Wednesday, 6 April 2011

“Social networking helped me realize my right to education.”

©Ayman Qwaider

Ayman Qwaider, a 24-year-old Palestinian student from Gaza, has led several parallel lives: student, teacher, humanitarian worker and blogger.

Ayman is currently an intern in UNESCO’s Education Sector, working with and learning about post-conflict post-disaster education as part of a Master’s degree in peace studies. “I believe in the importance of education for transforming societies and resolving conflicts,” he says. “I know this from experience.”

After completing his primary and secondary education in UNRWA schools, and graduating in 2008 from the English programme of the Islamic University of Gaza (Palestinian Authority), Ayman became first a teacher, then a humanitarian worker. “I was Child Welfare Programme Officer with a number of international NGOs,” he explains. “During this time Ayman started blogging about daily life in Gaza. His main ambition, however, was to travel abroad and pursue peace studies. The blog and his social network ultimately made that possible.

Ayman was interested in the International Master’s degree in Peace, Conflict and Development Studies (or “Peace Master”) which is one of the activities of the UNESCO Chair of Philosophy for Peace at the Jaume I University in Castellón, Spain. He applied for a scholarship financed by the Bancaja-Caja Castellón Foundation and was accepted for the session from February 2010 to May 2012.

With the help of a go-between – an Israeli friend he had met online, who benefited from greater mobility than he – Ayman obtained a Spanish student visa. Once his papers were in order, he booked a flight for 1 February 2010. However, like several hundred other scholarship students, he was prevented from leaving Gaza. The Master’s degree programme began without him.

Having tried and failed to get support from official channels (embassies, NGOs such as Amnesty International, even the European Parliament), he turned to social networking. The week before he was due to start his studies, Ayman posted an article on his blog called “I have a dream” recounting his difficulties with the Israeli authorities in trying to leave Gaza. “It was non-accusatory,” he explains”. I was just asking for the basic right to pursue an education.” He ended the article with the sentence: “I am appealing and calling lawyers, politicians, journalists and all activists for human rights to join the fight for me and my right to the education that I have always dreamed of.”

The response was overwhelming: Ayman’s online friends translated his appeal into English, Spanish, French, Catalan and Hebrew. It was picked up by bloggers everywhere. A Facebook campaign was launched and acquired 1000 followers while an online petition gathered almost 2000 signatures in the first week, many from Israel. Ayman had become a cause célèbre.

“Social networking helped me realize my right to education,” Ayman claims. Following the international mobilization Ayman finally received his permission to travel. He arrived in Spain one week late for class. At the Jaume I University, he is taking several courses on aspects of human rights education, peace education and conflict transformation. “It is a very healthy environment where I am also being educated in mulitculturality,” he says. “Thanks to these courses I have became more aware about different conflicts taking place around the world.” Ayman also shared first-hand experience with people who have lived in conflict situations. “It assured me that conflicts are the same everywhere, and that humanity is humanity wherever we are.”

Ayman recently visited Austria to study UN Peacekeeping. This was part of his Master’s degree, as is his current internship in UNESCO. He is frequently invited to give conferences and is now writing a project proposal targeting youth in Arab countries. The title? “How to use social networking to promote human rights education in the Arab world.”


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Skype with Gaza: A Story of Ahmed Qwaider

Ayman Qwaider
April 4th.

After recent bombings in my home the Gaza Strip, I finally had an opportunity to speak with my brother Ahmed, 23 years old on skype. The focus of our conversation was my brother's job search after "recent" graduation from his university in Gaza—The Islamic University.

Below are excerpts from our chat.

Ayman: Brother, what are you doing now?

Ahmed: I am waiting the exam from Government in order to get a job and I am fed up from situation in Gaza.

Ayman: Which government are you applying for and what is the nature of the job you might get?
Ahmed: I have applied for the government in Gaza because you are aware of our unfortunate situation: we are two governments under occupation. (I applied just) in case I will get accepted, though I am not hopeful. Because I will end up in front of office and not practice any of the skills I learned at University because Israel’s government still prevent all construction material to get to Gaza which makes it quite complicated to find a job in the field and to practice what I have leaned at University.

I was proud that my brother was striving to be employed, and wondered how he passes his time.

Ayman Qwaider: What are you doing nowadays?
Ahmed: I spend most of my time taking training and receiving courses; this how the Gaza graduated engineers end up in Gaza.

