By Yousra Mshmsh, Regional Manager for MENA, Peace First

“Salam” is the word used the most in my region; it’s our hello and goodbye, our greeting and farewell. This word that means Peace conquers the dialect of a region that hasn’t seen a peaceful day before. My name is Yousra Mshmsh, and I come from a Middle Eastern country where young people redefine Peace every day.

I grew up in the small warm Jordan, a country at the heart of the MENA region famous for our magical Petra and delicious Mansaf, with Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine as our neighbours; countries that have ancient cultures, unique people, and rich history. Unfortunately, that’s not what came to your mind when reading their names, it’s the conflicts, financial crises, and the lack of resources that you will think of, which are things that we didn’t choose nor control. If you ever visit our region, however, you will notice that all the people have something in common regardless of where they come from. We all try to create our own peaceful and well-connected spaces where everyone feels welcomed, supported, and protected. We are aiming to create the peace we deserve.

My journey of finding peace started very early at my small art workshop, where I wanted to express messages I couldn’t say while giving colours to a grey reality. I spoke about freedom, equality, and humanity without saying a word; this was my language that wasn’t heard. It was felt. And since I believe that everything starts with a feeling, I started volunteering to teach refugees arts to support them to speak up about what they believe and need, and that’s when my community-building journey started, from a small room with kids and lots of colours to multiple social campaigns with hundreds of beneficiaries and one mission; speaking up. That volunteering role showed me peace isn’t merely the absence of war or conflict. Peace can be found in the beauty of giving a kid a new skill, supporting a student in completing their education or mentoring a startup. Peace is the absence of disturbances that stop us from living the life we deserve. By overcoming poverty, discrimination, inequality, and other injustices, we will be one step closer to what we desire.

That’s what we do at Peace First. Since I joined the team as the Regional Manager for MENA in 2019, we have been supporting young people in overcoming what sits between them and the peaceful communities they aim for. Our work showed me how the right support can change lives, how one grant can move mountains, and how you are never too young to make an impact. I saw that with Qais from Jordan, who worked to provide young girls with safe spaces to peacefully practice sports in an area where a girl is stigmatized for riding a bicycle. I saw that with Ahmed from Alexandria, who uses the theatre to create cultural awareness and unity through shows acted by refugees from Sudan, Yemen, and Syria who are living together in Egypt. I got to see it with Khadeja from Tripoli, who is conducting open days for kids in Palestinian camps in Lebanon, helping them remember that childhood can still be lived while in a war camp. I had the chance to witness real change with Nidal from Gaza, who was teaching youth how to build their social startups at a time when bombs were destroying everything else around them in Palestine. My role showed me how Young people have the passion, desire, and motivation to create change but need the support, guidance, and resources to move forward. And this is how young people redefine Peace every day, Salam.