There is a well of Palestinian stories that remain untold. On the growing campus of Birzeit University, these untold stories are just beginning to come out, uncovering a wealth of untapped talent. A new student-led initiative called BirHakaya seeks to boost Palestinian voices and potential, using a digital platform to share their stories with the world.
BirHakaya roughly translates to “a well of stories.” It’s the outcome of an ANERA-sponsored training initiative at Birzeit’s IT Center of Excellence, which brings expert advice right to students’ doorsteps. As well as being a training initiative, BirHakaya is a social publishing website for students and alumni. The website is less than a month old, but it has a broad vision to spotlight Arab youth creativity and innovations.
The initiative is part of ANERA’s plan to invest in the field of information technology, starting at universities. As a first step, ANERA built a ‘Center of Excellence’ at each of four universities in the West Bank. This was made possible through generous funding from private donors. The centers provide trainings, business incubation services, international certification programs and connect students with local IT companies.
Today, the IT center at Birzeit hosts the BirHakaya headquarters, where students hold meetings and manage the website under the supervision of IT experts. The students come from different educational backgrounds, merging together to succeed as a team.
“Birhakaya has successfully brought together a diverse group of students from different departments—students who would have otherwise never met,” explained Lama Amr, BirHakaya project coordinator and business student. “Each student brings their own knowledge, expertise, perspective and interest. This has enriched the experience, and continues to enrich the website.”
Training involves video-conferences with experts as well as peer-led, hands-on sessions.
The Story of BirHakaya
As further investment in the future of IT, ANERA hired Rama Chakaki to guide Birzeit students through the process of creating a start-up. Rama is a Los Angeles-based expert entrepreneur and the co-founder of VIP.Fund, a social impact fund for youth in the tech world. She developed an online curriculum to coach the students through all the stages of implementing their own start-up. After a series of mentor training lectures on leadership, non-verbal communication, and startup culture, the students created a social publishing website and launched a crowd-funding campaign.
The first part of training was done through video conferencing. The second part shifted to hands-on sessions led by Lama, Chakaki’s on-the-ground representative. Lama coordinated the on-the-ground training with Chakaki and ensured teamwork among all the marketing, design, IT and content teams.
Students were also connected with four industry professionals from AJ+, Raseef22 and NYU Abu Dhabi. These representatives discussed the intricacies of their professions and brainstormed future career paths for students. The training ignited students’ creativity, curiosity and passion to leave their mark on the Birzeit community.
Birhakaya’s program coordinator, Lama Amr, hopes to change the education system in Palestine.
Palestinian Students Dream of Sharing their Voices with the World
For now, the website works exclusively on connecting Birzeit students and alumni, and providing youth a digital space to write about their experiences and interests. Birzeit students are currently creating training videos to guide new team members and peer institutions. The aim is to expand further in Palestine and Lebanon in the near future. They also hope to attract contributors from the Palestinian diaspora, and ultimately share all Palestinian stories with the world.
“BirHakaya is not a well that is entrenched in the soil, but a well that aims for the sky,” said one student in a TV interview.
“We share all the stories students send us,” explained content creator Zeinab Samarra. “We make sure to add a fun and interesting dimension to the stories, especially because we live in a sad and very difficult reality.”
The birth of BirHakaya inspired a launch party in the fall. Students wanted to show off the initiative to the rest of their university peers, and encourage them to submit stories. The launch marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the lives of these innovative students—one that aims to empower Arab youth and make their voices heard.
BirHakaya has ignited students’ creativity, curiosity and passion to leave their mark on the Birzeit community.
Meet the Students
Lama Amr is BirHakaya’s program coordinator and head cheerleader. She is a filmmaker, photographer, and a Business student in her last semester of university. Lama hopes to change the education system in Palestine. She likes minions more than anything in the world.
Zainab Samara is a content creator at BirHakaya and a fourth year student studying English Literature and Translation. Zeinab is an artist and poet who hopes to establish a school for investing in children’s talents and potential. She is a positive girl who loves art and appreciates creativity, and hopes to join the Al-Jazeera crew someday.
Mahmoud Abusalameh is a member of the IT team. He is a Computer Systems Engineering student who loves sports and watching movies and TV. Mahmoud is a football enthusiast, and is a fan of Real Madrid and his hometown team of Al-Bireh. He likes working as a team and taking care of all the little technical details on the website. His goal is to start his own company, leave a mark in history and influence the world.