Al-Hewar Center and Academy for Educational Development Host Special Evening: 
Arab Youth: Positive Contributors To Their Countries’ Development

On January 29 at AED before an audience of Arabs, Arab-Americans and others with an interest in the Arab world, the founders of Voice of Arab Youth shared their dream - a world where Arab youth, working with their families and communities, can show they have a positive role to play in shaping their countries’ future. AED wants to help them realize that dream.

During a two-hour presentation and conversation moderated by Mounzer Sleiman and sponsored by the Al-Hewar Center, three of the project’s creators answered questions about the community development and youth empowerment initiative and received feedback from the Arab-American community. The young founders of Voice of Arab Youth are Fadi ElSalameen, a Palestinian student; Maryah Bader Al-Dafa, a Qatari student; Gregory Valadié, a French professional who lived in the Middle East; and Sandy MacDonald, an experienced cultural exchange professional. Furthermore, also present to reinforce the expertise and strength of the conversation, were May Rihani, directing the Middle East Initiative at AED, and Bill Smith, Executive Vice President of AED.

Voice of Arab Youth is not another exchange or training program, but a chance to show what young Arabs can do in the real world. Each year the program, which is seeking funding, will select 200 young Arabs (18-25) from throughout the region to gather for two months in the Middle East to create specific community development projects. Participants will identify sponsoring organizations in their own countries and then return with small grants to carry out their projects under the guidance of their families and communities.

“Volunteering is a very important concept through which Arab youth could translate the ethics and values of our culture,” said Dr. Hussein Hassouna, Ambassador of the League of Arab States, in a letter read during the presentation.

The projects will range from micro-enterprise to the promotion of girls education and the development of health projects. The ideas will come from the participants and their families. But they will be forged with the help of experienced adults committed to youth development.

As many as 40 of the 200 participants will be given the chance to come to the U.S. as legislative interns across the country. Part of AED’s responsibility will be to prepare these young people to perform as top-notch interns with the skills needed for these positions.

The initiative also received the support of Ambassador Nabil Fahmy of Egypt. The Arab world and the U.S. need more of these types of efforts “with a view to enhancing mutual understanding and respect as well as overcoming sources of mistrust and misperception between both parties,” he said in written remarks prepared for the event.

Holding the whole project together will be the World Wide Web and regular phone contact. All the participants will keep in touch weekly and share stories of challenges and successes through an AED-moderated chat room.

AED understands these are very complex issues. But after decades of experience in the Middle East and youth development around the world, we believe these four students and young professionals have the right idea about helping Arab youth make a difference in their communities.

For more information contact: Gregory Valadié at the AED at 202-884-8602 or email  

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