I grew up in Ma’an City, in Jordan. Throughout my childhood, I always loved the fact that my region is somehow unique. It is said that it is one of the regions receiving the most amount of sunshine in the world. I was fascinated by that, so I decided to study electrical engineering to work on renewable energy and solar power initiatives. But I didn’t anticipate what I would have to face once graduated. “Sorry, this opportunity is only open for men,” was what I started to hear every time I applied for a job. I was shocked to hear that “field visits and infrastructures are not suitable for women”.
One day, I noticed that Al Qantara Center, a NGO based in Ma’an, had openings for a new Youth Council. I’d like to say that it was a sign of destiny: if I couldn’t find a job as an engineer, I could still raise my voice and do something about that lack of opportunities for women and girls. I decided to transform the obstacles I had faced into positive and successful actions. So, I gathered the courage and applied to the Municipal Youth Council elections. Several weeks later, I was not only elected to represent the neighborhood’s young people in the Youth Municipal Council, but also to exercise the role of Vice-President of the Council. People had put their trust in me, and they had chosen to vote for a woman! Since 2017, I also work as a Project Coordinator for Al Qantara Center.
Every day, I meet incredible people who inspire me to work on the development of Ma’an’s youth civic engagement. I started to understand how resilience could positively impact a community and prevent young people from all forms of violence. Through Al Qantara Center, we tend to facilitate integration and dialogue, while also building communities that nourish and encompass cultural diversity. We advocate for youth, and more particularly for their challenged freedom of expression and access to information. In this framework, I had the chance to participate with my organization in a Training of Trainers on Media and Information Literacy (MIL), organized by the joint UNESCO-UNOCT Project on Youth Peacebuilding, co-funded by Canada, and the EU-funded Support to Media Project.
MIL helps us recognize the primary role of information and media in our lives, enables us to think critically about the information and its sources and consider the ethical issues surrounding the access and use of information. Thanks to UNESCO-UNOCT’s support, I was trained to become a MIL mentor and a trainer for teachers in schools and clubs. This also helped me to become more professional in my volunteer work, as a radio show host and editor, at the first local community radio “SAWT AL JANOUB” of Ma’an, where I can spread positive messages to my community every morning.
Media and information literacy is crucial for young people in Jordan, as it can allow us to identify stereotypes or negative messages and help us think critically in our daily life, surrounded by news and media. The students who join my interactive trainings learn how to access information, analyze it and use it wisely. It also help them connect, express and deal with new digital platforms and social media. I try to teach them that they can play a key role in combatting hate speech as well as promoting an alternative rhetoric through creative ways. By producing digital and multimedia content and stories about their communities and broadcast them on their social media platforms. Through radio podcast, videos or pictures, these stories raise awareness on youth issues and convey positive narratives on acceptance and tolerance.
Recently, I was selected by UNESCO to participate in a panel on Youth Peacebuilding during the 5th Baku forum on Intercultural Dialogue held in Azerbaijan. I could never imagine that such international and high-level event with young leaders from all around the world would be the cause of my first trip abroad. The stories of other participants really inspired me. Despite the diversity, we all face similar issues as young people, and we all work on reducing hate speech, discrimination and stereotypes in our community.
During the forum, I got interviewed by the United Nations TV. This was such an incredible feeling to see that a young girl like me, from the South of Jordan, was offered the opportunity to raise her voice in front of the whole world and to share her experience as an activist. It was also great for the volunteers of my organization to see that their work is reaching more than their immediate communities, and that their initiative inspires other young people.
Living this experience abroad and meeting young peacebuilders from various backgrounds whilst achieving incredible goals on the ground has just motivated me to continue my determination in empowering youth in my hometown and beyond. I will carry on to help them develop their digital and MIL skills, hoping that this will help them to access the same opportunities as I have.
I am happy to wake up every morning to engage with and for young people. I don’t think that I will be an engineer one day, because I actually prefer helping my community. However, I will never regret my choice of studies, because it taught me to think differently and to develop problem solving skills. I feel like I had to go through the difficulties and social challenges over the life path in order to understand that it was written from the beginning. Even though I couldn’t work on solar power systems, I now aim to keep that sunlight in youth, so they can have a brighter future.
Haneen Thabet, engaged in UNESCO-UNOCT “Prevention of Violent Extremism through Youth Empowerment in Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia” and in “Support to Media in Jordan” projects, and as a volunteer editor at radio “SAWT AL JANOUB.