Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We are all different, yet alike

Lately I have been thinking of all the encounters I have made during World Youth Day in Krakow last summer. 
I have had many discussions with friends about Egypt and their countries: the challenges, the problems, hopes, wishes.. 

Actually, I have stopped talking about the political scene in Egypt for few years now for many reasons. Maybe cos of saturation after the intense years right after the revolution in 2011 or whatever it is called now, or cos people are now dividing everybody else according to either an enemy or a friend based on their opinion or simply cos I know that we shall face the consequences of all the past mistakes sooner or later so this is what we have to endure in this life. At the end, life goes on and it never stops.. so either go along with it and fight for whatever you want or just drop dead emotionally or intellectually or physically and be detached from the world.
Yet, what I've lived during the World Youth Day made me see the world from a different perspective.

Taking for example the issue of mixing politics with religion and separating religion from politics. These are 2 opposite examples yet both are regarded as very harmful to the general good. 
From one hand, taking Egypt as an example, we are suffering from politicians and others putting religion in everything to make people follow them or go to a certain direction. Egypt is a very religious country in terms of people putting religion on top of everything else although judging by the manners and the behavior of the general population, they are far away from the core of religion teachings (to be discussed another time). So this is a very dangerous game as having religion controlling everything is a big problem because when you try to discuss you are labeled as enemy of God and a non believer.
On the other hand, taking some developed countries where religion is not taken into consideration is also creating lot of debates on main issues like the right of life (abortion, euthanasia... ). 

In Egypt we are talking about basic rights for people, right for a good education, health system and safe environment.. other countries have already these needs satisfied for the majority so the discussion are about other topics as per Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
What some countries consider freedom of speech, other considers as hatred speech, what is considered as freedom of act in other places it is seen as immoral and so on..

So this brings us to the point, where do we stand from all this? There is no ideal place to live in, each has its own problems. What changes is the perspective. 
This was an eye opener to me and also a ray of hope that I am not alone in this world. There are others like me, who really believes they can make a change, who stands by their own principles and do whatever they can even if it is small.
Of course i'm not comparing to what's happening to countries at wars. This is totally a different story and I feel so bad about the crazy world we live in because despite the advancement in technology and the evolution, we still live in a jungle where the strongest rules the world for the sake of power on the expense of humanity.

So bottom line, every place has its own challenges and there is no such a place called paradise. You live in Paradise when you live in harmony with yourself, when you live according to your believes, when you do your best to make it a better world.
As Ghandi once said "be the change you want to see in the world".
You may choose to change country, to change work, to forget about everything else but if we don't change ourselves, the world will continue to be as ugly as it can get.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The "V" Power

Looking back to my incredible 2 weeks in Krakow, 2 months ago, I can say that yes, the volunteers have indeed super powers :D

Anywhere you go, you could meet one of those blue hands greeting you to help you find you way, those young people in blue shirts working relentlessly to distribute the pilgrim kits or working in the different venues and event areas and those behind the scenes in social media or cameras, you name it.
Even the volunteers had their own volunteers looking after them!
And they are all smiling to you no matter what.
Wearing the blue shirt and the volunteer bracelet was a privilege for us, to be there making the World Youth Day happen and witness the change and transformation it brings to everybody, including ourselves. 

We were around 19,000 volunteers including 4,000 international volunteers. If you ever passed by the place were we sleeping, in my case at Wisla Sport Center, you would always find volunteers gathered during their rest time chatting, playing music, having a quick snack.. It was challenging sometimes to stay in one place but at the same time it was great you could meet your friends who are not working with you in the same department or assignment and get to know new friends.
This feeling of having a very big family, speaking all languages, sharing stories and experiences and praying together.
The concept of borders or divisions between countries are totally abandoned. We are one big family, we care for each other, we support and help each other. 
This spirit started even before meeting in Krakow. In the Volunteers facebook group, everyone was trying to help anyone who had a question or facing a problem. If someone had an information or a tip, it was shared directly, if some volunteers were needed for a specific task or in a certain location, you just announce it.

