When I first joined Mideast Youth last year, I only knew the founder, Esra’a Al Shafei, through our work-related exchanges online. I had been recruited to blog for the main site and its two sister blogs, KurdishRights.org and BahaiRights.org. I’d become disillusioned with mainstream journalism, and Mideast Youth gave me the opportunity to use my writing skills to support causes I care about.
As I got to know Esra’a, I discovered not only a mentor but also an incredible role model. She founded Mideast Youth in 2006 in Bahrain, where she lives. Since then, the organization has expanded to include nine different platforms, each designed to project voices of social change across the globe. Among them is Migrant Rights, an advocacy group for migrant workers in the Middle East who suffer under crippling working conditions. Esra’a also created Ahwaa, which is a biligual social media site for LGBT youth in the Arab world, and Mideast Tunes, a platform for musicians in the Middle East who face censorship and persecution.
Mideast Youth not only amplifies marginalized voices, it also casts a critical eye on repressive governments and systems. Because Mideast Youth is based in Bahrain, Esra’a puts her own security at risk to publish voices of dissent. Mideast Youth’s current project, CrowdVoice, culls information about social movements from around the Web to build comprehensive chronologies of events. It’s an innovative tool that helps observers make sense of rapidly developing news stories.
During the revolutions that swept across the Middle East in 2011, social media and the internet were powerful instruments for young activists seeking to galvanize support and mobilize crowds. Technology can be an implement of social change, but not on its own. It takes visionary direction and tenacity like Esra’a’s to create the kind of transformational tools capable of inspiring communities and fomenting change.
Tasbeeh Herwees is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to GOOD.
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