I visited New York for the first time this past April. I had recently graduated from Santa Clara University and I found myself terrified of the future. Seemingly endless possibilities, in combination with the breadth of free time afforded by finishing my degree an academic quarter early, left me paralyzed with indecision. So I decided to extend a trip to New Jersey for a wedding into a New York excursion—in part to escape reality for a little longer. Little did I know that this “escape” in New York would provide me with a positive path forward.
Recently, I visited Palestine with my parents to go see my Great- Grandmother. While we were there, my older brother was there with his friends and partners working on Lead Palestine. One day, they invited us to go to the refugee camp of New Askar. Before I went, I honestly expected it to be a sad and even maybe a depressing place, without hope. But, my thoughts automatically changed and were proved wrong as soon as I stepped foot out of the van. All the kids there who were probably around my age had kind and welcoming smiles, like rays of sunshine. It was so contrary to my thoughts, yet in the best way possible. I was elated and being there made me realize, that no matter what situation you are in, you can always find the bright side to it. I hope someday I can go back to the refugee camp of New Askar and renew the inspiration I had that day.
-11 year old Jannah Khalaf
To my family, friends, supporters and friendly strangers;
Nearly two years ago I was standing outside of K-Mart on Astor Place in New York City. I was talking to my mother on the phone about how I could bring together my passion of service to others and skills of leadership development. After that conversation, I thought I had it all figured out. I made the plan to develop the Palestine Youth Leadership Initiative. With the initiative, I had intended to move to the Gaza Strip for two years and develop student councils up and down the Strip. Bureaucratic limitations soon dawned on me and I was taught the importance of seeking market feedback and being flexible with your plan. Two years, tears, multiple failed fundraising pitches, prayers, and countless meetings, LEAD Palestine has grown into the program that it is today-- a week long summer leadership camp in New Askar refugee camp in the occupied West Bank for at-risk youth aged between 12 and 15 years-old.