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YES Alumna Named to 20 Under 20 List

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By Zina Mowasi (YES 2016 - 2017, Israel - Arab Communities, hosted by PAX in Sedona, AZ)

Reading has always been a part of my life. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always LOVED to read. Reading a book would just drag me into an amazing world of feelings: excitement, empathy, empowerment and many others!  I’ve always loved to share these books and these feelings with others, but sadly I didn’t find many readers in my community and felt the lack of reading and of organizations encouraging it. I didn’t find anyone to share my thoughts with and I was left alone in a huge world full of ideas and thoughts and feelings! So, when I was accepted to the “LEAD” program for leadership development last year, I knew that this was the project I would be working on.

LEAD is a two year program in leadership development for high school students during their junior and senior years. In LEAD we believe that leadership is developed by doing and not by theory, so each participant researches a problem in the community that is bothering him/her, and tries to find a solution for this problem by creating a community project. Participants are divided into groups (called staffs) depending on the area they live in, and each staff meets once every two weeks to discuss the process we are going through as individuals and as leaders. LEAD also hosts conferences that work on different aspects of leadership.

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After a year of hard work, a lot of research and interviews I came up with a program to encourage kids to read more for pleasure.  Knowing how much reading gave me, and how wonderful it feels to have a book in my hand, I wanted others to feel this way and to belong to a community of readers. So when I was asked in LEAD what bothered me the most, I answered the lack of reading, and this was the start of an amazing journey of learning and giving. I developed a social cognitive program to encourage kids to read for pleasure using various games and activities that also work on the different aspects of child development. This program was built based on research that showed that the way to encourage kids to read can’t be direct, it has to involve a lot of games and fun.  

The program intends not only to encourage more kids to read for pleasure in the hopes of building a community of readers, but also to work on child development in a controlled social area. Additionally, the program provides benefits to kids of all ages from the second grade children we encourage to read, to the high school volunteers. This program helps high school kids find a safe and fun area to volunteer in addition to learning about themselves and young kids as well as learning to take on responsibility and overcome challenges.

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I decided to work with second graders since it is the grade in which they start reading independently. As a teen, I saw an opportunity in recruiting teen volunteers to help with the program and thus bridge the age difference between volunteers and participants.

Up until now, all I talked about is theory, but I had to bring this project to light. I only had four days to pilot the program in which I checked the activities, the length of the meetings, and volunteer responses to the project. Exciting enough, it worked!  All the hard work turned into awesome results! I collaborated with the public library in my city (Baqa Al-Gharbiyye) and built a project. We meet with the kids once a week for 15 weeks, and we simply read, play, and have fun.  Funny enough, 23 kids signed up for the project and for the first meeting 40 kids showed up! So now we have two groups each with 20 kids and 8 volunteers, we meet at the public library once a week and it’s fun, exciting and inspiring. By the way, the project’s name is كتابي أعز اصحابي translated to “my book my best friend.”

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This project has won me a spot on the 20 under 20 list - the list of the most 20 influential people under the age of 20, people who have made a great impact on other people’s lives. This prize has made me proud of myself and of the way I developed. Being a YES student has helped me gain the communication skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills necessary to be accepted into the “LEAD” program as well as successfully creating this program that will help many children in my community. My vision for this program for the next few years is to reach out to as many children as possible in the Arab cities and hopefully, with hard work, for it to become a big non-profit organization operating country wide.

I have to mention that being accepted to LEAD in the first place and building this project as well as being one of the 20 under 20 wouldn’t have happened without other projects that helped me develop before that; YES program and being part of Kiyadat center for leadership development are the two at the top of the list.

I would also like to thank Oat Ramon (a project for youth leadership) that has introduced me to many inspiring people and ideas and nominated me to the list.


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