Atidim gives development town youth a key to tomorrow

"All I saw in peoples' eyes was hopelessness. Now I see their eyes glowing with burning ambition," says a young man working in a government ministry.

Peres 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
It wasn't your usual do-good organizational scene of office-holders patting themselves on the back and telling an audience how much they and the organization were doing for the less fortunate. Here, the beneficiaries spoke for themselves. Nearly all of them came from peripheral areas and development towns, and even those from the large cities came from the lowest socioeconomic sectors. What they had in common was Atidim, a program that takes high school students with potential and trains them to be good soldiers, academics, public servants and productive citizens. Some 20 of these young people - some in their final year of high school, some in the army, some in university and some working in hi-tech industries or government offices - met with President Shimon Peres on Wednesday to tell him about the project and what it had done for them. An articulate young Ethiopian immigrant woman from Netanya said she was fourth in a family of seven children, but the first to be an academic. She is currently completing an engineering degree, but would probably not have finished high school, let alone gone to university, were it not for Atidim. Atidim means "futures," and that's what it's all about - giving people a sense of motivation and a key to tomorrow. The program was started by Shaul Mofaz during his term as IDF chief of General Staff. Mofaz noted a paucity of technologists in the IDF and proposed finding talented young recruits from development towns and sponsoring their education in fields of technology. With the financial help of industrialists such as Eitan Wertheimer and Benny Landa, the project became a reality in 1999, and other individuals, business enterprises and organizations joined in. From 90 Atidim participants in the first year, the numbers have risen to more than 12,000 this year. "Those who get a chance don't waste it," said Wertheimer, now world chairman of Friends of Atidim. He noted that 37 percent of the participants have completed studies at the Technion, and some of them have become pilots in the IAF. Soon the graduates of Atidim will not only be getting good jobs, he predicted, "they will also be giving them out." One young woman from Kiryat Malachi explained that "Atidim invests so much in you that you feel that you owe it to them to succeed. My whole family has been helped by Atidim." For the donors, Atidim is a hands-on project. "When I see what Eitan Wertheimer does for us, it inspires me to do for others," said a young woman from Lod. "Merely saying 'thank you' is not enough." A young man now working in a government ministry said that when he was a child, he couldn't imagine getting out of the cycle of poverty. "All I saw in peoples' eyes was hopelessness. Now I see their eyes glowing with burning ambition. Atidim is like family to us. There's always someone around to help and to check out that we're okay." At the end of the event, Peres said it was the most exciting and rewarding experience he'd had since coming to Beit Hanassi. "I have no words with which to thank Shaul Mofaz," he said. Then, turning to his younger guests, he added, "It was a joy to listen to you and to feel your patriotism. You will be a great credit to the nation." Referring to Wertheimer and other Atidim financial backers, Peres said, "It's not just a matter of your financial contribution, and it's not charity. It's a matter of attitude."