CHYME project brings together Mideast youth

By Dawn Miller, The Justice, 11.5.02

After a morning of intense discussion, Jordanians and Israelis sat side by side, taking a lunch break in Sherman Dining Hall. The 10 representatives had worked all week to produce digital stories of youth in the Middle East, but having a meal together was part of what they considered to be one of the most important aspects of their project.

The delegates from the two countries were having the chance "to get to know each other as people," Bissan Al-Shami, a representative from Jordan, said.

These individuals came to Brandeis for an institute to collaborate and discuss progress in the Community Histories by Youth in the Middle East (CHYME) project on Oct. 27, and left yesterday. Based at Brandeis and sponsored by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence, CHYME has been a year-long cooperative effort between Israelis, Palestinians, promoting peace-building and coexistence in the Middle East.

The project, begun last October, was funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department.

According to Slifka Program coordinator Lesley Yalen, the project entailed an extensive process of planning and implementation. After the initial October project planning meeting, five youth leaders from Israel and Jordan, and two Palestinian youth leaders returned to their home towns. There, they gathered groups of four to five teenagers who shared their experiences of conflict, growing up, and life in their respective communities.

This past week, youth leaders from Israel and Jordan compiled these stories and, using training in programs such as PhotoShop and Premier, produced three to five-minute digital documentaries of their groups' stories.

The project's participants expressed disappointment at the absence of the Palestinian delegation, due to their inability to travel from the region due to Israeli military restrictions. The two Palestinian youth leaders produced digital documentaries and remained in contact with the other CHYME participants through daily phone calls and the Internet, but " Yaakov Asher, a youth leader from Israel, said, "something is very missing here."

Nonetheless, all three groups involved in the project completed production of the digital documentaries.

Asher considered the digital documentary to be an innovative vehicle for peace-building and communication between separate communities.

"Digital stories as a tool to work with kids these days is very powerful," Asher said. "You can bring up very sensitive subjects to speak about … because you are not straight talking (to members of the other communities). You can express (the youth's impressions) in different ways."

It is also the institute's hope that the project can "use these stories as educational tools for children and try to teach as many children this new technology so they can do it on their own," Al-Shami added.

When it came to the stories told by youth in the documentaries, participants said they felt no one film outshone the others.

"Each one had its own element," Al-Shami said.

Nadia Heraimi of Jordan added, "They complete each other."

The stories by Israeli and Palestinian youth were generally centered on the immediate conflict, while the Jordanian ones focused on growing up in their communities. The Israeli and Palestinian youth who were willing to talk with peer leaders frequently discussed the impact of conflict in their communities and their perspectives on conflict and the opposing group.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East did not comprise all discussion, even among Israeli and Palestinian participants. In fact, Heraimi said that many of the youth preferred not to discuss politics and the current conflict.

"For me, it was great. It's always very inspirational (to work with children)," Heraimi said. "They are very creative, so it's also a learning experience, because they don't think the same ways about the issues."

Not all facets of the CHYME project, however, elicited such satisfaction from the participants. Asher said he regrets the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could not be dealt with more directly due to the Palestinian delegation's inability to travel.

Nonetheless, those who attended said they look forward to changes in their communities resulting from such communication and peace-building initiatives.

"I think we all learned something about the other group and something about ourselves as well," Heraimi said.

Many participants said they hope that a growing understanding of each other could help facilitate the realization of peace.

"The main goal (of the CHYME project) is that people should know each other first. Politics are important, but (the situation could improve) if people could know each other instead of lumping (the other group) into one lot," Al-Shami said.

Others said they feel the project has helped renew commitment to peace in the region.

"I think that each of us came with a desire for peace, and I'm more committed to this now more than a week ago," Asher said.

"It's that we all believe in peace," Jordanian Rania Salman added.

By this collaborative effort toward peace and coexistence, youth leaders can now return to their communities with the completed digital stories and to share them with their groups of participating youth.

"Now it will be very interesting to see their reactions to the different stories," Asher said.

The youth leaders said they are considering another meeting in the city of Aqaba, Jordan, consisting of all three delegations as well as some additional young people. In this meeting, further discussion could occur in which responses to the documentaries are shared and opinions about life in the region are expressed.

"All of us believe it shouldn't end here," Heraimi said.

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