After a while, the conversation turned to the issues of violence that Gaza experiences daily. Having left Gaza 1 year ago myself, I rely heavily on information from family members such as my brother, to give me details of my home. Media sources are often inaccurate.

Ahmed relayed his experience during a receiving bombing and how it affected him personally.

Ayman Qwaider: How is the current situation in Gaza?
Ahmed: Insecure, deprived and no glace of hope at all. One day we feel hope and 10 days we are lost. I am not even able to think of the upcoming future. Dreams you are not allowed to have in Gaza. Almost every day, people of Gaza are exposed to the Gaza common theme, bombardment, cut off electricity, and blockade.

Ayman Qwaider: Has the Israeli army waged attacks recently?
Ahmed: Ayman, I want to tell you a joke; it sounds funny but it is ridicules.

Ayman Qwaider: Yes please share it; I miss jokes from Gaza.

Ahmed: Three days ago I was up at out home sleeping at my room. It was around 3 am and the power was off. I heard a sort of an Israeli F16 fighter jet but it was a bit far from us. Then I said to myself, let me back to my bed. AS soon as I got back to bed, a big voice of explosion took place somewhere close to us, but I had no idea where exactly. As you know, in my room there is a sort of big decorated star which is made of plaster hanged at the ceil. It felt down in the ground and I had the feeling that the rocket ended up in my room. It was super crazy and I was really terrified. I left my rood down to my family floor creaming when I felt that the attack is just close.

Ayman: How do you feel now?
Ahmed: Ayman, look, I have been passing though such hard week now. I was send to doctor to check my health situation after the attack. I am really suffering bad psychological situation now due to this attack. It was really massive and it walked up all people around. I do not know when this will come to an end?!

As a peacebuilder myself, I felt moved to say something encouraging. I tried to provide moral and emotional support to Ahmed in his times of trial. My own thoughts and feelings regarding the situation came out as well.

Ayman: Ahmed, I am extremely sorry but I really feel bad and I am powerless to change this. But you should keep in mind that any system of injustice will come to an end. I am sure of it exactly as I am talking to you right now. I am assuring you that justice and peace will prevail soon inshallah. And what people of Gaza expose to is really system of injustice. I really would like you to show more strength and patience, please. I am aware that the situation I tough but am sure that tomorrow will be better. Just take good care of yourself now and be strong. I do really not understand it at all, how human being is able to dehumanize human being like this. It is totally desperate situation and I really feel sorry of this Israeli solider how he is not forgetting all principals of humanity and just bomb. Ahmed, I do not know what to say, but keep dreaming of good future and tomorrow will be shine inshallah.

Ahmed explained that while he was hopeful, the violence affected his will to stay in Gaza, his job-seeking resolve, and his motivation to work for the government.

Ahmed: Shukran (thank you) for the support and every day I pray that this will come to an end and people of Gaza would have a normal secured life like you now in Paris. I am really worried about our young siblings and the kinds in Gaza as well. Imagine, if this happened to be and I was supper terrified, what about young kids? I am really hoping of good future and this system of dehumanizing human being will end up soon.

Ahmed: I am thinking seriously to pursue my post-graduate studies, please in case you come cross any opportunity, let keep me posed.

Ayman: I could imagine how children feel in Gaza. I worked with them in Gaza and I experienced really profound problems which children suffer from such harsh situation. Children should never be part of any conflict and they should entitle for their childhood rights with health and secured environment. This is how I have been tough in my master about human rights. I will let you know in case I come cross any opportunity for post-graduate studies.

Ayman: Now, are you that motivated to join the government and to start working in case you get accepted?

Ahmed: Ayman look, I am not that motivated as you expect, but we have no choice in Gaza expect join the government and working at office. I just explained to you. And you know the situation in Gaza, so many times, employers got killed in a governmental building, people killed with no reason whatsoever. I really do not want to end up my life quite recent. The story is quite easy: they come up with the F16th fighter jet and then bomb the building and then you become breaking news just in Gaza. This is how many governmental workers life ended up.

Ayman: You are totally right Ahmed and I could imagine how you could feel whilst working in unsecured office hearing bombardment from time to another. Sometimes, they just call for evacuation for these governmental building as soon as they hear F16 jet flying in the skies. It is really despite and I am really sorry brother.

We ended the 30-minute conversation discussing our own family. I learned of my siblings and what they were doing, and my parents. I do not know when I will get a chance to speak with or see Ahmed again; I only hope that he, and the rest of my family, is safe, and that the atrocities come to an end with peace in the Middle East.