We Are Not Numbers held a graduation party at the lighthouse in Gaza on March 31, 2022. The project, which Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor established in 2015, aims to tell the stories behind the numbers of dead and injured on the news.
The project celebrated the graduation of 54 young male and female Palestinian writers from the Gaza Strip and other locations around the world. WANN implements two recruitments a year and provides participants with six months of training about human rights, basic writing skills, creative writing, debating and addressing Western audiences. What distinguishes the project is that it connects Palestinians with native speakers and English language specialists as their mentors.
During the party, Maha Hussaini, strategy director for the Euro-Med Monitor, said that the world has been dealing with victims of the many Israeli military attacks on the Strip only as numbers, without even mentioning their names. “We are proud of this project in particular, as it allows young Palestinian men and women to convey the actual image of themselves and their culture to the world.”
In her words to the graduates, project manager Enas Fares Ghannam explained how the project has succeeded in making a big impact over its seven years by telling stories that have never been told – stories told by the people who lived them. She mentioned many stories published in 2021, including “Arrested for writing a poem” an essay by Salma Amin and “Outrage is selective” a poem by Basman Al-Derawi.
Ghannam also cited the many achievements of WANN in 2021. “This year was full of successes: 114 stories and poems were published on our website; the project cooperated with 30 NGOs, pro-Palestinian groups and local organizations; and our members participated in more than 60 webinars, interviews and podcasts with many international and TV channels.”
During the party, three of the graduating writers shared some of their experiences in the project. Zainab Basheer, 20, in her third year at university and majoring in English, is a part-time project assistant at WANN and was also one of the WANNers (member of the project). She explained how joining the project has changed her life entirely, that is, she used to be a very shy girl who couldn’t say a word in front of anyone. After joining WANN, she is more confident to speak before an audience,
“At WANN, I had the chance to speak in webinars, and it was my first time to speak to native speakers of English,” said Zainab. “I thought that I would be nervous, but I discovered that I could make it, and I only needed a push from WANN to flourish and succeed.”
Soad Abu Shammallh, 18, a student of information technology, excitedly shared that having a brother who was a WANNer made her interested in what the organization did. She had followed all of WANN activities on social media platforms and waited impatiently for the new recruitment to start so that she could join, too. “After joining the project, I had my mentor with me from the beginning, step by step,” she said, noting that she succeeded in her first assignment even though “I was afraid to write my first story because it has many details, which I thought are hard to tell.”
Soad wrote a story about a female Palestinian poet, Rehab Kanaan, who survived the Tel al-Zaatar genocide and lost 54 members of her family. Rehab thought that she lost all of her family in the genocide, to discover 22 years later that her daughter was still alive in Lebanon.
“I’m not the same person as I was before WANN,” Soad added. “WANN made me more confident about myself and my writings. I’m very proud of this experience, through which I met lots of great people and friends. I really hope for the next participants at WANN to stand here, like me, and tell us how much they enjoyed their experience at WANN.”
Abdallah Hasaneen, 20, a student of law in the English department at university, also shared remarks about his experience at WANN. Passionately, Abdallah started his speech in Standard Arabic, sharing some of the things he wonders about, and asking, “If we are not numbers, then who we are, or what can we be?”
“Just like any Palestinian, I have a story with numbers, even if I tried to escape from one number; another number stalks me everywhere I go,” he said. “The We Are Not Numbers family taught us how to tell the true stories behind these numbers around us, to talk about those who we lost, and to express the pain we have inside us for losing them.”
Being a Palestinian and a student of law, Abdallah felt that it is his responsibility to speak up about the violations that take place in Palestine, but an obstacle he faced was speaking and expressing himself in English.
“WANN helped me a lot to overcome such an obstacle,” he said. “Through the training and meetings we had with many native speakers of English, I became more capable of expressing myself in English, and also to speak about the truth of what really happened here. I learned how to use the right terms and words when I get the chance to meet any English speaker.”
It was important to honor those writers who were most committed and active during the six months of training. For this, the staff of WANN created a video to honor the 13 most active and published writers from this cohort.
The party ended by recognizing each writer and presenting them with a certificate of participation and letter of recommendation.
We Are Not Numbers (WANN) is a project of theEuro-Med Human Rights Monitor. It aims at documenting the lived experiences and diverse perspectives of young Palestinian people living under the Israeli occupation while also advancing the skills of the upcoming generation of Palestinian writers.