Saudi Youth Points The Way for Arab Civil Society
When we read or watch news about the Middle East and North Africa what we hear are politicians gathering to talk about the economy, employment rates or education; or an analyst breaking down headline news stories. What we don’t usually hear about are youth coming together hand-in-hand – regardless of their differences, their doctrines and their upbringing – to create a better world to live in, one city or one home at a time. These stories deserve to be heard and can serve as a powerful reality check, dispelling popular stereotypes about a country, a culture or a religion.
The Young Initiative Group (YIG) is new in Saudi Arabia, founded in 2010 with the aim of bringing together volunteers in Saudi Arabia to work together for positive change in their society. YIG encourages individuals to volunteer their time and skills to benefit the society they live in.
Many YIG initiatives began in the basements, garages and homes of founders and volunteers, where people came together to consolidate their efforts and donations (supplies, food, furniture, kitchen equipment, health supplies, etc.) to help those in need.
It is especially in times of devastation when the goodness in people really shows. For example, when Jeddah was hit severely by flooding, many people sought help to rebuild their homes. YIG volunteers gathered in the Al-Harithy Exhibition Center in Jeddah to reach out to private companies and individuals to donate food, supplies, cleaning products and other key items.
Doctors, students, bankers, experts and children reached out to over 2,000 people daily. Men and women worked together to help those who were in need. The official campaign ran for a week, but even after the centre closed volunteer efforts continued, distributing appliances – such as air conditioning units during the summer heat, refrigerates, stoves, etc. – to families in need.
Refreshing stories such as this one need to be highlighted.
Filling the gap for this type of news, the online platform 1001 Stories of Common Ground, provided a space for me to post pictures showing these youth working together as a way to tell their story. 1001 Stories of Common Ground is an online initiative created by the international non-profit conflict transformation organisation Search for Common Ground, but the stories are driven by its members.
It provides an opportunity to share constructive stories of change in the Middle East and North Africa as an innovative way to reinterpret the renowned One Thousand and One Nights, bringing people together who believe that positive change in the world starts with sharing positive stories and perspectives at the interpersonal level.
To help further its goal of highlighting positive stories, the website is currently running a competition for the best original photos, videos and articles that showcase different groups working together for a shared goal. These stories of positive change are seldom mentioned in the media. However no act of kindness or positive thinking should ever be underestimated. No matter how small, it’s never wasted.
The youth generation is today’s catalyst for positive change. Society can thrive only when its members share their knowledge, wealth, and advice with one another – when we are working together to build a better place for us, our children, our families and our friends to live.
The youth of the Middle East are already participating in the awakening of civil society, embracing their civic duty and encouraging one another. These initiatives should be highlighted, not only as encouragement to others, but also to show the world the real image of Arab youth, women and men, active citizens creating positive change in their society.
Lulua Asaad is a Saudi national based in Austria who has worked at the IAEA and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization