IIFMENA 2018 Encourages Youth to Use Social Media to Create Awareness and Bring Positive Change

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  • At panel discussion organised in partnership with UNHCR   

The theme of bolder efforts to incorporate technology to benefit the region’s development agenda continued after the opening remarks on the second day of the ‘Investing in the Future’ (IIFMENA 2018) conference, in Sharjah, where using social media to create awareness of social issues was brought to focus on the first panel discussion titled ‘Youth, Social Media and Creating Positive Change’.

Based on the theme of the third edition, ‘Youth – Crisis Challenges and Development Opportunities’, the session organised in partnership with UNHCR, focused on the role of social media influencers when it comes to highlighting the plight of refugees and  what are the outcomes of such exposure when tackling the growing refugee crisis in the MENA region.

Moderating the session was the Head of UNHCR’s Private Sector Partnerships, MENA, Houssam Chahine. Joining him on the panel were Motivational Speaker and Social Media Influencer, Zainab Eqabi, Journalist Chaker Khazaal and Social Media Activist, Promoting Health Awareness, Dr. Ahmed Abumalik.

Chahine opened the session by asking the panelists about the role of influencers when it comes to raising awareness about social issues, in particular the current refugee crisis.

Eqabi referred to her first UNHCR mission to the UK, saying: “I was personally very affected by my visit to the UK. You get a reality check. Despite the very difficult family situations, life goes on. This helps you to share the story.”

Eqabi continued that despite people knowing about the very challenging conditions facing refugees, generally, people are feeling less empathy towards them. “People are getting used to refugees,” she said. “But it is an important social story that needs to be shared; I tried to raise awareness of the daily struggles facing refugees through social media.”

Fellow panelist Khazaal echoed Eqabi’s comments. A refugee himself, he left Lebanon and moved to Canada, before moving to the US. Khazaal explained how many of his social media followers in the West did not even understand what a refugee was. As a journalist, he is now able to educate them and highlights “their humanity” and presents them to his audience as human beings; people not to be feared.

“Anyone at any time can become a refugee,” he said.

The positive outcome that results in creating awareness through social media fundamentally allows for refugees and the most needy people in society to get the help they most desperately need.

Speaking about his recent aid visit to a refugee camp in Bangladesh, Dr. Abumalik spoke about how, in the poorest of areas, there are 1.4 million inhabitants in just one camp.

“They had no healthcare, no education. The situation was bad. How do you keep people well when they have nothing? Sharing details of conditions such as this via social media not just allows for greater exposure but also fundraising efforts,” he said.

When it comes to social media bringing about positive change, Eqabi looks to the young generation.

“We want to raise awareness and use this awareness to be able to move away from this current [refugee] reality. Youth are the leaders of the future. We need to influence them, so they can carry on this great work [and bring about positive change] in the future.”

“We have a lot of suffering in the world,” Khazaal added. “68.5 million people are currently displaced in the world; this shouldn’t be the case.”

To conclude, panelists reiterated the importance of being aware of our core social responsibility and said that we need to leave behind a world better than the one we are currently living in – a goal that must be shared with the youth.

The two-day conference that concludes on today (Thursday), is organised by Sharjah-based global humanitarian charity, The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), with key partners, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDP, NAMA Women Advancement Establishment (NAMA), UN Women, and SOS Children’s Villages. It is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah and Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness, Chairperson of the Big Heart Foundation and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, the biennial IIFMENA event focuses on humanitarian and development challenges in the MENA region.

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