AMENDS: 5 days at Stanford University

I was at Stanford University from the 13th till the 17th of April for the AMENDS (American Middle East Network for Dialogue at Stanford) Summit, where I met some of the most amazing people in the world. We were all so different but we all had one thing in common: we are all humans. Our humanity and our passion about making our world better is what brought us together.

AMENDS is a student initiative at Stanford University that brings together the most promising youth change agents from across the Middle East, North Africa, and United States to learn from each other, connect with global leaders and resources, and share, through TED style talks, their ideas and experiences with the world. Sponsored by the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law

The participants came from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Israel, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, and the USA. It was all overwhelming and I was actually a bit scared at first but the AMENDS team created a safe zone for all of us through very innovative icebreaker activities.  We introduced our names accompanied by a dance, which I found to be a bit crazy but it worked better than many icebreakers I have gone through!

We enjoyed a dynamic a discussion on the events of the Arab Spring with Dr Leena Al-Khateeb. I enjoyed the discussion because it helped me learn a great deal about the other countries who are undergoing revolution. It is truly inspiring and genuine to listen to people’s stories and really ‘see’ their perspective; much more so than to see it secondhand from the media.

The media mostly conveys only the negatives of the situation in the MENA region – but listening to everyone’s stories at the summit that day, hope was re-born in my heart.

We also attended a talk from Dr. Larry Diamond about which I had some reservations.. While the talk was interesting, to some extent Diamond made me feel as if he was telling me about my country. I would have appreciated it more if he would have talked about the Arab Spring countries with a little more sentiment and, crucially, if we the citizens of those countries were given a chance to engage more – as we only had the opportunity for a few minutes of questions.

We are also given the chance to attend a TechWadi Fundraising workshop, which I found to be very innovative and really help us as social entrepreneurs. They focused on how we can be creative in our work and how we can fundraise for our projects. What I have yet to discover on which they also emphasized is making a profit from projects. I am very skeptical about this concept of making profit from the work I am doing but listening to what the speakers have achieved was inspirational.

AMENDS crazy

We all have something to offer, we have different experiences and the best part of summits like AMENDS is that I could be a student and an educator at the same time. Sharing is the best way to learn because we can only change the world by working together.

Being at the summit affirmed my belief in speaking out and standing in the face of injustice. It proved to me that we can work together despite our difference.

I do my best to fight for women’s rights in Egypt ,but such a fight is accompanied with endless stories of women being somehow violated and this is very depressing, not to mention threatening. Sometimes I feel demotivated to even get out of bed in the morning. I’m often asked how I’m able to do all this and still be able to smile. The answer is very simple: it is because of YOU. Every person who has smiled at me, sent me a message me with words of encouragement or even just hugged me without saying a word – all of this makes me feel I am not alone and gives me the strength to continue.

I have realized it is not only about women, it’s about all of us as humans. We are all interconnected; our fights, our struggles, our passion, our creativity, our love. We stand together for freedom, we stand together defending each other’s free will and the best part is that we are having so much fun doing so.

We all came in with a dream and we left knowing it is possible to realize it and make it happen.

Last week I fell in love. I fell in love with more than 40 people.  I fell for people who can fly up to the heavens and back, people who walk tall and proud of who they are.

We may seem ordinary from the outside but we are capable of extraordinary things.

A special thanks goes to the AMENDS team for being so awesome in making our experience worthwhile.

At the end please take a quick look at the next world leaders http://www.stanford.edu/group/amends/cgi-bin/

Written by Nihal Saad Zaghloul


Edited by Yasmin Ghrawi and Naureen Shameem

Photo by Al-Nasir Bellah I. Al-Nasiry

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