Going for the volunteer mass, filling the metro and then walking to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Lagiewniki to attend the mass for volunteers was an incredible experience.
You could feel the energy and the joy spreading all around. I was also impressed by the choir, who was really superb. It was a moment of prayer, inspiration and blessings before starting our work as volunteers.

On a personal level, my experience with the Social Media team was an unforgettable one. It started 3 years ago in Rio for some of us including me, and even more for the few who witnessed its beginning in Madrid.
It was great to reunite again with my friends and to make new friends.
This was my home during the 2 weeks I spent. You could feel the energy once you entered our room. 
Knowing that what we do is perceived by millions, all around the globe, was a big responsibility. Each word, each photo or status shared, was important. We were the face and the voice of the World Youth Day to those who were not present in Krakow and to bring the spirit of the World Youth Day to those who didn't know about it.
For the Arabic page which I was working on, it was challenging to have everything translated in short time since Arabic was not one of the main languages were translations were already available.. yet, the many likes, shares and comments we received made us all proud. 

3 years ago, when I was informed I'll be in the communication team, I knew little what I was about to live. Of course, I had already personal experience with social media but it's something else to be responsible for reaching thousands of people who are following you.
In 3 years, things have evolved and we had also to adapt, new applications, new means for communication and new expectations.
But I assure you, that the hard work pays off. Receiving lot of photos and feedbacks, comments and questions, interacting with our followers was a real pleasure. You feel that what you do matters and is making a difference. It was also a motive to innovate and to be present on the ground, not only online. I've decided to venture and do some facebook live to show the world, first part of the mass and prayers during catechesis, then interviewing pilgrims.

Even if we were not the biggest language or the largest page, I'm proud to say that the number of our followers have doubled and together with all the languages, we are growing over the years. I still remember when we celebrated the 1 Million followers in Rio, 3 years later we almost tripled that figure.

#ThanksWYD for making me live a great enriching experience!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

A day to remember: "Memory, Courage, Future"!

A month ago was the last day of the World Youth Day, Krakow 2016. It was the most unexpected day of the 2 weeks I have spent in Krakow.
It started on the previous day, the day of the Vigil at Campus Misericordea. Once again, I attended it online as I was working... more about it in another post.
There was an idea to catch up the final mass with the Pope early Sunday morning. By early, I mean taking the bus for media at 4:30 am. I really wanted to attend the mass as it was one of the most memorable moments in Rio... but I had to let go of the volunteers meeting with the Pope as it was difficult to do both. It was a tough choice for me but I decided to go to the mass even if it was a challenge itself.
Arriving at Campus Misericordea brought back the memories of WYD in Cologne, 11 years ago.. a big field, people waking up early morning, the queues for bathrooms and for food.. But the mind and heart have changed in between.

I had to depart from my friends which whom i made the way as I didn't have a pass to the media section. I was supposed to meet another friend at the volunteer section. Going there, one Spanish pilgrim, asked me for help. She wanted to return to her section but the security didn't let her pass and she didn't have her ticket pass with her nor the mobile to contact her friends. She was really anxious on how to get back. I guided her from another way following the map and made sure until she found her group. I felt joy seeing her so relieved and thanking me for the help, as if I rescued her life. You never know the impact you have on people even for doing small things until you see it in their eyes. That's what volunteering is about.

I decided to find some of my pilgrim friends until my other friend arrived but I failed to reach them as they closed the main intersections before the Pope's arrival for security.. when I decided to return back to the volunteer section after staying stuck for a while, the moment I turned, I saw my friend I was supposed to meet.. Imagine seeing the person you were supposed to meet (at another point) in the middle of hundreds, thousands.. or shall I say 3 million people! It's like, divine providence, you don't need to worry about the how, you just leave it to God and everything will be managed on its time.

At the end of the mass, we started to walk to the bus drop off point.. at this point I realized how many people were actually there! It was so huge! I saw families, parents with children, even babies. People from all the places around the world.. all together in one place, chanting, praying, even dancing. I sometimes wonder, what if we remove all barriers and notions we have about countries, languages, culture, stereotypes. Wouldn't be a much nicer world to live in? 

