Mercy Corps, an international aid agency, has taken the initiative of empowering today’s youth leaders who have already proven their worth as activists in their own communities, by bringing them to Doha to participate in a Global Citizens Corps conference. These youths spent the week learning new skills to help them in their endeavours as they shared their knowledge and experience with each other. They spoke to Gulf Times about their work and future programmes.
Youth activists associated with Mercy Corps in Gaza have been working to provide youth with marketable and useful skills that will improve their economic status within the confines of the Israeli blockade.
Reem Omran, Mohamed al-Jafarawi and Maysaa Qozat work with the Global Citizen Corps programme, training youth on media such as video and photography to document their youth community’s actions in order to share the lives of Gazans with the rest of the world online.
“Whenever the youth do their own community actions and post it online, people get to recognise what is Gaza, that these youth are just like any in the world; they have interests, they love to help others,” says Omran.
He also provides internships and career counselling for young Gazans, helping them to find employment online, in a region with few job opportunities. These youth development programmes have broadened the experience of many, providing them with self-confidence and knowledge of the world beyond the confines of their border.
Qozat would like to see more economic opportunities brought to Gaza to tackle the issue of unemployment and inadequate development, particularly factories and other job-creating industrial developments, along with ICT projects.
According to Omran, Gaza lacks an entrepreneurial trend necessary to turn around the economic situation due to a lack of resources, a fear of taking risk for long-term gain and the absence of training to overcome these difficulties.
Boosting local production, says Omran, will “save money, and maybe someday Gaza can export and generate more income”.
What is needed, Jaleel feels, is a programme that encourages Gazans to develop their natural talents and turn them into marketable skills through proper training.
Dina Yazdani, a US student with Malaysian and Iranian parents, works hard to embody the idea of “think global, act local”, as she deals with the global repercussions of an issue located thousands of miles away.
She spoke to Gulf Times about her efforts raising awareness of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in her school and community, as it an issue that has become personal to her through her Mercy Corps contacts.
“We had the Palestinian flag next to the Israeli flag, juxtaposed together on the wall to symbolise that we are a school that believes in peace and a two-state solution. We had a speaker come in, but I knew it had to be a different speaker because most Americans, if they are not educated on the issue, tend to be pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. The goal was to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine…so we had a man from the Jewish Voice for Peace come in, a Jewish man who believes in Israel and believes in peace, that changed hearts and minds because it’s someone that everyone can relate to; it was a different perspective.”
This simple peace initiative served to diffuse the mounting tension between Jewish and “non-white” students at Yazdani’s school since the Gaza conflict of 2008-2009, as they began to seek a way forward towards peace.
Yazdani also worked to raise awareness of International Women’s Day, an issue easily overlooked in developed countries.
“After I read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and his wife (Sheryl WuDunn), I realised that such little things as providing micro-loans to women or educating them can push them so far, and if we have the other half of the sky, countries can mobilise their women and become much more stable and become much more peace oriented.
“We posted facts about women’s rights, or the lack of them, on the floor and all around the hallway, and we had a speaker come in. Two things that helped with the apathetic students in my school - which there are a lot of - they’re forced to look at the facts as they walk down the hallway as they’re on the floor, they’re fed the information.”
Yazdani says the campaign was successful, as it even attracted the attention of a lot of male students who were shocked and moved by what they had learned.
She hopes to take the skills and knowledge from the Doha gathering to work with African American and Hispanic high schools to raise awareness of issues within and beyond their borders. Issues of social justice such as immigration, racial inequality and injustice, Yazdani believes, they have their parallels with the Palestinian/Israeli issue, and need to be addressed by today’s young leaders.
Shireen Khan, a Masters student from Pakistan, has been conducting workshops at schools, community centres and colleges on presentation and communication skills in his home country.
“If you look at the literacy rate in Pakistan you will certainly believe that people haven’t got the voice to be heard, so they need these qualities, they need these skills,” he says.
With support and material from the GCC, around 220 people have been provided with presentation and communication skills by Khan and five of his peers in the last six months. Some of the other projects conducted by Pakistan’s youth leaders have raised blood stocks for hospitals, improved computer literacy and Internet connectivity and helped launch a campaign to sponsor children to improve their lives.
Khan would like to take the lessons of the Doha gathering as he works towards peace between and within people, and continues his education work with a global audience.
Nurul Firdhausy, an Indonesian student starting college in the Fall, has worked on a number of community development projects in Jakarta, trying to raise awareness of those in need that are often overlooked by society at large. Firdhausy and her peers tried to empower a sometimes apathetic young generation to take on serious issues ignored by the government.
Firdhausy’s group of youth activists also addressed the needs of rural citizens in Indonesia, travelling to small island communities, such as the Tidung, in an effort to improve their economic status by teaching them skills and raising public awareness of communities that are dependant on a tourist economy. Firdhausy’s group taught the local community how to harvest Sukun, a local fruit, in order to make and package chips which can be sold to tourists, which the islanders themselves have confirmed has brought economic benefits.
Nevertheless, the islands are suffering from an exodus of young people, who are moving to urban areas in search of education and better economic opportunities. While a project is underway to establish a free library to benefit the Tidung, larger social trends require a larger effort.
What Firdhausy has learned from her week in Doha is that such problems are not unique to the developing world, as people across the globe are subject to such forces.
Students in Iraq, partnered with Mercy Corps, have demonstrated how a dedicated group of youth can provide large, lasting change for entire communities.
Mohamed Jaleel, a college graduate from Khanaqin, has been working on a variety of projects in his home country. One project sought to help a village, which is surrounded by water every year after rains in the winter month blocking access to schools and emergency services. A group of youths brought the issue to the ministry of industry, the Kurdistan authorities and the central government in Baghdad, and two bridges were built in a matter of months.
In Jaleel’s hometown Khalaqin, a river that originates across the Iranian border had been dammed by Iran, severely restricting the town’s water supply. In this case, a conference was held, bringing together politicians and experts to address the issue. The conclusion reached by the conference was brought to the United Nations which brought the issue to the central government in Baghdad. An order was issued for the construction of a dam to maintain water reservoirs for Jaleel’s community.
He would like to continue working with Mercy Corps to address global issues, bringing his efforts and skills to assist communities in need, and with the lessons and contacts of the group meeting in Doha this week, there is little doubt that these Global Citizens can be a powerful force for good in the years to come.
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