The involvement of Palestinian youth in the democratic process is a major priority for the future of Palestinian society. The Arab Thought Forum (ATF) recognizes that the Palestinian youth of today will be the leaders of Palestine tomorrow and in the absence of sufficient youth programs, ATF have designed and implemented a special two-year student outreach program.
The Youth Leadership Project, conducted in 2002 and 2003 provides young men and women with practical experience in democratic principles and processes and empowers them to be active and responsible citizens. The project offers a select group of young leaders, democratically elected by their peers, special training in leadership, governance and democracy. Engaging students in various activities, meetings and discussion with political and community leaders provide an awareness and understanding of democracy, and secure the principles of participation that will enhance and strengthen their roles within the community and society at large.
When this project was first launched in 2002, the Arab Thought Forum targetted high school students from over 263 schools. The program received much enthusiasm and was considered highly successful. Building on this experience, the ATF, in 2003, decided to move the target audience forward to the university level, an age group at a critical point in their lives to shape real decisions about their futures. Eight universities participated in the Project.
The project has a tremendous effect on building personality in promising youth and has greatly increased their skills. The quality of most participants in the third stage of the project (the summer camp) is extremely unique. This has resulted from a combination of a competitive selection process, passing two democratic elections and an intensive and diversified learning experience, in addition to the students‘ distinguished personalities and academic performance (the average school scores of the participants are above 92%).
Students personalities and skills have been improved by providing the opportunity to all participants to express their thoughts and points of view in a democratic way. The prominent participation of the female students is an encouraging indicator not only to this kind of projects, but as a good sign for the future as well.
It is worth mentioning that President Yaser Arafat welcomed the participating students and signed their graduation certificates, in addition to the signature of the minister of education. Additionally, the Palestinian Legislative Council has requested the list of student elected during the Youth Leadership Project, to participate in a special youth leadership program under the auspices of the PLC.
During the 2002 project, a total of seventeen town hall meetings, five workshops and two summer camps have been conducted with a total participation of 1,448 students, 631 of whom were female. Among the faculty, 139 teachers participated; several hundred additional teachers were involved in the selection process and information campaign. During the 2003 project, eight university meetings, three workshops and a summer camp were conducted with a total participation of 614 students including 191 females, along with 202 teachers, twenty three of whom were female.
The project received wide coverage on the local media. Although ATF did not have specific preferences for international media outlets, we welcome any opportunity to highlight this activity to any interested media. This opportunity is of important value as the emerging Palestinian society is struggling and engaging in a comprehensive process aiming at promoting democratic principles and values of free society. Investing in the future generation is not only a democracy development demand but a human challenge.