The brightly painted walls of the Sharek Youth Center, coupled with stylish stone masonry and comfortable couches, suggest a midsized design studio, or perhaps an up-and-coming architectural firm. But the young people scurrying about—eager, determined, energetic—lend an unmistakable air of activism to the office, and activism is what the center is all about.
"Last year, we agreed we need to emphasize our advocacy," says Saher Othman, program manager for the Sharek Youth Forum. "The most important thing is for the youth to have a platform, and not many other nongovernmental organizations are doing this."
Sharek is a nonprofit youth group for young people living in the West Bank and Gaza. The group's main goal is to involve young people in community political and social issues and train them through educational sessions.
Strengthening Activist Groups
With support from Catholic Relief Services through the Civic Participation program, Sharek is now well positioned to scale up its operations. Reaching out from its offices in the city of Ramallah, the center is providing a voice to young Palestinians.
Through the program, or the CPP, which launched in 2010, CRS is distributing grants to 75 nonprofit agencies. The grants help groups in the West Bank train their staff, update equipment and facilities, and generally streamline their operations so they are more competitive and, ultimately, better at what they do.
Awarded a CPP grant of about $120,000, Sharek plans to use that money to train a cadre of youth activists across the West Bank. The center will provide training in debate, advocacy, volunteerism and how to use new media.
"We want to focus on the practical, not the theoretical," says Najwan Berekdar, advocacy program manager responsible for the CPP grant within Sharek. "We want them to learn through doing."
Once trained and organized, the youth groups—known collectively as the Shebab Network—will work with young people who, living in isolated areas within the West Bank, don't have a voice. Each group will comprise 30 to 40 volunteers who not only will advocate but help build a sense of community through social activities such as awareness raising and rights education.
Working closely with CRS staff, Sharek has mapped out every detail involved with the creation of the Shebab Network. The center aims to maximize the grant money's effect while strengthening activist groups and Sharek itself.
"We have money specified for posters and brochures for the campaigns," Berekdar says. "We have money set aside to rent halls for public debates, for example."
Flush with enthusiasm and eager to make a difference, Berekdar and other members of Sharek see the CPP grant money as a way to both help communities and West Bank society in general.
"We want to create activists that will work not only for their hometown but for society," Berekdar says. "We want to create a sense of responsibility and accountability. This is the main goal."