[Active Citizen Summit 2.0] Small moments, big impact

This year’s Active Citizen Summit 2.0 unites 18 young social entrepreneurs—one from every Middle Eastern and North African country and the Palestinian territories—to Chicago and DC for a three-week program. In the months leading up to the exchange, I was admittedly apprehensive about how such a diverse group of delegates, including one from Iran and one from Israel, would interact. Living in DC and being constantly surrounded by news reports on the region, it was easy for me to ascribe each country’s politics to its respective participant, forgetting that each delegate is a unique individual with his/her own thoughts and political inclinations.

Taking pictures in front of the bean in Millennium Park

ACS delegates take photos in front of the Bean in Millennium Park

But when the delegates arrived, any anxiety proved unfounded. One of the moments that will remain with me long after this exchange took place on one of our cultural days. After a long day of walking around Chicago, a few delegates sat on the steps of Millennium Park. To a passerby, it looked like a group of tourists resting briefly, but to me, it was a powerful tableau.  The Israeli delegate was recounting her time in the IDF, the Egyptian delegate was speaking about mandatory conscription and the war his father served in, and the Syrian delegate was reflecting on family friends that could not avoid the draft. This conversation was a bitter glimpse of the difficult realities and conflicts that the ACS delegates face in their countries. As I listened to their stories, it occurred to me that in another time or place, these delegates could have been coerced into fighting each other. But on that day, the very forces that should have divided them were uniting them. Frustration with their governments and the status quo is what has compelled these young people to want to work to change their communities and the world.  There was something unspeakably powerful about watching them be vulnerable about the lives they’ve led and the choices that had been stripped from them.


Donna Farag is an ACYPL program officer.

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