Thursday, August 26, 2010

Appreciating Diversity through Youth Participation: The Situation Facing Young Muslims in the Middle East

CNN recently posted an article written by Esra'a Al Shafei, the founder of of about a platform she created to share young Muslim voices. Shafei is both concerned and appalled by the prejudices that young Muslims face, and the lack of advocacy and help, which led her to establish a platform where young Muslim voices could be heard. “I used Mideast Youth as a platform to make such voices heard in the global community, for people to realize that we are capable of thoughtful and reasoned discussions of our differences,” Shafei says, when examining the power of the online community.

Mainly, she wants to send the message that Islam does not discriminate against other beliefs, a prejudice that many young Muslims deal with. By promoting freedom of speech, Mideast Youth is a way for information to become readily accessible to young people and to give them a venue to express themselves and participate in valuable discussions.

This convergence via the Internet allows for Muslims to come together through positive online engagement, and to promote a dialog that goes beyond ethnic, religious or geographic boundaries. By creating an online safe haven, Esra'a Al Shafei has demonstrated how she is working to empower young Muslims in today’s times.

At ICP, we are also promoting the engagement of university students in their communities in several Muslim countries. ICP serves, with Tufts University, as Secretariat of the Talloires Network which offers incentives for outstanding programs in universities by awarding the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship. In 2009, multiple Middle Eastern countries won first, second and third place, for programs that focus on the spread of knowledge throughout communities. The first place winner, who received $5,000, was the Urban Health Program based in Aga Khan University in Pakistan. Second place winners received $2,500 and included Université Saint-Joseph's Opération 7ème Jour (Operation 7th Day) in Lebanon, while third place winners received $1,000 and included the Alashanek Ya Balady program at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and The Human Rights Clinic at Al-Quds University in Palestine.

This year’s winners will attend the prize award ceremony on September 15, 2010, at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France. Two representatives – one staff member and one student – from each of the eight winning programs will attend the ceremony. Last year’s award ceremony brought together representatives from the top three programs; the addition of representatives from the third-place winners will make this year’s ceremony an even greater success.

This year’s first prize went to PuentesUC (Bridges UC) at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, second place went to Community Awareness Initiatives Responsibly-Directed by Engineers (CAIRDE) at the National University of Ireland, Galway and the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Education Program at the University of Mines and Technology (Ghana), and third place went to Community Builders at Wartburg College (USA), Humanity in Focus at the University of Hong Kong (China), Student Leaders for Service (SLS) at Portland State University (USA), Ubunye at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and Vidas-Móviles (Moving Lives) at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia).

Overall, whether a program is a hands-on initiative, or a web platform, today there are a lot of ways to positively engage young people worldwide. Youth participation is a powerful tool against prejudice and discrimination and it is clear that there is a multitude of opportunities for engaging young people worldwide.

What are you doing to promote diversity in your community?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr user Shazron

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