Many people started to walk, everybody talking, and also waiting to hear the announcement of the next World Youth Day. We stayed a little in the shades waiting for the bus and watching pilgrims passing by. 
Of course no World Youth Day without rain. It stared to rain a lot.. luckily for us, we had the bus to go back to the media center, to continue working from there.. Everybody else had to walk under the heavy rain. I still had my fair share of the heavy rain later in the day. 

The day didn't end at this point. We went back to the media center to prepare for the last hours before leaving. We watched the Pope at Tauron arena, with all the volunteers. It was really amazing specially when Pope Francis decided to discard the prepared speech and to speak from his heart. Lucky for me he spoke in Spanish so I could understand it directly as I'm not that good in Italian which I started now to learn to be prepared next time.The speech (link in English) was so inspiring and can be summarized in 3 words: "Memory, Courage, Future"
"...Do you want to be the hope for the future or not? Two conditions that cost nothing. The first is condition is to remember. Trying to understand where I come from: the memory of my people, my family, my whole history... Second condition. If I am hope for the future and I have memory of the past, then what about the present? What must I do in the present? Have courage, be strong, don’t be afraid..."

Reflecting on the speech, it's true that to carry on in the future, we need to know our past, our history and heritage.. but not stop at this point and live in the past. Many Egyptians would say, we are the 7,000 years civilization, we are the builder of the pyramids.. but this is not enough.. the past is already gone, we live in the present and it's the present that will determine the future. If we live on the memory of the past then we will be stuck in our place. We need to have courage, not to be afraid and fight for a better future, our future and the future of our children and grand children.. Looking back on the past 5 years, we have gone through a lot in Egypt, politically, socially, economically, emotionally.. you name it.. 

At some point I had lot of hopes and waiting for the change. I was doing my best to be part of it, to be engaged in everything. I was always the person looking to the half full glass not the empty half. But gradually this has changed to being indifferent to the fights and divisions between people and just watching from far cos I know that we reap what we sow and these are the consequences of the peoples' choice.

The present may not be that optimistic, but I have faith that someday it will get better, but it will only get better if we have the courage to be part of the present. We are the hope of the future, we must act now and not wait for something to happen.

As every story comes to an end, to start a new one, the World Youth Day came to its end in Krakow, to start a new journey to Panama.
For this last night in Krakow, we met with some of our Social Media team for dinner in the city center.. On the way back, I was so tired and maybe feeling a little bit sad for leaving with the hopes to meet again someday, somewhere. It was my last walk (not counting walking under the heavy rain to the bus station and train station few hours later). Every step was becoming heavier, with tiredness, with bitterness.. Streets were empty compared to the previous days as many people already left Krakow. One last discussion until it was even tiring to think or speak or walk.. I remember my friend saying that the best thing was to see how we are part of the change of people. This includes me on a personal level as he was part of my transformation during this journey even without knowing it. We may not realize it but surely we impact the people we encounter. Like the girl I helped on that day or the discussions I had with friends or people I may never see again, or even family and friends.. I remember once my brother told me that he is proud of me and I never realized that I really could affect him in that way before that moment, cos we are brother and sister.

I truly miss the World Youth Day for all these small moments, the talks and discussions, the encounters, the connections with people. Getting to know each other, learning something new every day, a new experience, a new information, a new feeling. The feeling that you can do whatever crosses your mind, the freedom of being myself, the true me that's sometimes hidden as people see what they are used to see in their mind. I miss all the moments I could connect with myself and listen without thinking of everyday's preoccupation. It's like switching off and reconnecting.
Those precious moments will be in my heart, until we meet again.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

SDM Krakow 2016! A life changing experience!

Once again I am part of this incredible journey, the World Youth Day, this time in Krakow.
I can't describe all my feelings but definitely this time it has really changed me from inside. I feel more connected to myself. I listen to my real voice. I totally let myself be guided and open to everything.
I may have not participated in the main events like I did the two previous times but I don't regret it cos I lived something deeper.
It is hard to explain but I believe that everything happens for a reason; the people I meet, the friends I make, the things that I see. It is all connected together.
I may not have done everything I planned for but I learned to let myself just be free. It doesn't matter because every step will add a new encounter, a new experience. So maybe not what I have in mind but I am certain that it will lead to something.
I may still have doubts, I may still wait for answers but I just leave all the worries away and live the moment.

