By Samaa Abu Sharar – Beirut
It all started with the simple idea of giving voice to Palestinian youth in camps and gatherings across Lebanon. Marginalized and haunted by stereotypes for as long as they have lived, an online training forum run by the youth, and targeting youth, as part of the larger Palestinian community in the camps, was the concept behind the media outlet.
“Shababeek” or windows in Arabic, is the name of the new website, which was launched mid-January 2018, to create a space for Palestinian youth to voice their issues and that of their community in a professional and objective manner away from the stereotypes of the mainstream media.
“Shabaeek, is the youth’s link to the outside world to change the stereotypes that surround our refugee camps. This is a website that will cover all issues related to Palestine and its people,” said trainee Rasha Haidar from Ayn El Helweh camp in Saida.
Like Haidar, trainee Iyad Sanded believes that the name of the website says a lot about it. “It is the Palestinian youth’s window or our outlet to express ourselves in writing,” said Sanded.
Sanded who left Sbeineh refugee camp in the south of Damascus, Syria four years ago, due to the ongoing war in the country, and settled with his family in Rashidieh camp in Tyre, Lebanon, believes that the new outlet will allow him to “convey the living conditions in the camps from a different perspective; that of the youth”.
He amongst a selected number of youth from different camps and gatherings in Lebanon attended an eight-day intensive training for correspondents and editors to prepare them for their work on the website.
The training which was held at Beit Atfal Assmoud, in Mar Elias camp in Beirut, included six editors and fifteen correspondents and was overseen by Jordanian/Palestinian journalist and writer Jehad Ranteesy.
Shababeek and the trainings that preceded the launch were funded by ‘Selat: Links Through the Arts’, of AM Qattan Foundation (Palestine) in partnership with Prince Claus Fund (Holland).
The newly born venue will serve as a training website; where the youth will be trained in the field of journalism and in time will train others in the field.
“For more than one reason I find myself drawn to this project; primarily it’s very important for me that the youth in the camps can express their interests and issues and can think aloud in a professional manner. Additionally, I am very happy they have a platform to develop their capacities of expression and present their issues all at the same time,” said trainer Ranteesy.
The different sections of the website allow the youth to cover all issues pertaining to the life of Palestinian refugees whether inside the camps or outside. ‘Behind walls’, ‘On the side walk’, ‘Between the alleys’, ‘Media talk’, ‘The old days’, ‘Between the lines’, ‘Faces from my country’, are some of the sections of the website.
According to trainee Nashwa Hammad, the online forum is a “different idea that reflects the image of the youth spontaneously, mirroring their life in a more realistic manner and away from all media propaganda.”
Refuting stereotyping and negative media propaganda is exactly what the youth will be doing through their writings in Shababeek in order to present a genuine and objective image of themselves as refugees and of their places of refuge.
According to trainee Anas Al Ali, the youth should work through Shababeek “on breaking the image of the camps as terrorist hubs while conveying the real image of these places”.
A real image for many of the youth involved in this project is to be able to mirror the bad and the good in their camps and gatherings and not just focus on the negative as most mainstream media outlets do when they cover Palestinian camps.
“One of the main goals of Shababeek is to shed light on the joyful aspects of life in the camps and highlight Palestinian youth talents in all fields, which are numerous despite the dire situation under which they are living,” said trainee Iman Jamal Al-Rifai.
And since Shababeek is an independent training forum overseen by the Majed Abu Sharar Media Foundation (MASMF), this will allow the youth the space they need to present their issues in an unbiased manner away from all existing divisions in the Palestinian camps and gatherings in Lebanon.
“The website has no affiliation politically or intellectually, therefore it will allow us to report on issues we live and see in a transparent and credible way with no pressure from anyone,” said trainee Sabreen Abu Ola.
“Shababeek not only highlights issues pertaining to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and those who came from Syria but it also speaks for all refugees regardless of their political affiliations,” emphasized trainee Lamis Yassin.
In a country where Palestinian refugees are banned by the Lebanese authorities from practicing dozens of syndicated professions, journalism included, Shababeek offers the youth a glimpse of hope by opening a number of jobs for editors and correspondents on the site.
For the time being, and due to limited funding, the online forum employs two editors paid on a monthly basis and a number of correspondents in the different camps and gatherings paid per piece.
With time and adequate funding, Shababeek, aspires to become a solid online media training forum giving voice to Palestinian refugees across the region to bridge the existing gap between them and the rest of the world.
And in order for that to happen, the plan is to have Shababeek available in English and French so as the message of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon reaches a wider audience.
“We aspire to become the voice of the voiceless across the world,” concluded trainee Adnan El Hamad.
The voices of Palestinian youth have for long been silenced, it is time this changes, and Shababeek offers just that.
– Samaa Abu Sharar is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Beirut, Lebanon. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.