On March 27, 2015 a group of 12 young citizen journalists from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) met at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Four Israelis, four Palestinians and four from wider region (Tunisia, Morocco and Sudan) – selected because of their commitment and excellent performance in the 4-month online training of YaLa Academy’s Citizen Journalism program – gathered for a unique two-day workshop of learning, engaging and sharing. Through customized, interactive sessions, they enhanced their writing and storytelling skills, engaged in creativity exercises and built long-lasting friendships they will use in their online activism work within the YaLa Young Leaders movement and in their communities and countries.
The 2nd year of the MENA Leaders for Change (link) program concluded in October 2014 with a final conference in the Dead Sea, Jordan, where 70 of the top participants from the two semesters of the 2014 program met for 3 days. Participants from Israel, Palestine, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen came together to foster strong personal connections, prepare and facilitate work on the cross-border projects, and boost involvement in YaLa.
The event marked the culmination of the year-long online leadership and innovation training program of YaLa Academy’s MENA Leaders for Change program, supported by the U.S. Department of State, which involved 200 youth from across the region, following the model piloted last year for 150 students. The conference was opened by Michele Dastin-van Rijn, Cultural Attaché, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv, Richard Buangan, Chief of Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy, U.S. Consulate General Jerusalem, and representatives from the two organizations that co-founded the YaLa Young Leaders movement: the Peres Center for Peace and YaLa Palestine. Among the 7-member delegation of the U.S. Government in attendance at the conference was Laura Blumenfeld, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations.
The Conference was overwhelmingly successful, with high participant involvement and motivation, and opened the door for a new chapter in YaLa, with exceedingly talented and motivated young leaders. Over the next year, students will continue to advance their initiatives and will enroll in other programs of the YaLa Academy to continue to develop their skills for leading their region towards a better, more peaceful future.
The 1st Dead Sea Conference for the students of the MENA Leaders for Change (MLC) program of the YaLa Online Academy took place between the 4th and 6th of October 2013 on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. The US State Department-sponsored conference was organized in cooperation with Search for Common Ground and focused on models of cooperation for promoting peace, social equity and economic development in the Middle East—the very principles upon which the Facebook-based YaLa movement was founded.
The culmination of the first year of the MLC program – which brought together 150 young Israelis, Palestinians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Sudanese, Libyans, Iraqis, Algerians and Lebanese to learn innovative conflict management techniques online – the top 110 students took part in the conference. This formidable network of young change-makers stands ready to foster dialogue, cooperation, peace and change across the Middle East and during the conference discussed how to do so.