Forced to flee to hope: story of the Arabian refugees
By Razan Sharia
Photography by Tamara Abdin
“I would say open-mindedness is a gift. Opening up to listen to others’ stories, their problems, their ideas, their concepts, and getting to know where their personality comes from is a plus,” Yazan reflected.
Let alone his young age, 19-year-old Yazan Baara goes ahead expanding on his interests in the world of social entrepreneurship and youth development.
Inquisitive in nature, he manages to double major in the two fields of mechanical engineering and management sciences that include business and finance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston. His first-hand experience of the refugee crisis when living in the Arab world had not left him devastated but inspired. Perhaps, “underprivileged” and “impoverished” is what he focuses his lenses on.
“The Arab nations have been known to being very benevolent in terms of solidarity and the many initiatives, but this has been depreciating lately and what is built on a fragile basis is bound to collapse,” he said.
As mentioned in The Economist, “A civilization that used to lead the world is in ruins and only the locals can rebuild it.”
“Islam and innovation were twins. The various Arab caliphates were dynamic superpowers — beacons of learning, tolerance, and trade. Yet today, the Arabs are in a wretched state.
“For Arabs to wake from their nightmare and for the world to feel safe, a great deal needs to change.”
From here comes Yazan’s impulse, and the world of stranded refugees is where he desires to first act.
Mentioned in an article published by the Jordan Times, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres goes on to praise the Arab nation for hosting refugees. Hence he says, “Refugee protection is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Arabian Peninsula – refugee protection is defined not only for Muslims but for all.”
“I would like to strengthen and fortify the social basis that is the foundation of all these Arab nations, to foster more benevolence, to make sure that those troubled by the conflicts now do not affect the progress and the future of these nations of ours,” he hoped.
A self- starter Yazan Baara, along with the team, started by lending his upper hand for the underprivileged in the camp of Burj El Barajneh, Lebanon. Moved by the tragic aftermath of the refugee crisis, the financial director and founding member of the Educate to Empower initiative starts off along with a group of students from Harvard, MIT, and BU highlighting the importance of education. Not only is it education in general that they focus on, but specifically educating the underprivileged that were denied from their proper rights of education, and have their future threatened due to that.
“I feel like I owe the underprivileged a lot. I do think that the development of their future is the development of ours,” the young entrepreneur insisted.
“It is not because you must but because you can.”
Having been approached by a hand from the esteemed professors of the Harvard School of Divinity, Yazan along with the initiative’s team has put his effort into creating a fit curriculum to suit the Syrian female refugees – in particular – and all refugees in general. Their initiative had already begun its first term in Lebanon where they aim to cover the needs of 40 female students, as a start. The Educate to Empower initiative is indeed looking forward to stretching its efficiency onto improving the rest of the refugee communities located in the Middle Eastern region.
A tangible goal they were aiming to achieve is to academically educate all participants to the age grade level that they are in. Maximizing the potential of these young girls is what matters most to them, to us as Arabs and to the world as a whole.
As a matter of fact, girls that are sixteen years of tenth grade were surprisingly found to only have reached their sixth grade in the camp. If any, this is their ultimate tangible goal; to help these girls with the best of resources to restore that kind of education gap they live in.
“If we are going to have any other goal in mind that would be giving them a sense of the society they are a part of, and what they can achieve just from it.”
The youth leader goes on to describe their curriculum making process as an arduous one. They have faced difficulties trying to tackle issues from many different angles. Perhaps, having their work scheme expand on to a wide age group was the real dilemma. The curriculum making process has taught him how important it is to be general or inclusive and how to study something from its depth, evaluating its gravity as well.
Even though the initiative has developed its first goal, developing their own curriculum that does not make it enough for them to upgrade the lives of these refugee students.
“Yes the world is in their hands, but you cannot give them that false hope. You can push them but not to the extent where they end up in failure,” Yazan emphasised.
Letting education be their drive towards the empowerment of their targeted 40 female students, Yazan goes on highlighting the importance of educating girls in our society today. Born and raised as an Arab, living in patriarchal societies that cross the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the self-starter has come to a conclusion.
“Women are the priority, in my own opinion,” he said.
“If women shall ever be deprived, then men shall be too.
“There’s a saying that goes like, educate women, educate a family, educate a girl, you educate a nation.”
Yazan has even mentioned the influence his feminist friends have had on him as an individual.
“They have given me the chance to view everything from their own perspective, and so I thought; what if I was a female, what if I was treated the same way, what if I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve because of my gender,” he consciously spoke.
His expatriate background has also helped in shaping the person he is today. Yazan’s childhood memories are currently stranded in between the two neighboured regions; Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Being fully- exposed to diversity, personalities, cultures and traditions, and norms have immensely helped in shaping his individuality.
“You need to create a bridge for that kind of difference in between the two regions to foster the development all across the Arab world.”
He has also stated leaving the fact that Jordan and Saudi Arabia are tight neighbours; they both differ in terms of traditions and culture. Hence, the patriarchal society of Saudi Arabia has grown to be Yazan’s key to motivation for today. Such kinds of societies were the societies that helped Yazan strive for his purpose as a social entrepreneur and youth leader.
Labeling himself as a Youth leader, he has mentioned that his main motivation is born out of the various types of media outlets he tends to read or listen to news from.
“My motivation mainly comes from what I see,” the young entrepreneur expressed.
“It is very tragic if you can only imagine that the upcoming generations who are supposed to rebuild our future are uneducated.
“Having the upper hand, attending one of the best universities in the world, being that privileged to have many resources, I kind of feel like I have some social responsibility.”
Having been asked about his stance towards people who believe that the refugee crisis has stretched us as Jordanians, Yazan believed that it has only exhausted our resources. He also mentioned that having such crisis stretch us and exhaust our local resources is in a matter of a fact one way to prepare us as Jordanians to move forward a lot more than we are prepared to.
“I do think that we are a weak economy in general, facing a lot of socio economic problems. It has exhausted Jordan’s resources yes, but will never bring us back. Perhaps in terms of the Arab world, we’re so far away from that,” Yazan believed.
Wanting to strengthen the fields of social benevolence and development of the Arab nations, the young leader expects that in five to 10 years from now, he’ll be pushing his social entrepreneurship skills and contributing to the various initiatives if not finding some. He has even ended the interview by leaving advice for those that are younger by saying,
“Go after what you want, try it, aim sky high. Get heart broken, get devastated because that pushes you even more into the accomplishments you always wanted to achieve. So just do everything, explore everything, shape yourself, and realize what you need,”
If there is one thing he regrets, that is perhaps not getting more out of his comfort zone. He has even mentioned that his past freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has taken him on to a whole new different level.
“I believe it has taught me a lot more about myself and brought me closer to my Arab roots and Muslim roots,” he reminisced.
Yazan Baara a Jordanian and originally Palestinian is double majoring in mechanical engineering and business management at the MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s a social entrepreneur and a youth leader aspiring to better develop the Arab nations by fostering the initiatives’ development in from the local region. To show your support or give donations please feel free to visit their website. Or please visit their GoFundMe page or their Venmo account @educate2empower to donate.