After violence, Arab youth experience a wave of peace

“Six days gave 95 Arab students a chance to broaden their vision and feel that change can happen through positivity and peace rather than violence as we witnessed recently all throughout the Arab world.” This remark was made by Christian Matta, an Art of Living teacher in Amman, Jordan, after a six-city campaign called ‘I Breathe’ ended. Today, weeks after the workshops are over, the ‘I Breathe’ YES!+ participants are connected and many activities and projects are underway to transform society.

How it all started

“Just a few days before everything started to shake and bake in the Arab world, I got a call from a friend in Abu Dhabi telling me that a young teenage child dear to her had committed suicide and that she and everyone around her were shocked and devastated. I was too. I asked myself what was happening with our Arab youths,” shares Christian.

Some research on suicide cases in Jordan revealed that the number of cases were almost 50 percent higher that the previous year.

“It is a serious issue our youths face today,” says Christian. “Later on, we all witnessed the uprisings, protests and revolutions happening all over the Arab world since December 2010 and there was a lot of violence involved.” Incidentally, a university professor from Oman, Al-Najma Zidjaly, calls the upheaval a youthquake. “I thought, our youth need to live better lives - have better jobs - yes; however we can still achieve all this through peace and responsible positive actions rather than through violent means,” says Christian.

Campaign across 6 cities

Discussions with other Art of Living instructors from other Arab countries led to ‘I Breathe’: an Arab-wide campaign held from 15-20 May 2011. The aim was to empower youth to live stress-free lives and gain the tools to tackle challenges skillfully while thinking globally. “We decided to organize the Youth Empowerment & Skills (YES!+) workshops simultaneously in six cities of the Arab world. From the start, the idea to bring everyone together under one platform had been there where youths could connect, share experiences, empower and inspire each other through online media,” says Christian.

Organizing, planning, choosing dates, and supporting each other across Beirut, Amman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Tunis saw many challenges along the way. Yet as word spread among the youth, many started calling to be a part of the big initiative.

Connecting through the virtual world

“When we discussed things during the course, there was a bigger effect and outcome,”says Majd Soud Al-Hijjawi, a young pharmacist from Amman. “The fact that we were a large group and more than one country participating made the effect much stronger and I felt it when I did the Sudarshan Kriya,” she continues.

Just as social media proved to be a catalytic factor in the recent student demonstrations, online media accelerated understanding and positivity during the ‘I Breathe’ event. Khurshed Batliwala, Director of WAYE (World Alliance for Youth Empowerment) and founder of YES!+ came as a guest speaker on one of the days. Everyone was connected together via online media such as Facebook and shared experiences when the workshop was on. Three sessions were conducted online via live streaming audio and video. Participants could see, hear and talk to each other, including the last day celebration and experience sharing. “It was cool how we were singing in Amman and we could hear the Tunis group reply back to us with the same song!” exclaimed Christian.

Youth speak

Shares Hind Sabbagh, a volunteer coordinator working in Jordan, “It (the course) definitely gave me a positive boost. It also gave me more confidence and energy.I suffer from anxiety and have experienced panic attacks in the past. After the course, I became more in tune with my own body.”

Amjad Hassan Al-Omari, 21 years old, saw a positive change in his behavior as a result of the course. “I used to be a very nervous person and I could not accept a ‘No’ from anyone. Everyone at work knows how I used shout and react. Now I can accept; I can deal better with people, and everyone around me can see that.” Ghaith Othman Salameh shared, “People look for a meaning and a purpose in life. When you take this workshop you can actually find it.”