** UPDATE: The Nawaya Network documentary has just been released online. Check it out here! Congratulations from everyone at ScoopCity! **
There is a new NGO in town dedicated to helping talented or promising youth around Lebanon: The Nawaya Network
The Nawaya Network is an online platform that connects talented, ambitious underprivileged youth with anyone willing to help. The word ‘Nawaya’, meaning ‘intentions’ in Arabic, was chosen to reflect both aspects of the NGO. It is about the intentions of the donors, mentors and participants to help as well as the future intentions of the youth in question. We all have hopes and dreams, connections and skills.
Their website will allow almost anyone to help – it isn’t only about funding the projects, but about connections, volunteering and giving some of your free time to mentor; we can all get involved. Even now, although it is still under construction, you can visit their website to view the trailer of the documentary, and donate should you wish to do so!
The Nawaya Network had a very successful pre-launch event on the 8th of March at AUB, raising almost $9,000 in just two hours. Other than accepting donations for this young NGO, the event introduced the work of The Nawaya Network and explained, through a film, the importance that is has on the youth of today as well as our society as a whole. The next steps for this fascinating NGO will be the public launch of the 30 minute film showcased during the event.
ScoopCity met up with Zeina Saab, founder of The Nawaya Network, to understand a bit more about this interesting concept and how we can get involved.
What is ‘The Nawaya Network’ about?
This new non-profit organization is all about re-directing resources to promising underprivileged youth in Lebanon who have a certain talent or passion but who lack the necessary resources to build their skills in that area.
We are attempting to raise awareness about the wasted, hidden potential amongst the poor, and to get people to think about them differently. They can be incredible assets, but many people tend to dismiss them as being unproductive and in some cases, disruptive members of society.
But the fact is, poverty and deprivation can cause enormous frustration amongst youth - and this can lead to increased cases of crime, violence, and drug use. Who could these people have become had they had better opportunities? Perhaps they could have become artists, musicians, designers, athletes, even leaders - individuals we would be proud of and whom we would look up to.
Think of what we, as a society, are missing out on by depriving them of these opportunities.
Tell me a little bit about the process.
We are working on solidifying our partnerships with a number of NGOs around Lebanon that already work with underprivileged youth. A partner NGO may identify a few youths it feels would benefit from our support.
At that point, we will meet with the youth, the parents, as well as the NGO in order to assess and identify the specific resources needed. It might be a class/workshop, a piece of equipment, or a mentor.
There is no general "formula" for the youth; we take each as an individual, unique case and make sure that the youth's needs are properly addressed. Once youth enter our network, they stay with us as long as they want to ensure sustainability, as long as they remain committed and passionate about the skill they are developing.
We will even assist youth in finding internships, employment or income-generating opportunities if we feel their skills are strong enough.
Who can become a mentor?
Mentors can be 18 years or older, who have a background in any creative or athletic area (such as art, music, dance, football, etc) and who would like to help an underprivileged youth build his/her skills in that area. One major requirement is that they must be committed to mentoring this youth for at least 4 hours/month for a period of at least 6 months; however, ideally, it should last one year.
Mentors apply by filling out an application online (once the website is launched later this year). We will request letters of recommendation from teachers, professors or employers in order to assist us with a background check.
After this initial process, we will invite the applicant in for an interview. If we feel the mentor has the right characteristics to be a good mentor/role model, we will arrange an orientation and training session where mentors will learn everything they need to know before being matched with a mentee.
What inspired you to create this type of NGO? (Especially in a country with so much else to work on).
In 2009, while I was a consultant on a project in the Bekaa, I met a 13-year-old girl in one of the villages who showed me several beautiful gowns she had drawn. I was stunned. I began to think, what could become of her if she just had access to a fashion designer who could help develop her skills?
Shortly after, I saw a teenage boy from Tripoli rapping about the conditions in his neighborhood, and I realized that if he just had the right connections, he could make it far as a rapper. I soon met others like them, and began to realize how much hidden potential there is in poor areas. It was then that I got my idea to start an NGO to connect promising youth to resources to help them realize their full potential.
Many people may question why this NGO focuses on building the creative and athletic skills of underprivileged youth, and not on other more "urgent" matters. The fact is - this is one of the most urgent issues that Lebanon is facing.
If we think of all the times Lebanon has been on the brink of another civil war simply because of young men causing trouble and stirring sectarian problems on the streets, then we need to think of why they are out there to begin with. Maybe they are bored? Frustrated? Brainwashed? Naturally prone to violence because of no role model? Have nothing to lose?
And so, I began thinking, how about we offer at-risk youth a chance to engage in their own individual passions and interests? By doing this, they would develop goals and ambitions to work towards - thus keeping them focused on building valuable skills which they can even use for income-generation in the future, rather than cause trouble on the streets and risk wasting their lives (or even destroying the lives of others). In this way, we would also be teaching them about responsibility, communication, self-respect, tolerance, and good citizenship.
Do you have a background in this field?
My Bachelors and Masters degrees both focused on International Development - which included poverty, conflict, and youth empowerment. I spent a few years consulting for the UN and USAID where my work focused entirely on youth issues, and where I learned so much about the impact of poverty on the lives of youth. It was during this period that I began to think of new ways to engage and empower at-risk youth. I've done a lot of research over the past year while I've been setting up this NGO, but of course I still have a lot to learn!
How long has The Nawaya Network been in action?
The Nawaya Network began its pilot project in July 2011 with four underprivileged Lebanese and Palestinian youth. It was a very successful project (and is actually still ongoing). You can see our two-minute trailer here for an idea of what we've accomplished, or watch the full film here!
Since the NGO will operate largely online using an interactive online platform, we haven't officially launched yet. However, we do plan on slowly expanding over the next few months to reach more youth up until our website is launched towards the end of this year.
How can people help?
There are many ways people can get involved:
If you're 16 or older, we'd love to have you as a volunteer helping to identify promising underprivileged youth; we are also looking for volunteers available to photograph the youth, film them, or even write about their stories and experiences.
If you're 18 or older, you can sign up to become a mentor who meets with a youth for 4 hours/month for a period of 6-12 months (or more!).
If you work at an NGO for underprivileged youth, we can partner up by working together with youth in your community.
If you work at an art, dance, or music studio, a sports club, or any other place that offers classes/workshops for youth, we can partner up to reach out to underprivileged youth.
If your business, company, or institution would like to support our work, we are looking for sponsors to help us get started!
What type of youth do you work with?
Underprivileged youth can come from poor or marginalized villages or towns in Lebanon, where opportunities and resources to pursue their passions are very limited. In addition, youth living in the cities who have families struggling financially to provide for them also qualify to enter our network.
We work with promising youth under the age of 30 who come from all religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities - no one is excluded. This means that besides Lebanese youth, we work with Palestinian, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees, in addition to the children of domestic workers who may come from the Philippines, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and other countries.
We will also aim to work with street kids, although this may be a little more complicated due to the nature of their work.
Where do you get your funding from?
At this point, we have begun fundraising online (http://www.gofundme.com/The-Nawaya-Network) as well as through events such as silent auctions. We hope to hold more fundraising events throughout the next several months, including talent shows as well as an exhibit featuring the art work of one of our youth. However, we are also hoping to receive substantial funding through the support of local companies and banks to help us get started.
To get more information on this unique NGO, make sure to check out their Facebook page and their website. We can all give a little back to our society whether it's in the form of money, time or just caring enough to tutor. Together we can give these youth a brighter future.
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