PeaceGeeks: Shedding light on extremism

| December 29, 2018 | 0 Comments
Anwar al Shwabkeh, an artist in residence with the PeaceGeeks Meshkat Community project, works on her film in Jordan.  (Photo: peacegeeks)

Anwar al Shwabkeh, an artist in residence with the PeaceGeeks Meshkat Community project, works on her film in Jordan. (Photo: peacegeeks)

My colleague Ahmad Al Zghoul and I arrived at the National Arab Youth Alliance offices 90 minutes before our workshop started. We arrived early to prepare and were surprised when 16-year-old Elias Al Terawi — one of the workshop participants — arrived, sporting a broad smile. Surprised by Elias’ enthusiasm and early arrival, we greeted him and he told us why he was early.
“I left my house at 5 a.m. and walked here since there was no bus that would come early enough for me to make the start of the workshop,” he told us. “I did not want to miss any part of it.”
Meshkat, in Arabic, is the ancient nook in the wall of a home where people placed their lanterns. As lanterns could not be left hanging freely inside the house, due to the risk of being overturned and causing a fire, they were placed in this custom nook so families could safely enjoy their light.
Currently, in Jordan, the Meshkat Community is a project run by PeaceGeeks, a Vancouver-based non-profit. The project received $1.15 million from the Canadian government to run its programs for three years (2017 – 2020). This project aims to embrace and incubate the light and energy of youth, providing them with a path away from the fire of extremism killing their communities and loved ones.
Meshkat promotes peace, moderation, tolerance and acceptance through a number of programs and activities. Using digital content, it offers Jordanian youth alternative story lines and creates and fosters places for dialogue.
These stories highlight and showcase the world as it should be — a place of harmony in which people respect each other and accept difference and diversity as strengths rather than as causes for discrimination and bullying.
Elias, the boy with the boundless smile, is a member of the Digital Peace Youth Network (DPYN), which seeks to empower youth in Zarqa’ governorate, a densely populated and diverse region of Jordan, one that is threatened by poverty, especially among youth. With limited hope for the future, many young people risk being drawn into extremism.
By contrast, the network that Elias is a part of strives to provide youth with skills and tools in digital technology to help them earn money. It supports them in creating digital content to help them produce and share alternative story lines to the bleak ones surrounding them.
When I asked Elias about his experiences at the Digital Peace Youth Network, he said he learned never to judge others, as all people are special in their own way.
The Meshkat program also offers other services. One artist-in-residence with the program, who didn’t want to share his name, said mentorship was his main reason for participating.
The artist-in-residence program engages artists working in areas such as filmmaking, blogging and photography. Meshkat supports and contributes to the production of art that addresses critical community challenges and highlights invisible stories of cohesion, tolerance and acceptance. The artists themselves contribute to other Meshkat programming and play a mentorship role to the youth of the Digital Peace Youth Network.
“Had I found someone who would guide and support me as a young person, I would have had a much better life,” the artist said.
Most Meshkat programs and associated activities run year-round, but the Peace Awards Grants — Meshkat’s third principal program — runs once a year. These awards represent an opportunity to identify, celebrate and support outstanding artists who contribute to a unique and compelling vision of the world.
Award winners — judged by a jury of Jordanian community leaders — are given grants to work with Meshkat to develop their existing work or create new work in alternative narratives.
On an ongoing basis, Meshkat runs digital content creation workshops for all segments of Jordanian society, regardless of experience or skill. Participants learn photography, filmmaking, editing, script writing and skills in digital technology. At the end of each workshop, each participant produces what is often his or her first piece of digital content — complete with a compelling social message.
The Jordanian community has been eager for a chance to work with the program. In only its first year of operation, Meshkat has engaged more than 40 youth in the peace network, recruited 16 artists-in-residence and peace awards grantees, and received more than 100 participants in the digital content creation workshops.
The Meshkat Community is starting its second year with plans to organize another round of all programming. It is considering a peace retreat, YouTube series and further community collaboration.
Remembering Elias and his smile, I’m even more excited and motivated for the days ahead. His words confirmed that we’re moving in the right direction — a hole in the wall to embrace the light of Jordanian youth.

Tasneem Ma’abreh is a digital engagement officer for PeaceGeeks in Jordan.

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Tasneem Ma’abreh is a digital engagement officer for PeaceGeeks in Jordan.

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