One of the things that has struck me most in my past 2 years with YaLa Young Leaders is how many times I have heard, from so many different young people coming from almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa, that they feel as if they have found a family in YaLa. At first I thought it was just a nicety that didn’t mean a whole lot, but with time I realized that it was so much more.
Nearly every week we hear from one of our members that they are feeling down because they feel so alone in their activism for peace and positive change – their friends/family don’t really understand, they are discriminated against in their professional and personal lives, the hooligans and extremists in their societies unleash the cruelest of insults, criticisms and threats, their governments harass or imprison them, and so on and so on. And of course, they are called the dirtiest of all dirty words: normalizers and traitors.
And why? Because they dare to believe that conflict can only be solved by talking with “the other side.” Because they dare to believe that “the others” are also human beings. Because they dare to believe that a more peaceful region is possible and it’s not okay to sit idly by or to mobilize only to say why it’s not possible.
These visionary young people battle everyday against these dark voices and forces, which sometimes get the better of them. But they don’t give up. They pick themselves up and go out to fight another day for peace and progress. And many of them say that they find the strength to do it because, thanks to YaLa, they now know that they are not alone. In YaLa they can openly share their peace convictions and progressive values without being an ostracized and threatened minority. In YaLa they find support, encouragement and help from others who are facing the same challenges and dark forces in their own societies. In YaLa, they aren’t alone anymore, they are together with others – from across the MENA region and even the world – who believe and work for the same things. In YaLa they have found real and true friends. And although an online community can’t physically or even virtually be with them every minute as they fight the uphill battle for what they believe in, it is of an enormous, almost indescribable, value to not feel so alone, together, with the YaLa family.
Inspired by the amazing women and men of YaLa who I am privileged to call my friends, you know who you are!!
YaLa Young Leaders