Real change starts within
Noor looks back about two years ago when she felt helpless and hopeless.
“I wasn’t doing much with my life. I was eating, sleeping and raising my children,” says Noor. “I was very frustrated at the situation of young people in Gaza. It depressed me to see how everything shut down in front of us, youth. We can barely get decent education, but after that, what? We lack opportunities to grow and be useful to society… to ourselves.”
To Noor, young people in Gaza face unemployment, mobility, knowledge and representation. A simple thing as running a daily errand confronts her with a reality she cannot not grasp. One she felt powerless to change.
“I saw many young degree-holders with engineering, law and science degrees who end up selling coffee or corn cobs by the beach. This is not bad per se. I respect those who find a decent job to make a living. But when many university graduates work at food carts or are forced to take low-paying jobs, then you know there’s a problem. The skills we acquire in higher education do not match what the job market has to offer. There is a big divide. Job opportunities are scarce,” says Noor.
The frustration of Noor did not stop there. The red suitcase on top of her closet, packed with luggage that she could never use, was a constant reminder that traveling and seeing the world is an unattainable luxury.
“It is difficult for young people in Gaza to board a plane and explore the world,” says Noor. “The lack of freedom to move is a disability for us. It does not only prevent us from seeing new things, but also from learning. We can hardly leave to study abroad. The majority ends up giving up and starts thinking rather about leaving the country for good.
This saddens me. I have at least 10 friends who migrated overseas over the last year. They were all active in civil society but the many obstacles made them fall into depression.
Many of us wonder why we should learn things and acquire new knowledge about the world if we can’t even be part of it. Young people here get depressed because they know they cannot change the world. They become an easy prey to one-sided visions of the world coming from political parties, religious and extremist groups….”
The situation was ironically a stronger motivation for Noor. She woke up one day and decided to take destiny into her own hands. She was determined to get out of that negative state of mind and do something, anything, for her community. She thought about the youth of today and the youth that her children will become tomorrow. She wanted to help make their realities better, more sustainable.
Noor studied journalism at the Islamic University of Gaza where she got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She was a bright student and loved what she was doing.
“I started volunteering at an association that works on media,” she says. “I was later hired to be a freelance journalist. In 2015, I joined UNESCO’s NET-MED Youth but I didn’t believe the project could do much to change the situation of youth in Gaza. I was wrong.
I saw how effective all the groundwork was. Young members were leading the project. For once, we had a voice and we could act for change. We were involved in every step of the planning and implementation of activities.
The workshops, training and travel opportunities I benefited from with NET-MED Youth gave me hope as a young woman from Gaza. I learned about the world. I started seeing things differently. I started seeing myself and the other members of our group as that link in a larger global chain of change-makers.”
Noor did not miss any media training session within NET-MED Youth. She took part in all the activities aiming to empower young people in Palestine, to give them a voice, to connect them with local decision-makers and to give them the tools that would help them advocate for their rights in the most efficient way.
“We worked with the Ministry of Youth and actively participated in structuring and drafting a national policy for youth that relates to us and reflects our needs. It was a first! I contributed to the policy content on the representation and inclusion of youth, in the media, especially women. Because young people took part in the process, the draft strategy was much more pertinent and relevant to us.
At the same time, I learned so much about media that I did not learn in my graduate studies. There are so many things I did not know in my field. NET-MED Youth training sessions taught me more about Media and Information Literacy, quality media content, journalism safety, social media journalism, youth media advocacy, and more.
Today I organize training sessions for graduate student journalists at the university because I want them to also get the chance to learn what I have acquired. We go over different topics, from the most basic to the most complex: using a camera, producing social media content, doing investigation and reporting, disseminating fair and inclusive information about youth to the public, etc.”
Noor engages young journalists-to-be in open discussions about their priorities at the personal and professional levels. She wants them to learn how to verify information before they take it as a fact. She wants them to debate, disagree and criticize constructively.
“We, young people, are not encouraged to have critical thinking or to see the world as anything other than either black or white,” she says. “We are also very little represented in our traditional media, which very rarely talks about our issues. When they do, it’s all superficial. There is no call to action, no call to debate. We have potential to change the status quo. We are a big part of society, but we have little freedom of expression – especially us, women.”
Noor’s description of the reality of youth in Gaza has a bitter after taste. One that could only be washed down by the energy and positivity she brings in today with her involvement in NET-MED Youth and her volunteering work at Community Media Center.
She spares no effort to inspire youth to be active in their communities despite the challenges. She is today an activist for young women issues and for youth to be part of decision-making. She is more active than she has ever been and she enjoys it.
“It keeps me going. I don’t know where I get the energy anymore, but the dreams and hopes I see in other youth definitely fuel that.”
Noor has changed. She is a new person.
“My personality has changed. I am more self-confident today, and more hopeful. As soon as I started learning and helping others around me, I got out of that confining depression. Because we can’t change the whole political or social situation, we can still start by changing ourselves, by developing our skills, by reading more and learning more. This is how we can develop ourselves, and our country.
I am hopeful that youth can make a change. We just need to regain the belief in ourselves. Today, I help young people around me be the power for change. Because if we become frail and crumble, what will happen to our society?”
Activities building skills among youth organizations and young journalists; to enhance youth representation in media and promote freedom of expression, media and information literacy and youth-generated media content.
Activities joining youth organizations, employment experts and different national stakeholders to engage in dialogue and work together on unemployment solutions and skills needs.
Activities empowering youth to participate in the communal and national development, revision and implementation of national youth strategies and public policies.