students who can study with us from the Haifa District, and they are also selected by lot.
We have students from all over the country. Jaljulye, Wadi Ara area, etc. There are a wide variety of parents who see us as a place to grow their children, not only in school but also in life. The school is very heterogeneous from a socio-economic standpoint as well.
And now I want us to touch the heart of the Sindiana Youth Village. What’s the big novelty of the place?
When the Education Promotion Association began to promote the project, it was accompanied by a study examining how much the Arab public really wanted such a unique school that would engage in values of leadership, identity, culture and social and educational excellence. These are the key stones on which the youth village was founded, from which grows a language of taking responsibility and critical thinking.
We found that there is a need for such a school and that there is responsiveness, and we are very busy in recognizing the different identities of the students – personal identity, recognition of local Israeli, Arab-Palestinian and global culture. We have a lesson in a system called identity and culture where students are exposed to a variety of characters from three circles of identity. Their vision and ways of acting. I know no other school that gives room for such a discourse. Not just about studies and tests, but a place that expands horizons and tries to create students’ responsibility and social involvement.
If we take a moment out of the field of education and look at the political leaders of Arab society, I say cautiously, that the situation there does not warn. In explosive terms, can you say that you aspire to grow the future generation of Arab society leadership?
I will tell you what brought me, as an Indira, to invest in this place. I work very hard, and honestly tell you there were a lot of crises. There are tremendous difficulties. It is not easy to motivate things in the education system. You have to sweat.
I aspire to develop a different leadership than we know. They care about who will run in the Knesset, that they want to take part in elections, who are involved, who are full partners in society, in the country. That they will have a positive impact on the entire society.
But something is happening to us in Arab society. You can see development and success in the lonely people and the nuclear family. You see that we, as individual citizens, have come an amazing way. Everyone can sit down and talk to you about great successes in his private life. Thirty years ago, the status of women rose, the number of people practicing the free trades went up, successful people build beautiful careers, have fancy homes, expensive cars, but if you look at society as a whole – it goes down, because along with everything I described is a violent society. More neglected, with third-world infrastructure. Some educated people with beautiful cars, you will find near their home health hazards, neglect terrible, unsafe roads.
We want to develop caring and social involvement from an early age. We have to change our thinking. Because what happens now is that an average person in Arab society only cares about his home and his children, and it comes back as a boomerang to society. Young leadership, different from what we know. They care about who will run in the Knesset.
We have been in election days for quite some time now, and sooner or later, statements about voting percentages in Arab society are coming.
I’m not telling students to ‘go vote’, but I will raise the issue to the school agenda and develop a discourse on the subject. It’s so important. Why not? Why yes? What does it mean? What is the price? How will it affect it? Critical, open-minded approaches, with awareness of the choices they make. Other Arab schools will not have such a discussion. That they get high scores is enough.
Why don’t you just run for the Knesset?
Now in Baqa we are going to the municipal elections, and I was approached by some people who said to me, “Indira, we want you to run.” In the local government in Arab society you will not see women at all. But I am currently in Sindiana. I took responsibility. Then I’ll think what’s next? If you told me five years ago I would leave the high school I was running, I would think you were crazy.
I go back for a while about boarding school at a girls’ school. Isn’t that a drag?
Although the school is involved, the boarding school has only boys. We get requests from parents to open the boarding school for the girls, too, but we knew that we were doing something new here and we did not want to take on such a challenge with cultural sensitivity at first. We will proceed carefully, and take into account the lifestyle and culture of the Arab sector.
Have you feared clergy?
We are not doing anything out of the ordinary for clergy to fight us. Nothing about it. One of the things that contributes for the youth village to rise and succeed is the place. We are located not in an Arab community, but in Givat Haviva – this is a neutral place, where Baka clerics will not tell us “It does not belong here.” There is also a matter of choice here, we do not bring anyone to this place.
I, as a manager, take into account all cultural sensitivities and it is important to me that we do things with great respect for religion, values and culture. I believe the Sindiana youth village will be a beacon. Following are more places that will promote CSR.
Today, unfortunately, in the country there is tension between Arabs and Jews and within Jewish society – the left is a derogatory word, an Arab is a derogatory word. Haredi-Muslim side – sitting, chatting, eating and planning budgets for next year. Sindiana is a source of pride, and no less important, a source of hope.
(Photos by Yoav Zohar)