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Recognizing the power and potential of youth

Iraq, Libya, February 14, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Sebastian Meyer for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Boys at a secondary school in Kirkuk, Iraq that Mercy Corps is helping support. Photo: Sebastian Meyer for Mercy Corps

The last few weeks of resolve, resistance and peaceful revolution in Egypt have reminded the world of the power of people — and especially youth. Mercy Corps has long recognized the potential of young people to be catalysts for positive change, especially in the Middle East.

Our programs throughout the region focus on educating, engaging and empowering youth. In too many countries, there is a widening gap between the educational needs of students and the amount of resources schools are able to provide. This leads to a poor learning environment and, often, to young people dropping out of school. Mercy Corps steps in to fill the gap, offering classroom repairs, supplies, computers and vocational skills training in countries like Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

But, even after graduation, young people in the Middle East face fierce competition for fewer and fewer jobs. That’s why we’re helping match ambitious and hard-working youth with business owners through apprenticeship programs in places like the West Bank, giving them not only the chance to learn on the job but also have a better opportunity for a life-long career.

We’re also helping youth develop their leadership skills and become more active participants in the welfare of their communities. Through our Global Citizen Corps program, we engage youth through skills training, dialogue with young people in other countries and hands-on community service projects. Through this program — which has participants in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza — we hope to not only help young people find their place in a challenging world, but also help them begin to discover how they can make that world a better, safer place.

Our newest program in the Middle East is in Yemen — a place that is currently feeling unrest and uncertainty of its own. In Yemen, we’re committed to not only improving educational and career opportunities for young people, but also increasing the ability of local governments to provide services and access to those youth. By giving young people the chance to participate and let their voices be heard, they become active participants in their own futures, as well as assets to a peaceful society.

The events in Egypt’s Tahrir Square remind us of the power and potential of people working together to make something happen. At Mercy Corps, we count youth as some of our most critical partners in helping being peaceful, positive change to communities in the Middle East, and around the world.