February 19, 2007 / 1 Adar 5767
In the middle of an exam one day at Sapir Regional College, Chen Nachmany heard the shrill sound of the siren warning of an imminent rocket attack. Before she and her fellow students had a chance to run to the nearest shelter, they heard the distant boom of the rocket landing. Luckily, no one was injured.
But this attack did not stop the 23-year-old Chen from continuing her studies at Sapir Regional College, close to the Gaza border. "I am a single mother. My dream is to get an education, get a respectable job and provide for my daughter with dignity. Thanks to the support of so many wonderful people and organizations, including the Jewish Agency, I am turning my life around."
Chen Nachmany has not had an easy life. Growing up in the southern development town of Ofakim, she was one of eight brothers and sisters. Her father, who is now ill, was a carpenter and her mother took care of the house and children. Chen was a good student. She liked to study and passed her high school matriculation exams with a 90 average – one of the highest scores in her graduating class.
Chen proudly served in the army, working as a dental assistant. But her heart went to the wrong man, and at the age of 20 Chen was married with an infant daughter, Ziv. Her ill-fated marriage fell apart shortly after it began. Chen's husband spent all of their money, amassed tremendous debt and had a run-in with the police. When he left the country, Chen's family urged her to get a divorce before her husband disappeared without giving her a "get" and leaving her chained in a terrible marriage.
"I got the divorce in 2005 and my ex-husband vowed that he would pay off all the debts. But he never did," says Chen. "I was a single mother and I knew that for my daughter's sake I couldn't fall into despair. I am slowly paying everything off."
Chen desperately wanted to go to college, but she just couldn't afford it. "It was fate that my friend asked me to go with her to an open house one evening at Sapir College. My life has been on an upward swing ever since."
When Chen told the guidance counselor that she was a single mother, the counselor immediately told her about available scholarships from the Ministry of Education and philanthropic foundations. "I managed to get through the first year without falling into debt and it was a great feeling."
Chen is now in her second year at Sapir College, studying public policy and administration and raising her four-year-old daughter. A $1,000 scholarship from the Jewish Agency is giving her the extra financial assistance she needs to get by this year.
In the wake of the continued Kassam rocket attacks on the Western Negev, and the decreasing registration at Sapir College, the Jewish Agency awarded scholarships to students studying at Sapir. The funds are a special grant from the UJC's Israel Emergency Campaign to encourage students to study at Sapir, which plays an essential role in the region's development. Up to 1,000 students will receive this scholarship, and like Chen, fulfill their dream of getting a college education.
"There have been so many generous people who don't even know me but have changed my life. I want to thank them all," says Chen with passion. "I am determined to make something of myself, set an example for my daughter and raise her in a warm, secure, loving home."