Thursday, June 30, 2016

No such thing as the ‘voiceless’

Project helps Gaza youth proclaim, ‘We are not numbers’
We Are Not Numbers” is the proclamation of Palestinian youth from Gaza – desperate, yet also proud. 
A project known by the same name pairs developing writers from Gaza and the refugee camps of Lebanon with authors/mentors around the world to tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news. And as the second anniversary of the Israeli war on Gaza, "Operation Protective Edge," nears, supporting its goal of lifting up the voices of the voices of the survivors—many of them youth—is critical.
The Forgotten Group
Gaza as a place—1.8 million people—is neglected by most of the world, rarely receiving much more than a shrug between the periodic Israeli assaults. But one group particularly left out of the power politics and aid allocations is young adults. They go into university stretching every penny, and finally graduate to…nothing. Unemployment among this age group is over 60 percent, and one survey showed the incidence of serious depression at more than half. No wonder suicide is increasing at an alarming rate and smuggler boats—including the one that sunk off the coast of Egypt in 2014—are full. Yet most “aid” programs are aimed at women and children.
From Writer to Gaza Project Manager: How The Journey Began
Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Alnaouq lives in Deir Al-Balah, in the middle of the Gaza StripDuring the Israeli assault of the summer of 2014, his older and only brother was killed by an Israeli missile, while walking on the street near his home.  Ahmed sunk into a depression from which he thought he would never emerge.
During a Facebook conversation, he confessed, “I extremely miss my brother. I go to his grave all the time, and when I am alone, I burst out crying.”
Given Ahmed’s major, English literature (a very common choice among Gaza youth, in the belief it’s the best way to learn the language and win an NGO job), I encouraged him to write about his brother, to celebrate him, rather than hide his grief. Over the next two months, I worked with Ahmed on his essay, pointing out patterns of English problems and tagging spots that could benefit from an anecdote to make the story “come alive.”
When we were done, Ahmed commented that his English-language skills and grasp of storytelling had improved more over those two months than from a year of classes. I realized Ahmed's story needed to be shared, and found a way to publish it for others to read. But with a future that looked dim –with no opportunity to apply what he was learning – Ahmed was increasingly thinking of joining the armed resistance. At least then, he reasoned, he would be doing something to stand up for his people.
My liberal, Western knee-jerk response was to say, “No, don’t do it. Your family already has lost one child. There are other ways to resist.” But then I realized I had nothing to suggest as an alternative.
Thus, We Are Not Numbers was born, and today, Ahmed is the Gaza project manager. 
The Mentors and Writers
Since then, many other mentors have joined me. They are journalists, book authors, communications professionals and bloggers from English-speaking countries around the world. Some are Palestinians, such as Susan Abulhawa (author of “Mornings in Jenin”) and Leila El-Haddad (author of “Gaza Kitchen”). Some are Jewish Americans, such as Miko Peled (author of “The General’s Son”) and Alice Rothchild (physician and author of “Broken Promises, Broken Dream”). Some are journalists (such as Ben Norton from Salon) and others are even comedians (Amer Zahr, author of “Being Palestinian Makes Me Smile”). Many mentors are not “famous,” however—just good writers with a commitment to helping youth, and we are always in need of more, since we have grown to more than 75 writers.

Want to know how you can get involved? Email

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” --Arundhati Roy

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