I'll try to summarize all what I have experienced in those two weeks in several posts.. It's not that easy to recount everything but I'll try to capture the essential.

A month ago, I left Cairo with lot of excitement. Excitement to meet my old friends, my team in social media since I've been working with some of them online for more than a year and meet new friends.
On the way to Krakow, we were 4 volunteers taking the same flight. We already arranged to meet before boarding the flight from Paris as we were coming from different destinations. By the time we arrived to Krakow, we were a bigger group of volunteers on the way to our accommodation. In the bus, we kept all talking and trying to figure out which will be our stop.. I remember there were several Polish old people and they were looking to us with happiness and maybe admiration. I believe they knew why we were here. The next challenge was to find our accommodation "Wisla". It was a Sunday so everything was closed, it started to rain while we were walking but we managed to arrive finally to our home for the next coming weeks. 
As soon as we entered, I felt happy. Someone playing music, others gathered and talking.. All international volunteers were grouped in two main accommodations, but for the early comers, we were all together in one big hall. It was a challenge to find an empty bed but luckily there were still some places.
It was a like a very big hostel where you can hear all languages spoken, yet I was not feeling a stranger but rather being with my family.

The main hall where I spent the first night..
after that I was sleeping on the floor of a Judo hall

The following morning, they turned the lights at 5am, don't ask me why.. some people had to leave to their other accommodations, the rest, we were waiting for our volunteers kit. 

The church

Kościół Najświętszej Maryi Panny z Lourdes

I heard that there is a morning mass at 7am in a nearby church but I was too tired to go out and by the time I was on my feet and ready people already left. I decided maybe I will try it another day. I didn't know at the time that 2 days later, i'll go every single morning to this little church at 7am to attend the morning mass. Sometimes I was late a little bit but still I went. 
This experience has transformed me. To be united in prayer with volunteers as well as with local people even if I don't understand every word (1st week mass was in Latin, 2nd week it was in Polish). I was doing my best to participate whenever there is a text I can read from and even if I don't pronounce correctly every single word. This little church next to a garden was so peaceful and yet energizing. At first I didn't believe I can get up early enough to attend the mass but I was surprised that almost during all the 2 weeks in Krakow I was even getting up earlier than I did in Egypt.
After the mass, sometimes i was staring at the nature in the garden early morning, or walking in silence and enjoying some quiet time with myself away from all the noise or talking with friends on our way back.

Staying all together in one place, made it possible to meet my old friends who were in different assignments, even just to say hi while passing or to meet on our way back home. I may have wanted to spend more time with them, but in a way or other, we are already connected.

I've worked most of the 2 weeks as first I was by myself then my friend arrived. It was very tiring at some moments but nothing compares when I see lot of messages from pilgrims sending their photos, asking questions or followers who couldn't come to Krakow and this was their way to follow live the World Youth Day.

Arabic may be small compared to other languages but what I saw was far beyond the numbers. It's how we touch people's live and make them all unite together regardless of the distances or the difficulties they are facing in their countries, giving hope and spreading joy. This what kept me going and pushing myself to do even more, knowing the impact I have on others.
This is the spirit of the World Youth Day volunteers, to serve others and through them to experience the love of God and live the World Youth Day.
Yes I may not have the possibility to attend many of the events, but sharing these moments with my team in the social media room watching what's happening on the big screen and sharing everything with the audience in social media is truly something not to miss either.
Also seeing how the impact of the social media has grown since Rio is like seeing your baby grow. You feel like you were there in every step, watching it evolving over the time.. and this made possible with the hard work of all the team who made it possible to have all this content (graphics, videos, gifs....) and managing all this together.
All the team cheered at the end of the facebook life session recordings, or when we see someone we know on the big screen, or when reaching milestones... we are all one family, praying together, caring, encouraging and cheering for each other.

The world of the Social Media Team

These 2 weeks have been the most rewarding and most incredible experience I ever had and I'm thankful for every single moment.

Nos vemos in Panama!