Discover. Connect. Empower: Zeina Saab at TEDxBeirut 2012

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 21.12.2012

Back in 2009, I had a life-changing experience.
I was working on a project in a small village here in Lebanon,
when a young teenaged girl came up to me
with a folder filled with drawings
and started showing me beautiful sketches
of dresses she had drawn.
I was so amazed with her talent,
especially since no one had ever taught her.
And I thought to myself,
this girl seems to have all it takes
to become a fashion designer.
But how could she become one?
She had no one to teach her the basics
and was so far from all the resources
and opportunities in Beirut.
Well, I left the village that day,
but I just couldn't forget this girl.
I didn't even know her name, or her age
but I couldn't get her off my mind.
And I realized at that moment,
I had to find someone who could offer her some guidance.
Otherwise, she might never make it.
Unfortunately, my plan didn't quite work out.
But, regardless, this girl had already changed my life.
Because of her, I began looking at the world differently.
Because of her, I realized that extraordinary potentials
exists all around us.
In the tiniest villages,
and in the most unexpected places.
And then, it hit me.
What are we all missing out on?
What inventions, discoveries, and creations
are not being realized, because the would-be initiators
are disconnected from all the resources?
It occurred to me, that there must be so many others
just like this girl.
Young individuals, born to become writers,
artists, designers, athletes, musicians,
inventors, leaders, performers, but due to
limited means, are unable to reach their full potential.
So I began to wonder,
What if there could be some kind of network,
that identifies resources in the community,
and re-directs them to these youth?
It was a thought that crossed my mind,
but I didn't really know what to do with it.
Soon after meeting this girl, I met several other youth in Tripoli, in the north of Lebanon.
They had either dropped out of school,
or were unemployed.
So they had enrolled in technical classes to help them build their skills,
in areas such as mobile repair and car mechanics,
and butchering and barbering.
Skills, which they could one day use to generate an income.
The assumption was that by being employed,
these youth would be less likely to engage in
crime, violence, or drug use.
But then I looked a little closer.
Did that 18-year-old boy really want to be learning that particular skill?
Did that 25-year-old girl really want to spend the rest of her life
working in a job that she didn't really dream of having?
These were great opportunities for them.
But did these jobs really fulfill them as individuals?
And I began to think,
what are their unique abilities?
What are their individual passions?
What are we not seeing that's hiding within them?
Well, as it turned out,
several youth ended up dropping out of the classes.
What was going on?
Well, quite simply, they lost interest.
So they returned to the streets, roaming around with nothing to do.
And that can be extremely dangerous.
I realized then, that maybe our assumptions are all wrong,
that simply employing high-risk youth,
and providing them with an income may not be enough to
keep them away from trouble.
You know what else they need?
It's really quite simple.
They need excitement in their lives,
something to look forward to.
That's why it's so important that we engage them
in something they're passionate about.
Because it's through the opportunities that captivate them,
that they'll learn discipline, hard work and responsibility.
And maybe then, they'll start taking their classes a little more seriously.
I'll give you an example.
Last year, I met Samir and Khaled,
two young Palestinian refugees who had practically given up on their lives,
because there were so few opportunities for them in the camp.
They had nothing to wake up to in the morning.
Their lives were empty.
As a result, they had either stopped going to their classes
or they were failing miserably.
We see this all around us.
In marginalized communities around the world,
young men and women who have lost hope,
and feel like they have nothing left to live for.
Eventually, many may end up going down the wrong path in life.
Crime becomes a way of survival.
Violence becomes a way to express their frustration.
And drugs, a way to escape from reality.
All because of the environments they grew up in.
Samir and Khaled could have ended up with such a fate.
But luckily, by complete chance,
they were offered an opportunity that changed their lives forever.
They were recruited to join the Palestinian Rugby League.
Suddenly, they had a purpose.
And they were no longer bored with nothing to do.
And they started channeling their anger and frustration into the game.
