By Gaelle Matar, Emeritus Senior Marketing and Communications Manager 

Endings often come with a sense of bitterness, but today, I want to focus on the beautiful things they bring. There’s something profound about endings, the way they compel us to reflect. As I close this chapter with Peace First as a Senior Marketing Manager, I find myself deeply immersed in reflection. It feels like my last three years are playing out like a movie in my mind, filling me with a sense of gratitude and warmth.

Today, I want to share some of the lessons Peace First has taught me—lessons that have deeply touched my heart and shaped who I am. These moments and memories have left a lasting impact on me, and I hope they resonate with you too

1. If It’s Scary, It’s Probably Worth It

The night before my first day at Peace First, I wrote in my journal about how scared I was to join an organization filled with high achievers. Reading the bios of the fellows in my cohort, I felt inspired yet intimidated, fearing I might not measure up. Now, three years later, as I reflect on my journey, I realize how each of those incredible individuals helped me learn, grow, and make mistakes without judgment. Despite my initial fears, my time here has been filled with growth, support, and valuable lessons.

This experience has shown me that opportunities for growth often hide behind fear. Three years ago, I never would have imagined completing my fellowship and stepping into roles that are so new and are far removed  from my comfort zone. I do not think that this fear will ever go away, and maybe it shouldn’t. I hope it serves as a constant reminder that on the other side of fear, growth is waiting.

2. Embrace Flexibility and Think Beyond Existing Processes

During my work as a fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Peace First, my task was to  design and deliver training for young people in a remote area in Lebanon. As excited as I was to be delivering my first training ever to the young people of my country that I cherished so deeply, I was faced with one challenge. Our training at Peace First almost always had an online element to them. We usually needed an internet connection or some digital tools to facilitate the training. Considering that I was delivering the training in a remote area in Lebanon that had little to no internet connection and sometimes even no electricity, I had to figure out ways to deliver the training offline.

With the help of my supportive team at Peace First, I designed a completely offline lab, using flip boards for demonstrations, cardboards, pens, and coloring pens for activities. The training turned out to be a complete success, with young people more engaged than ever. 

I learned from this experience that almost every aspect of life requires flexibility and adaptability. Life rarely turns out the way we want it, so dare to think bigger than the processes already in place. Allow yourself to be both bold and empathetic in your creativity. 

3. You will sometimes stand alone

During one of my training sessions in a refugee camp in Lebanon, I had the privilege of meeting a group of determined women entrepreneurs. Among them, one young woman stood out with her ambition, forward-thinking, and resilience. She had created an embroidery enterprise that celebrated her Palestinian culture, a small yet powerful reminder of her homeland while she was displaced.

In our conversation, she shared her journey with a mix of pride and sorrow. Despite her significant accomplishments and recognition as a female entrepreneur, her family refused to acknowledge her achievements. Their lack of acknowledgment and belief in her potential weighed a lot on her spirit.

This experience reminded me of  the invisible challenges that young people face and are often not talked about. It’s the challenge of tuning out the noise of discouragement from people, especially when it comes from those you hoped will always have your back. It also reminded me of the power that young people have in standing firm in their decisions even if it means standing alone. 

4. Your next big opportunity could be in the next person you meet— stop them and say hello!

The most transformative opportunities in my life have emerged from the people I’ve met. My journey with Peace First began unexpectedly, during a Youth Leadership Program delivered by a different organization . Initially, my focus was on winning a specific challenge within the program. However, that didn’t happen. Despite being disappointed in my loss, I met one of the speakers who happened to be involved with Peace First in the MENA region. Through our conversations, I discovered for the first time the impactful work being done at Peace First and was really encouraged to apply to their fellowship program. 

Though my initial attempt to secure a fellowship with Peace First didn’t succeed, I maintained contact with this fellow, seeking guidance for an initiative I was leading in Lebanon. Her insights and support led me to refine and enhance my project. The following year, I reapplied for the fellowship, and succeeded. 

After joining Peace First, one of my colleagues encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to study abroad. Thanks to their encouragement, I got  the chance to pursue my dream field of study in Public Health at one of the world’s most renowned universities, and experience life abroad.

What began as a simple pursuit to win a challenge in a leadership program ultimately turned out to be the catalyst for a series of life-changing events. From receiving a fellowship to advancing in my career to achieving my dream of obtaining a master’s degree from a prestigious university in London, I owe it all to these people I met. 

Reflecting on these experiences, I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I hadn’t stopped to say hello to these two people…

Leaving a place where I have felt such a strong sense of belonging is never easy. But as I step into the next chapter of my life, I carry with me the priceless lessons of adaptability, resilience, and the power of human connection. These are the gifts that Peace First has given me, and they will guide me in all my future beginnings, and help me embrace the beauty of this ending. 

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