MENA activists bring hope online
By Farah I. Abdel Sater
(April 6, 2011) – Hope just got a boost online. From photos of youth in Saudi Arabia rebuilding after recent floods, to blog posts about solidarity in peaceful protests in Tahrir Square, to a video about women working together to overcome stereotypes, the new social networking site, 1001 Stories of Common Ground, offers a view of what is it like to be a creative, active Arab in a globalised world, far from the stereotypes haunting international mass media.
The name, 1001 Stories (1001cgstories.org), might remind website visitors and users of the classical tales of One Thousand and One Nights. The website is in fact a unique interactive platform which promotes real life experiences of positive change, social integration, dialogue, solidarity and much more, documented through articles, videos and photos, which individuals can post on the website.
At a time when mainstream media all too often loses the vital elements of balance and context, and primarily portrays the negative side of the story, 1001 Stories of Common Ground, populated by Arab civil society activists for constructive change, has a different approach. Though the website is open and accessible to the international public, the majority of contributors are from the Middle East and North Africa. They form the target audience for the site, as their positive accomplishments are mostly left unseen or uncovered by traditional media. The authenticity of the contributors makes them cultural and social ambassadors for their countries.
I personally have experience mobilising young people in the Arab world by publishing calls of international opportunities (conferences, scholarships, internships, contests, etc.) that target their involvement in areas of development, transparency, fundamental civil and human rights, intercultural dialogue and climate change on my blog (http://farah-has-a-lot-to-say.blogspot.com), which carries the slogan: “1 woman, 365 causes”.
1001 Stories offers me a greater chance to grow my blog’s readership rates, its networks and its publicity. Bloggers and cyber-activists can also connect efforts and energies on one platform – 1001 Stories – to offer the world a different perspective on communities in the Middle East and North Africa.
The 1001 Stories of Common Ground website is a free space for constructive speech. The website publishes all opinions and experiences as long as they portray a positive view, action or accomplishment and show people working together. You’ll see, for example, the work of women in Lebanon and Egypt demanding their rights and participating actively in protests. You’ll also read how bloggers played a major role in freeing fellow blogger, Ali Abdulemam, who was arrested in Bahrain.
Constructed in a way that is easy to use and navigate, the website contains three main features that every website visitor hopes for: an easy and fast login, a home page highlighting all the newest posts and contributions (pictures, article headlines and featured videos) and a poll which assesses members’ views on pertinent issues in the region. Users are also able to login through their Facebook accounts. This allows Facebook users to immediately share their stories of positive social action by posting videos, pictures, articles and comments.
The website, developed by the international conflict transformation organisation Search for Common Ground, is a multimedia haven which combines the video capabilities of YouTube with the blogging flow of WordPress and the photo albums of Flickr – all in one website and for one cause: to share stories of positive social change created by average citizens of the world.
And in a month or so, a competition – open to individuals in the Middle East and North Africa – for the best photos, articles and videos showing positive change in action will be launched, with a cash prize awarded to the winner in each category. A cash prize will also be given to an entry that best depicts positive change in the area of women’s rights in the region.
In a world where activists who promote cooperation struggle to find inspiration, 1001 Stories of Common Ground is a valuable tool to learn from others and share one’s own stories with an interested audience.
* Farah I. Abdel Sater is Founder and President of the UN Youth Association of Lebanon. She is also a writer, blogger, and award-recipient of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie for her writings on peace. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).