Hisham Jabi directs Ruwwad, EDC’s youth corps for Palestinians ages 14–30. Although he is now steeped in the world of youth development, Jabi hasn’t forgotten what he learned during his years working in the private sector. He often proposes business concepts to the young Palestinians he works with, inspiring them to think beyond the constraints of war and poverty. Through Ruwwad, which translates from Arabic to “pioneer,” he aims to nurture a new generation of Palestinian leaders focused on peace, education, public health, and economic independence. He estimates that nearly 1,000 youth have already been involved in the corps.
What inspired you to develop a youth corps in the West Bank and Gaza?
I believe this is the age of young people in the Arab world. Not oil. Not dot-com. Youth. We have more than 200 million young people out of a total population of 334 million in the region. With Ruwwad, we hope to create a model where young Arab people are empowered, where they are taught that they can change the world for the better. It is unique for young people in the West Bank and Gaza to belong to a nonviolent movement.
Describe the young people who join Ruwwad.
They represent the whole spectrum of Palestinian society. There are students, dropouts, young women, married and single people. Some are university graduates who have been waiting for years to get a job. We also have many young people from regions in the northern part of the West Bank, a marginalized, rural area that is targeted by extremist groups.
What is life like for young Palestinians today?
Unfortunately, opportunities are very limited. Recreational centers are limited. Public parks are limited. Theaters are limited. Traveling is limited. Work opportunities are limited. Young people spend most of their time talking to each other in coffee shops or walking the streets. Ruwwad is capturing this energy and potential and channeling it in positive ways.
Tell me about a young Palestinian who inspires you.
Diana Alzeer. She is a college student from a small town in the Northern West Bank. She is creating a DVD that records Palestinian culture—from clothing to food to dancing to weddings.
Ruwwad held a business concept competition, with a panel of judges and many competitors—like American Idol, but for youth development. Diana won this competition, and with the money she received she bought a video camera. She then recruited teams of young people who go village to village interviewing older people and recording their knowledge, their memories, and their experiences of Palestinian culture. She is now in the final stages of producing the DVD and is developing plans to distribute it in the region and abroad.
How do you get women and girls involved in Ruwwad?
We approach young women through their parents and their brothers because family is the core of Palestinian society. If you ignore the family, you create resistance. When we have a training coming up, I pick up the phone and call parents to personally assure them their daughter will be safe with us.
What are some of the challenges you face working in such a volatile community?
Logistics are very difficult. The United Nations counts more than 420 checkpoints and road blockades in the West Bank. Palestinians cannot move freely from one place to another. It requires a great deal of creativity to conduct a program like this.
This summer, we developed a program called Rahala. It means “travelers.” Youth leaders from all over the West Bank traveled from village to village, joining with other young people to do service-learning activities. Because of the constraints on travel, nothing like this had ever happened before in this region.
What is the bottom line for you?
Education is a stronger weapon than an F16 or M16. That was the conclusion I came to as a young Palestinian, and that is what I want all the young people in the West Bank and Gaza to understand.
Originally published on January 1, 2008