Community Histories by Youth in the Middle East

Program Overview 2000-2004

Community Histories by Youth in the Middle East (CHYME) was a project that engaged Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian professionals who work with youth in enhancing communication among young people from their three communities. CHYME used oral history and story-telling practices to build capacities for listening, communicating, and understanding among those who work with young people in the Middle East, and in turn, among the youth themselves.

CHYME was a collaboration among four partner institutions: Givat Haviva (Israel), Masar (Jordan), the Palestinian House of Friendship (Palestine), and Brandeis University. At Brandeis, the project was hosted and facilitated by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence (Slifka Program), and the Heller School’s Center for Youth and Communities (CYC).

The project began with a proposal submitted in the summer of 2000. It was funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State, with additional support from Morton Meyerson and the Meyerson Family Tzedekah Funds. The project concluded in June 2004, but its network of practitioners remains active.

The principal products of CHYME are a series of “digital stories,” on-line narratives that describe the lives and communities of Palestinian, Israeli, and Jordanian youth and youth workers. These stories, which were put together with the help of Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be accessed through the link at the right. 

Below is a brief narrative of the principal events in CHYME. For a detailed account of the history of the program, its goals and assumptions, and an evaluation of its achievements, please download the final report (at right), written by Christopher Kingsley of the Heller School at Brandeis University.

By working together to address issues that face youth in Jewish and Arab communities, the CHYME participants demonstrated a 21st century approach to leadership that was regional rather than national or sectarian, and in doing so they have served as models for the teenagers with whom they work.

Fall 2001 Institute

chyme groupThe project began in October 2001 with an institute at Brandeis in which two delegates from each partner organization came together to build relationships, explore key issues of the conflict, and lay the plans for a year-long project that would have an impact on youth in the Middle East and be feasible in the midst of the evolving crisis there. Dialogue and oral history sessions, facilitated by Cynthia Cohen of Brandeis’ Slifka Program and Farhat Agbaria of Givat Haviva, allowed the participants to build relationships with each other, hear each other’s personal stories, and practice skills and methodologies that they could bring back home and teach to the youth with whom they work.
During this institute, the participants engaged in a detailed, intensive planning process for the unfolding of the entire project. Facilitated by Chris Kingsley and Pam Smith of CYC, this process asked the participants to outline goals, desired outcomes, target populations, methods, timelines, and other specifics of the project. After many hours of brainstorms and impassioned discussions, the participants collectively developed a model for the project that everyone in the group supported.

The model chosen for the year-long project centered around a multi-media process called "digital stories," developed by the Center for Digital Storytelling in California and used extensively by Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) here in Massachusetts. Digital stories are 3-5 minute personal narratives that bring story, music, and images together through a user-friendly digital editing technology. During the October 2001 institute, CCTV led a half-day orientation to the digital story-making process for the CHYME participants. The participants were excited by the power of this medium and its usefulness in helping youth communicate with each other even when they cannot travel to one another’s homes. The delegations decided to return to the Middle East, to recruit more “youth leaders,” and to have each youth leader work with a group of youth on telling the stories of their communities, which would ultimately be produced as digital stories.

Between Institutes

Between fall 2001 and fall 2002, the partner organizations worked to recruit more youth leaders, to engage groups of youth in telling the stories of their communities, and to prepare materials for producing digital stories.

During this time, the situation in the Middle East continued to deteriorate. All of the partners had to overcome barriers to making this project succeed. In the climate of fear and violence, it was difficult to recruit youth leaders and youth and to feel that the project had support within communities. The Palestinian House of Friendship in Nablus experienced extreme challenges during this time, as the city was under curfew for much of the year and the office itself was partially destroyed during a siege by the Israel Defense Forces. Throughout the year, Brandeis served as a communications hub for the three partners, supporting them to move forward with their work as best they could, and facilitating their links with each other.

Despite the difficult circumstances, the three delegations continued to work with youth on creating stories around the theme "Our Community/How We Live Today." The stories addressed issues such as: youth’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations; important issues facing youth today; and the people who youth admire. In September 2002, Cohen traveled to the region to support the participants and their youth in creating stories that could be heard by members of the other delegations and their communities.

Fall 2002 Institute

From October 27 to November 4, 2002, the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence hosted a second CHYME institute. Five Israeli and five Jordanian youth leaders came to Brandeis to meet, develop their relationships, and produce the digital stories of the youth with whom they had been working throughout the year. Unfortunately, due to continuing curfews in Nablus, the delegation from Palestine could not attend. However, the delegation leader participated in the institute by telephone and internet.

chymeThe centerpiece of the institute was a three-day digital stories workshop at CCTV. The workshop was an intensive training in the methodology and technology of digital stories, at the end of which each of the ten participants had produced a story based on the sounds, images, and text they had gathered from their youth. Click on the link on the right to view the stories.

Digital stories draw on ethnographic, artistic, and journalistic tools to increase understanding of particular issues confronting individuals and communities. During the CHYME institute, the creation of digital stories provided opportunities for the participants to explore both their commonalties and their differences and to discuss aspects of the Middle East conflict in a mode both creative and personal. Participants also engaged in other, more traditional, story-telling exercises, worked with a professional story-teller, and used children’s books as the basis for deep conversations about the Middle East.

The youth leaders have returned to their communities with a set of digital stories by and about themselves and their youth, and also with an understanding of the power of story in building peace. They also have established a plan for maintaining their relationships and further developing the project. Possible next steps include:

  • Introducing additional youth and adults to the digital story methodology and technology
  • Arranging screenings of the digital stories for both uni-communal and bi- or tri-communal audiences
  • Hosting a gathering of the youth (and youth leaders) from all three delegations, potentially in Aqaba, Jordan for additional exploration of the power of stories in peacebuilding
  • Establishing digital storytelling centers in the Middle East
  • Supporting the Palestinian delegation to produce digital stories, either at Brandeis or at home
  • Adding supplementary materials to the CHYME digital stories, including Arabic and Hebrew translations, educational thought questions, and online discussion forums.
The youth leaders will continue to hone their own storytelling skills (digital and otherwise) and to build the capacity of their youth to explore their own histories, communities, and values and to communicate across borders.

Project Conclusion, 2004

From the end of the November 2001 institute until the present, we at Brandeis University have stayed in regular communication with Mohammad, the director of the Palestinian House of Friendship. This communication has helped us remain aware of the situation on the ground in Nablus and of Palestinian perspectives on the evolving situation. Although we were not able to replicate the intercommunal process that the Jordanian and Israeli teams experienced in November 2002, participants used the internet to help Mohammad stay in contact with his Jordanian and Israeli counterparts.

Fortunately, Mohammad was able to visit Brandeis for a 12-days in June 2004. While on campus, he received training in digital story technology and produced a story exemplifying both the hardships and the spiritual strength of the children and adults of Nablus. He received feedback on drafts of his story from the Coexistence Program staff and Brandeis students. He visited several local institutions working with youth, including two peace centers. He also met with the director of a program for youth at risk, who consulted with him on a summer camp that he implemented at the Palestinian House of Friendship. He gave lectures and engaged in dialogue with students, faculty, and staff at Brandeis University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Hartford Seminary. During this visit, Brandeis University and Mohammad laid the groundwork for future collaborative efforts—in particular on research related to the changing meanings of words in Palestinian society.