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My father always told me “women should stay at home, it is where they belong”. I grew up hearing that education is useless and that girls my age were already married with children. My father, a traditional-minded old-fashioned 81 year old, always told me that a woman belonged at her husband’s house. He frequently told me that I was not good enough, and insisted on pulling me out of school. This made me too scared to do anything about the problems I kept witnessing every single day in my community since it would only make him angrier at me, so I just turned a blind eye. But then I read this poem:

“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.”

This poem by Maya Angelou was the last push I needed to break free from my family’s archaic tradition. I thought: I finished my first six years of education, I kept fighting, I kept rising. So why am I not standing up and rising for those problems I’m facing, why am I not doing anything about it!

I started volunteering. Volunteering for NGOs gave me what I was looking for; opportunities to serve and make a difference in my community. Later, it opened my eyes for something else: Why don’t I do something to leave my own mark and impact? That’s how I started doing awareness campaigns in my school about violence against women, food waste and the importance of education. And upon sharing my story, which at first I was ashamed to share, girls started to tell me that they too suffer from the same problem at home and that they too are scared to do anything about it. So I started to talk to their parents, help them choose their university major and look for scholarships together. But I wanted to make an impact outside the walls of my school; that’s how my partner Hassan and I founded Alam w Mahay.

Alam w Mahay translates to pencil and eraser in Arabic. These two items may seem insignificant, but these two items changed the lives of millions of people around the world. How? Again the magic word: education. Education wasn’t only my weapon to be empowered and empower others but also opened unlimited opportunities. One of these opportunities is the Middle East Parntership Initiative Student Leaders Program, which enabled me to travel to the United States and develop my project in order for me to reach those who didn’t have the chance to be educated, and empower them too.

Alam w Mahay is an initiative that aims to erase illiteracy among street children in Lebanon. Many of these children are illiterate and are sadly exploited by individuals and groups who recruit them to beg on the streets.  Moreover their parents, who also believe begging is the best way to get money, don’t know what education can offer their children in the future. So by educating those children, my team and I will give them the opportunity to rise, and fight for what they want. Until now, we have reached 30 children, in which 10 started to attend school. Two thirds of them now know how to o read and write and surprisingly two mothers also requested to be educated.

Alam w Mahay’s impact is not limited to those children but also reaches youth in the community. As for the youth, since it is an initiative run by volunteers, young ones will be able to know the true meaning of volunteering. It’s not about serving community hours, or “wasting time”, it’s about giving and receiving hope, feeling content for changing someone’s life for the better, and making an impact.

American poet Maya Angelou is a complete stranger to me, but her words left a huge impact on me and made me rise. I am Mariam, a complete stranger to all of you. I want you to believe in yourself and rise. Rise for those who need someone to nudge them. Rise for those who need your help so they can live a better life. And most importantly, rise to be the change that you need in this world. Let’s all rise together and create a change.


About the Author

Mariam Mohammad

Mariam Mohammad

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