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Commentary: Growing up inside Gaza

  • Story Highlights
  • Reem calls Gaza City the city of qualifications, but many can't find jobs
  • She describes her day filled with school work, friends, studying and volunteering
  • She says she realizes Palestinian youth are similiar to youth all over the world
  • For more, go to In Depth: Generation Islam
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Reem (whose last name is withheld for security purposes) is a 22-year-old student living in Gaza City and a participant in Mercy Corps Global Citizen Corps, a nonprofit initiative that helps youth build leadership skills and act to end world poverty. Reem and the nonprofit are part of an upcoming CNN special event, "Generation Islam" with Christiane Amanpour. Here, Reem writes about growing up in Gaza.

(CNN) -- I have vivid memories of childhood. The 5-year-old girl with endless questions; she wanted to discover the secrets of the entire world within minutes. She dreamed of being a doctor once, an engineer another time, and a mother of lovely kids. A dreamer, this is how I would describe the little girl Reem.

Reem is a 22-year-old student living in Gaza City.

Reem is a 22-year-old student living in Gaza City.

Days passed fast. Reem couldn't remember a lot of them, but she had some moments left in her memory -- usually the happy moments of her life -- and those memories were the basis for today's Reem, the 22-year-old girl who is ME.

I remember how happy I was when my teacher announced to the school that I was first in my class. I remember my mother's voice singing to me before I fell asleep; I remember my father running behind my kite when I lost it in the air, and I remember me asking my parents for a real monkey as a pet.

I can't forget the day I finished high school; I felt so grown up. I remember the day when the school announced the exam results and the tears of happiness my mother shed when I received a grade of excellent, and then I decided to enroll in the college of Business Administration.

I can call Gaza City the city of qualifications, where a lot of youth are qualified for good jobs. I am one of those youth who is volunteering in organizations, participating in community service activities, getting trained in various skills and getting more qualified day by day. But many young people like me cannot find jobs. See perspectives from Palestinian youth »

Sometimes, I feel disconnected from Gaza, but whenever I see the photos of Jaffa, I realize that it's where I and a thousand refugees belong. I find myself crying, missing a place I have never been to, but it's where my parents and my grandparents lived. I remember all those bedtime stories my grandmother used to tell me about the land, the fence of roses they had, and her climbing trees and cutting fruits. How I miss that place.

But life must go on. My day starts with the smile of optimism and the plan of my day. Waking up early to go to my university; I have to attend all of my lectures even though some are boring. My friends are a big part of my day. We start with our updates and then go to courses where we can develop our skills. When I arrive home, I feel so exhausted, but still I continue working and studying hard. I am always looking for chances for personal development, whether through volunteer work or at school.

I was offered a great opportunity to volunteer with the aid organization Mercy Corps as a founding member of the Why Not? youth program, and then I had the pleasure of seeing this program blossom into the Global Citizen Corps, or GCC, a cultural exchange between Palestinian and American students. I believe this program is deeply important because it changes the negative impression of Palestinian youth that is too often spread by media.

All my friends and 1,000 others are engaged in this program, which develops our personalities, our skills and serves the community. We use digital media as a tool to express what we feel and what we do. We make changes in ourselves, in our community, and we pave the way for global change. We are thinking globally and acting locally.

My ambition is to be a researcher in business studies all over the world. I finished my B.A. and a diploma of business studies, and I hope to obtain a scholarship to do graduate work in media and development. I am also interested in the field of project management and human interaction management. I know it is a good ambition to be Ph.D. holder and a worldwide researcher, but as Palestinian girl, I have fewer opportunities, not because I am not qualified or hard-working enough but because I am Palestinian.

Usually Palestinian students have fewer opportunities than others to get scholarships, because it's hard for them to leave the Gaza Strip, as all of the borders are closed. But I have not lost hope, and I will not. I will keep trying to pursue my dream of being the researcher I want to be.

It's true that I am a girl, and girls face some challenges in our society. For example, I can't stay a late hour at work. But I am so happy and honored to be a Muslim; putting the scarf on my head is something that I love. To many foreigners, it might seem to be against women's freedom, but I can tell that when a lady is convinced of it, it becomes part of her self-esteem, her self-confidence and her protection each day. I feel sad when the world gets angry at Muslim girls while they are peaceful and happy, enjoying their choices and freedom.

I found that I'm not that different from Catherine, who lives in the United States and whom I contact through the Global Citizen Corps. I have realized how similar Palestinian youth are to youth all over the world. Catherine likes some of the food I like, and she loves swimming just like I do. There are also lovely differences between us: I tried to cook what she taught me once, and she is learning Arabic now.

Maybe our lifestyle is different. I focus on my own development; I spend most of my time working to become a more qualified person with more knowledge and skills. I do not work hard because I am super girl or I aspire to be one but because I always want to be ready for the worst situation. In Palestine where I live, surprises can happen at any time, and I don't want to be caught off guard. I want to make my future secure by being a really good person. I deserve to live.


I enjoy my life as it is now, but I hope that when I find a scholarship and live in the West, I will not be obliged to take off my scarf and won't hear negative comments about me because I am Muslim. I consider religion a personal freedom that is related to your beliefs and what you feel in your heart. I love letting others live in peace. ... Why can't we enjoy peace, too?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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