Marriam Mossalli, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2010-08-18 22:54

So what does that mean for Saudi Arabia? It means that these kids need a platform. As the overwhelming majority of the country, the youth has a voice and it needs to be heard. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “The youth should be given a chance to take an active part in decision-making at local, national and global levels.”
But how do we get the youth to harness their energy and imagination toward positive change when the country has failed to provide a stable outlet for them? Instead, we hear news of kids in Alkhobar looting and rioting. Boys in Jeddah and Riyadh cruising down their respective Tahliah streets with nothing better to do.
Things need to change. This past Thursday, Jeddah celebrated the initial steps and intentions of a generation that is determined to be identified as productive citizens for the betterment of their country, rather than aimless delinquents with raging hormones.
This Aug. 12 marked the 25th anniversary of the first International Year of Youth (IYY), established in 1985, as well as the first time Saudi Arabia was officially recognized as a participant.
The UN nonprofit event, which was held on International Youth Day, was celebrated in Lenôtre Café on Tahliah Street and was achieved thanks to the initiative taken by local company Fainak, the youth-oriented event planner, and its sponsors, Abbar Foods partners Friesland Campina Middle East (Rainbow) and Friesland Campina Cheese Specialties (FRICO).
The event included three panelists, two comedians — Thamer Faraj and Omar Ramzi, and an Arabic comedy troupe named the Creative Ambassadors. The event was bilingually presented and the audience just as diverse.
The panelists included Imran Hafiz — co-author of “The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook,” Maher Taher — the virtual matchmaker of, and Goodwill Ambassador Mohammed Bakhrieba.
In tune with the internationally designated theme of “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,” Hafiz spoke about how as an American Muslim during post-9/11 in Arizona subjected him to Islamophobic prejudice by his peers. He turned their ignorance into motivation to speak up and initiate understanding through educating non-Muslims about his faith. The result was a highly successful book that is currently offered in three additional versions — Canadian, Australian, and British.
Maha Taher found the audience very receptive to her newly launched concept, that helps Muslim youth in Jeddah find their significant other through a confidential, halal medium. “They were very accepting and open to new ideas,” she added. She felt the event encouraged, motivated and inspired young people to initiate positive action in our society. “It focused on the common aim to prosper and grow as a nation.”
Her presentation highlighted a more altruistic philosophy, rather than entrepreneurial; emphasizing the concept of donating time rather than money. Having met her husband through the social networking site of Facebook, Taher wanted to give back by providing the same service to Saudi’s diversified youth, who are both exposed to Western culture, yet hold traditional values. Taher is providing a medium for them that allows for the marriage of their contemporary mentality with their cultural and religious ethics.
Public Goodwill Ambassador Mohammed Bakhrieba highlighted his efforts to promote the ideals of peace, respect for human rights and freedom, and solidarity. Bakhrieba’s efforts are mainly focused on raising awareness about the prevalent diseases of TB and HIV, which he does with the help of medical university students across the Kingdom.
“The event was a great indication of just how open the youth here [Saudi] are to being engaged with the international community,” Bakhrieba said. “There’s a new trend among the youth toward positively contributing to their country, as can be seen through events such as these.”
Bakhrieba also spoke of the attainment of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), According to the IYY website, the MDGs “seek to slash a host of social ills, ranging from extreme poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015.”
The event ended with Fainak asking the audience to get into groups to brainstorm ideas on to increase water conservation awareness — Saudi happens to have the third highest consumption per capita in the world after the US (No. 1) and Canada (No. 2). They also showed a popular viral video, entitled “Street Terrorism,” that presents the shocking statistics of accidents and deaths in Saudi Arabia due to reckless driving.
“The group activity was educational and stimulating, but it just got a little chaotic. Anyway, all in all it was a great event and got me looking forward to more activities,” Ahmed Khalid said. “I loved the event, it was awesome. I learned a lot from it and all of the guests.”
Jasson Rañola praised the event for being, “…really cool. All the credit goes to the organizers. The panelists were inspiring and the comedians were funny.” His one critique was that he wished the time designated for the Q&A portion had been longer. Evidence that youth longs to be further engaged and interact. They have questions and want answers. They are determined to see change and are willing to dedicate themselves to fostering that progression.
Faisal Qureshi summed it up well: “Thank you Fainak for giving us such a wonderful, creative, informative and intellectually stimulating evening for a change to celebrate International Youth Day.”
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