Soliya completed its third full year of programming in 2006/7!

January 10, 2007

Soliya connects hundreds of youth across the globe.  In the spring of 2007, Soliya conducted another Connect Program with two hundred and fifty-five students from universities in the Middle East, North Africa, the US, and Europe.  The program was led by Soliya Executive Director and co-founder, Liza Chambers, a global network of highly trained and highly skilled volunteer facilitators, and our extraordinary team of dedicated and talented Soliya staffers including Salma El Beblawi, Katja Riikonen Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, Merva Faddoul, Rahima Bensaid, Reem Marto, & Nahid Ahmed.  As part of the program, students engaged in intensive online dialogue over an entire semester, and worked collaboratively to produce media products.  Participating universities in the US included: Georgetown University, Tufts University, the University of Minnesota, Queens University of Charlotte, the University of Iowa, the University of Maine- Machias, the University of North Florida, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Western Kentucky University.  In the Middle East, participating universities included the American University of Beirut, Al Akhawayn University (in Morocco), the American University in Cairo, Qatar University, South Valley University in Qena, Egypt, the American University of Sharjah (in the UAE), the University of Jordan, and the American University of Kuwait.  In Europe, participating universities included: the University of Amsterdam, the University of Bergen (in Norway), and Université Libre de Bruxelles (in Belgium). 

Evaluation results are in!  Pre- and post test data shows that Soliya is effectively building knowledge and relationships, increasing understanding, developing media literacy and communication skills, and promoting a sense of empowerment among its participants.  

Prior to the program 31% of students from the Arab World and 37% of students from the US said they had a lot in common with their counterparts from the Arab World/ US.  After the program 70% of Arab students and 65% of American students said that they had a lot in common with their counterparts.

92% of spring 2007 students said that while participating in the program they shared information about what they were learning with their peers and other people in their community.


"From now on I will approach every human being- Jew, Christian, Muslim, American, European, Arab- as a human; not as a category and certainly not as a foreign policy."     - Nour Malas, American University of Beirut

"There are really a lot of misunderstandings about each culture.  And because we really got to know one another in our group we could share things and discuss difficult topics.  We started to see things from another perspective, from the view of other participants"Judith van den Boogert, University of Amsterdam

"As a result of the program I will watch the news more frequently.  I will also look for more diverse sources of news, and make sure to double check any stories I hear before taking them as fact.   I will be more willing to look at others' points of view before assuming that what they are saying is wrong."    - Betsy Barber, University of Maine

Amplifying thoughtful voices.  Each semester, in the final weeks of the program, Soliya students write joint-editorials with their counterparts from other regions.  Over the last six months, thirteen articles have been distributed via the Common Ground News Service and republished in international papers.  In total, approximately 25% of articles written in the fall 2006 were distributed by CG news.  Of that number, 100% were picked up and distributed by international newspapers.  Six articles from the spring semester have already been published, and many more are slated for publication. Please find below a selection of articles which you can read.

Hala Ali and Laura McAleer had their editorial "Removing the 'cloak' of Religious Extremism" published on the ABC news website, the Daily Star (Egypt and Lebanon), the Peace Journalism Independent Magazine, Middle East online, Global geopolitics Crisis Monitor, World Press, Lebanese-Canadian coordinating link and Indonesian sites: HMI news, Jalantelawi and Syir'ah. Click here to read their article. Laura McAleer is a student at Georgetown University and Hala Ali attends South Valley University in Qena, Upper Egypt.

Heba Farid and Josh Kessler had their editorial "Bridge over the Internet" published in the Daily Star (Egypt and Lebanon), the Peace Journalism Independent Magazine, Remote Learner, Miftah and Middle East online. Click here to read their article. Heba Farid is a student at the American University of Cairo and Josh Kessler is studying International Relations and Spanish at Tufts University.

Kimberley Doyle and Maha Bensaid had their editorial, "How Americans and Arabs view one another" published in the Daily Star in Egypt, the Peace Journalism Independent Magazine, and Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. Click here to read their article.  Kimberly is a recent graduate of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and Maha is a senior at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.

Mohammed Al Garf and Nicholas Iovino got their article "Democracy and the Muslim-majority states" published in Turkish Weekly, Middle East Online, and World Press.  Click here to read their article.  Mohammed is a junior at the American University in Cairo and Nicholas is studying Public Relations at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Christelle Sadeghi and Josiane Bechara had their editorial, "Tolerance has two faces" published in the Daily Star (Egypt), Arab News Online, and the Arab Washingtonian.  Click here to read their article.  Christelle is a Masters student in International Politics at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and Josiane is a senior majoring in Psychology at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

Continued Engagement.  Soliya Connect Program alumni are gaining concrete leadership, conflict resolution and communication skills and are already serving as leaders—helping their peers engage in more effective and constructive conversation.  25% of students who participated in both the fall and spring Connect Program signed up for continued engagement activities.  In 2007, one-hundred and seven Connect Program alumni from 25 countries are participating in leadership activities— serving as Connect Program facilitators, participating in facilitation and conflict resolution skills training or guiding & editing the discussion that takes place on the Soliya weblog. 

Facilitating the dialogue.  At the heart of Soliya's work is the extraordinary network of volunteer facilitators that make its dialogue possible.  This upcoming semester there will be 70 volunteer facilitators logging in from 19 different countries!  Many of these facilitators are former participants in Soliya's Connect Program, and all of them have received extensive training through Soliya's Facilitation Training Program to effectively facilitate dialogue about contested issues and develop leadership and communications skills. Approximately half are fluent Arabic speakers, enabling them to translate as needed for students from the Middle East & North Africa. 

Soliya receives generous funding to expand its programs.  Soliya is proud to announce that it has received another generous grant from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation in support of expanding the scope of the Connect Program and Continued Engagement Activities over the next year.  Soliya wishes to thank the MFA of Norway, the Carnegie Corporation and the ABS Foundation for their support and commitment to our efforts.

Getting the word out.  

In early June, Soliya President, Lucas Welch, was invited by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar to advise her office on the establishment of an International Youth Development Center in the Middle East based on lessons learned and insights gained from Soliya's work in the region.  
Soliya was invited by sociologist and democracy activist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim's Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo to the 2nd Annual Conference on Democracy and Reform in the Arab World in Doha, Qatar.  Soliya Network Officer Merva Faddoul, Outreach Officer, Reem Marto, and Lucas participated in the workshop entitled "Media and Information Technology in Support of Democracy".  
The Brookings Institution Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World invited Lucas to participate in the first Working Group meetings of its Arts and Culture Initiative in Los Angeles in an effort to use the arts to increase mutual understanding between the US and the Muslim World and build positive cultural connections.
In mid-July, Lucas was part of an interdisciplinary group convened for a workshop at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society on young people in Muslim communities and social networking.  The group discussed how young people in Muslim communities are using the Internet and whether there are opportunities to create new services, such as social networks, to allow for connections and exploration online that do not exist today. 
Soliya Program Officer Gabriel Koehler-Derrick and Outreach Officer Reem Marto presented at the Network for Peace through Dialogue Conference which brought community groups, researchers, teachers and students together on June 16.  The conference connected local and global grassroots communities in order to identify common issues and solutions in the areas of making peace and fostering dialogue.

Get involved!  If you are interested in ways to get involved with Soliya and contribute to bridging the divide between the West and the Arab & Muslim World then please click here to make a tax-deductible donation and/or forward this e-mail on to others who may want to get involved.  


~ The Soliya Team
Salma, Rahima, Gabriel, Merva, Katja, Nahid, Sonja, Reem, Liza & Lucas

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