As a 21-year-old university student, working to support refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria has been quite a challenge -- especially from Lebanon, a country itself drastically affected by the conflict in Syria. The UN estimates that around half a million Syrians reside in Lebanon because of the conflict back home. My own estimate is much higher.
A friend and I set up the Hand in Hand Project for Displaced Syrians to aid in the well-being of the displaced by supplying them with food, powdered milk, blankets and diapers. We set up this project via the American University of Beirut's civic engagement center. As full-time university students, we juggle our time around to push our project further. We rely mainly on volunteers, several donors and our own fundraising campaigns to finance our activities.
To advance our Syrian project further, I applied to the UNAOC-EF Summer School between the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and EF Education First in Tarrytown, N.Y. The program aims to empower youth leaders from all over the world and promote their work, output and impact. Thankfully, I was among the selected applicants and I've just completed my program. The program itself has been life changing and promising. I have shared my personal and professional experiences in Syria with 99 other youth leaders from around the world. It has provided me with a new perspective, a more innovative way to solve challenges and an amazing global network of influential life changers -- all of whom are rising up in their own countries.
However, my experience traveling to New York during this past week was bittersweet. Hearing about possible U.S. intervention against your own country while visiting the U.S. is not very pleasant, but instead, very worrying. For many Syrians back home, this action could fundamentally affect their livelihoods and further shape the conflict in Syria. The fact is no one knows what the consequences of a U.S. led intervention -- regardless of any coalition support -- might be. Yet here in the U.S., it seems to be more about the Obama administration's credibility and the red line that permitted the use of conventional weapons, but prohibited the use chemical weapons. This is not to suggest intervention is either right or wrong, but rather to highlight the sad fact that it did not matter that humans were killed, but rather how humans were killed.
With the UNAOC-EF Summer School program, we visited the United Nations headquarters in New York City -- something I've always dreamed of doing -- yet I have to admit that I felt really helpless being in the proximity of the Security Council while discussions were being held on Syria, as the Council remains paralyzed.
Even among my peers in the program, it was something they just heard on the news, maybe watched on TV or heard on the radio. I truly felt like I was in another world -- far from the suffering my people were enduring in Syria yet still carrying the painful burden of uncertainty with every new development in the news. While visiting New York City, I tried to forget what was happening in my country, but even the news feeds in Times Square would remind me. I guess many Syrians abroad try to numb themselves from what's going on back home, because whether we like it or not, life goes on.
Nevertheless, being surrounded by so many other young leaders who have also experienced conflict in their countries was eye-opening.
I have realized that conflict is taking place around the world -- whether it is in the Congo or the Korean Peninsula. Sectarianism is occurring in Northern Ireland and not just the Middle East. Even many Central Asian countries have their own dysfunctional and authoritarian governments. The really important part is that the young leaders I met from these countries are actually doing something about their situation. Jill from Northern Ireland is holding reconciliation talks between various factions in her homeland. Dina from Kazakhstan is promoting free speech for her people. And these are just a couple stories. Many other amazing people here in the Summer School have exchanged ideas and experiences, and since we have similar problems of conflict in our countries, we have shared our solutions to those problems as well.
Although it has been very challenging waking up on U.S. soil this past week while the newspapers and political leaders debated military action in my home country, I know that the UNAOC-EF Summer School's primary goal was to bring young global citizens together to strive for a better tomorrow and tearful words will not achieve that. I now have new tools, methods and most importantly, a strong global network of the best and brightest from all over the world. This network will hopefully pave the way for a brighter future for countries working together - and potentially prevent more conflicts like the one in Syria from ever happening again.