Monday, 30 August 2021. This day marked the beginning of one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I received an email from the project manager of We Are Not Numbers: “You have been selected to join my team at We Are Not Numbers. We are very proud of you!” I was thrilled to be chosen from among a large number of applicants to be part of this incredible program.
How did I become a WANNER?
After the last Israeli aggression on Gaza in May 2021, I was very depressed and stayed in my home for a long time without doing anything except reading. I was desperate for a way to get out and to take the images of the war and the sounds of the bombardments out of my head.
One day, my friend Yasmeen sent me a link to an application to join a training program for six months with We Are Not Numbers (WANN); a project that was developed to help young Palestinian writers in Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora to tell their own stories.
Since I met all the conditions for joining the program, I applied immediately. The application required me to write 500 words about my experience during the last war. In my story, I wrote about everything that happened to me, how I was almost martyred when they bombed a neighbor’s house, and how this affected me.
The written application was followed by an interview with the project manager to talk about my motivations and aspirations. Eventually, I passed the interview and was one of 54 Palestinian youth between the ages of 18 and 35 from Gaza and abroad chosen to join the WANN training class—of whom two-thirds were women. We were all chosen because we showed strong motivation.
An exciting journey of learning experiences
During a six-month program, I attended more than twenty fruitful training sessions with international and national speakers and organizations. These helped me and my colleagues advance our skills and take our first steps in writing about the real people and the stories behind the numbers.
I am upset every time I read or listen to the news about Palestine in foreign media. They use an impersonal way to talk about the Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Rather than covering us as if we are living, breathing creatures with feelings, their coverage just uses numbers.
They just refer to how many killed, how many injured, and how many Palestinian prisoners and detainees are under Israeli Occupation. They reduce our entire lives to numbers, neglecting that everyone of us has his or her own story to tell and that we are unique, living, laughing, crying and dying individuals. The very point of WANN is to reach behind the numbers and tell the human stories that this sort of coverage denies.
Being a WANNer gave me the opportunity to enhance my skills in addressing Western audiences and creative writing. One of the most enlightening subjects during this program were three sessions with Jen Marlowe entitled “Show, Don’t Tell.” She is an author/filmmaker/playwright and human rights advocate. Through these sessions, we learned many useful tips about how to describe events and emotions in our stories and articles
A new challenge, a new gift
Every experience in life has its challenges, but each one of them is an opportunity for personal growth and self-improvement.
The big challenge throughout my journey with WANN was the idea of meeting people to write about them. It was a new and unexpected thing for me. When I went to ask people to write their stories for the first time, I was frightened by the rejection. However, when I started asking them, I saw the gratitude and satisfaction on their faces.
A way to get out of my comfort zone
I was born and raised in Rafah city, in the south of the Gaza Strip, and I had not had the chance to visit many places in Gaza City. Participating in the cultural and educational activities offered by WANN, I had the opportunity to get to know many organizations and international institutions in Gaza. I also had the chance to interact with people from different backgrounds who had different perspectives.
With the other WANNers I participated in many clubs, community activities, and events, which raised my awareness of my rights and my culture. For instance, we saw a play about women’s rights and we discussed it together. Then, we addressed the issue of women’s persecution and how it is widespread in the world, and we came up with solutions for this problem.
Additionally, I attended many events that developed my understanding of the rights, history, and heritage of the Palestinian people. WANN also connected me and the other writers with mentors who are native English-language speakers and professional in creative writing and journalism, who helped us a lot in our writing.
A day to remember
One of my favorite days in the WANN program was the Tasha (gather by the sea) day. This event gave me the chance to meet the old and new writers, get to know them better and make unforgettable memories together. We spent the whole of that day at the beach.
We talked about our stories and our experiences with our manager, Enas. Farah and Zainab organized a variety of activities and competitions. Afaf, Samah, and Ahmed sang Palestinian folk songs with their dulcet voices. We prepared food and ate together. We walked and laughed together under the blue sky. By the end of that day, I felt that our hearts had bonded and we had become a family.
I am thankful this experience changed me radically and help me to become a better version of myself. It gives me the chance to participate in making the society outside the Middle East aware of our living conditions under Israeli occupation and to expose Israeli crimes by telling my story and that of others behind the numbers.