Where Arab and Jewish teens learn tech skills together

Eventually, I hope there will be Moona centers in the United States and United Arab Emirates. It is a template that can be copied anywhere because it is about people.

Moona – a Space for Change began in September 2014 as an after-school program where Israeli Jewish and Arab high school students familiarize themselves while learning technologies related to space exploration – robotics, drones, 3D printing and electronics.

Since then, Moona has expanded and added advanced vision and IoT technologies to the curriculum, as well as job-specific training for young adults (not necessarily in space technology) in coordination with high-tech companies that looking to hire.

The collaborative acquisition of practical skills takes place at Moona sites in two Israeli Arab cities: Majd al-Krumin in the Western Galilee near Acre (Acre) and Kafr Qasim in central Israel.

“Moona” means “wish” in Arabic. In Hebrew, “emoona” means “faith. “The name also reflects an ambition to ‘shoot for the moon’ both literally and figuratively.

Asaf Brimer, founder of Moona. Photo courtesy of Asaf Brimer

Asaf Brimer spent 25 years in the Israeli Air Force and in the aerospace industry before founding Moona with a Muslim partner.

“I started it because the separation in our society is the biggest challenge for Israel, and I decided that my children would be better off if the society is more open,” Brimer says. “We lose a lot of advantages because we don’t have the opportunity to meet.

With the recent lifting of Covid restrictions in Israel, once again 50 to 100 Israelis Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouin have started visiting each site for activities every day of the week.

Mentors provide advice to Moona – A Space for Change. Photo courtesy of Moona

Following the 11-day conflict with Gaza in May and racial unrest in towns like Akko, Moona called in psychologists to help students deal with their emotions, then returned to the business of science.

“Everything is more difficult now, but there are also more opportunities,” Brimer told ISRAEL21c.

“In two years, I think we will have six to ten centers in Israel. Eventually, I hope there will be Moona centers in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. It is a template that can be copied anywhere because it is about people.

Achievements

In 2017, the top three winners of Moona’s Idea to Implementation contest – supported by the U.S. Embassy in the Middle East Partnership Initiative – brought their prototypes to show the Partnership2Gether program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which provided seed money to Moona.

Ahmad Sbea, 17, and Khaled Abu Daud, 18, both from Majd al-Krum, shared the top prize for their automatic fishing boat designed for the safety of Alaskan fishermen. The third prize went to Rima Ali, 21, from a Druze village near Haifa, for his entertainment table filled with board games and cards.

From left to right, Doctor Mahmoud Kayal, family doctor and digital health entrepreneur, Ahmad Sbea, the mayor of Majd al-Krum Salim Salibi and Khaled Abu Daud in Moona. Photo courtesy of Ahmad Sbea

Before coming to Moona in ninth grade, he did not hang out with Jews, Abu Daud told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle at the time. “The first year, I was really shy. But after that… I started to get more and more involved. … Now I’m friends with all the mentors and the Jews out there. It’s really different from what’s going on outside, ”he said.

Sbea followed his friend Abu Daud to Moona’s robotics program. Now a 21-year-old student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (often referred to as “Israel’s MIT”), Sbea tells ISRAEL21c that he initially struggled to communicate with his Hebrew-speaking peers and mentors, but he learned quickly and is passionate about engineering.

Ahmad Sbea at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2019. Photo courtesy of Ahmad Sbea

“We say Moona is a space for change, and that was true for me,” Sbea says.

“I had planned to be in medicine, but after three years at Moona, I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. All of my five younger brothers are now in Moona. He still participates as a mentor.

Sbea led their drone construction team to first place in the 2019 Moona competition. They took the quadcopters they had developed to Boston, with a stop at MIT, hosted by the Israel American Council Boston.

“At Moona, we learn topics and then teach them to new members. I liked this concept of a student and also a teacher, ”says Sbea.

Most recently, Abu Daud and Sbea were part of a team that won first prize in a Technion-sponsored hackathon to find innovative Covid solutions. They invented a new type of face mask with students at Stanford University.

High-tech training

Last year, Moona developed a new workforce training model for industries in the region, Brimer says.

“There was a crisis after the corona, with many people looking for jobs and many organizations helping with training. We felt that the real solution lies at the municipal or regional level, ”he says.

Moona – A Space for Change offers high-tech vocational training in coordination with local businesses. Photo courtesy of Moona

The six to eight week applied engineering courses are funded by the corporate, government, philanthropy and private sectors.

“We are running courses in three centers in different parts of the country, including for the Bedouin population in the south, and we are also planning to open in Jaffa,” Brimer explains.

The subject is targeted on the real needs of the industry, for example in renewable energies and additive manufacturing. Partner companies, such as Intel and Qualcomm, offer mentoring and internship opportunities.

For more information on Moona’s programs, click here


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