And they learned all about discipline and good sportsmanship.
And their self-esteem and self-confidence went up
once they realized what they're capable of.
And they started to value themselves, which led them to
start coaching the younger boys in the camps.
Well, and guess what else happened.
After a few months of joining the league, they had become star athletes,
and even received an invitation to go to England
to train with the professionals.
And you know what else?
They started taking their classes seriously,
improved their grades, and just graduated this past June.
What's wonderful about this story is that
these young men were never robbed of their potential.
They never ended up wasting away their precious lives.
They proved themselves, and became role-models for all of us.
And rugby was their way out.
So many others don't have a way out.
Can you imagine, being trapped and imprisoned
in an environment that doesn't allow you to grow?
Knowing that you can do so much more?
Or being completely unaware of your own potential?
Not knowing your worth and not having anyone around you
to guide you, to believe in you, and to push you forward?
Two summers ago, I met Achmed,
an adorable 8-year-old boy,
who was dribbling a basketball and showing off his skills.
But instead of dribbling it like this,
he was dribbling it like this,
with his fingers outstretched and a ball bouncing above his head.
So it was clear to me that he didn't really know how to play.
But still, I asked him to try to shoot the ball into the hoop.
And you know what he told me?
"I can't."
And because he thought he couldn't, all he ever did was
just dribble that ball.
I had no idea that despite his deep passion for basketball,
this little boy never had anyone teach him anything about the game.
So when I first told him, "Of course you can make it!",
he threw the ball like this, and he missed.
So then, I started to tell him a very basic fact about basketball.
I told him, "Ahmed , you need to jump."
So, he took the ball once again, he jumped,
and guess what?
He made it.
On the first try he made it, it went right in.
He went crazy. He started yelling and screaming in excitement.
What he once thought was impossible was now possible.
And all it took was a little bit of guidance,
a little bit of attention, and just one word.
So it was around this time that I finally figured out what needed to be done.
I decided to set up a network of partners in the community.
Businesses, academic institutions, mentors, professionals, and sponsors
all dedicated to sharing resources
and investing in the potentials of our youth.
Say you're an artist, you're a photographer, and you're a pianist.
We'll match you up with a youth who has a passion for that skill.
You'd become their mentor, and possibly even their role model.
A positive force that might be missing in their lives.
Say you own an art lounge, or a dance studio, or a sports club.
You can open up your classes to our youth and even
offer them material or equipment they may not have access to otherwise.
And there're so many other ways to get involved.
Our online platform which we're planning to launch soon
will allow anyone of you to contribute to
empowering youth in Lebanon and even in the Arab world.
So, you all remember the young aspiring fashion designer
I told you about earlier?
Well, after officially registering our organization earlier this year,
I began to wonder about her.
Where was she?
What was she up to?
Did she still dream of becoming a fashion designer?
Was she still sketching and drawing dresses?
Three years had gone by, and I knew nothing about her.
I still didn't even know her name.
All I knew was that she had never really taken any art lessons,
while I had spent years taking art classes.
And the only thing I can draw is a cube.
I decided I just had to find her.
And it took a couple of months, but one day
I received a phone call from her aunt.
It turned out, the girl's name is Nadine and she's now 18 years old.
We were so excited when we found her, because now that
our network is up and running, Nadine finally has the opportunity to become a fashion designer.
For the past several weeks, she's been taking private lessons
with a volunteer fashion design instructor,
and we're planning to enroll her in a fashion design school
in just a couple of months.
And we actually have a surprise for you all,
Nadine is actually here with us today, in the audience.
I'd like to thank you for being here.
Nadine, I'd like to thank you for being here.
And for being my inspiration.
My experiences over the past few years
have all taught me something incredibly important.
That we need to start looking at each individual child
as a unique and precious gift to our world.
And if unwrapped hastily and without care,
could end up damaged and broken.
But if unwrapped carefully, could really end up surprising all of us.
Thank you.