Roseanne Khawaja, 17, is not your average teenager. She took the initiative last year to create “Us the Youth,” a nonprofit organization that aims to tackle global issues.
It all fell into place when she saw children suffering from poverty during her travels to Africa with her father, who is a pilot.
“As a kid, I used to travel a lot, especially to Africa, so I saw how kids had to work instead of going to school, and how they had to walk miles and miles to bring water when they should have been in class learning new things. That’s when I decided I had to do something,” she said.
Us the Youth works on being part of the efforts to achieve the 2030 Vision of Saudi Arabia.
“In 2016, I started a school project called the Community Board. Influenced by Saudi Vision 2030, the project had a goal to share awareness about pressing global issues and to get my school community involved in solving those issues,” Khawaja told Arab News. “The project encouraged students to learn more about topics such as global warming, climate change and poverty. It also emphasized leadership and the role youth play in today’s society. After the success of the project, I decided to further expand it, and that’s when Us The Youth was formed.”
She explained that the organization was created with the mission to educate and inspire youth everywhere and to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world. Its vision is to make a lasting positive change in the world.
The organization’s goals are to raise awareness, organize charitable and educational programs in different regions of the world, to encourage the youth to give back to their community, and to engage children in charitable work, which will make them acknowledge the importance of giving back early in their lives. “Us the Youth has grown to become not just the effort of one person but everyone who gets involved in contributing with us,” said Khawaja.
The organization is run by Khawaja (president), Firas Al-Nasser (vice president), and Musab Al-Majnouni (secretary of the board). The latter two are college students.
“The organization also consists of a board of advisers made up of professionals who advise us in running the organization. Other members are the team leaders who work hard in leading our volunteering activities,” Khawaja said.
Us the Youth was established in Jeddah and aims to expand its reach to different parts of the world. Khawaja said it is now working to form teams in the Riyadh, the Eastern Province and the US.
The organization was able to give a talk in a school in Casablanca, Morocco in June 2018. “The talk was given by Youssef Fenni, a team leader from there,” said Khawaja.
She struggled with many volunteering activities as they were only available to those who are 18 and over. “Furthermore, I noticed that many did not know about the global issues we face today so I felt the need to contribute and stress the importance of sharing awareness among my community,” she said.
Us The Youth offers talks and workshops both in schools and outside. It also offers volunteering opportunities for children, teenagers and adults.
Khawaja explained the difficulties she faced both in school and socially. “When the organization started last year I was in my junior year, so I struggled a little bit because I was working all the time balancing school work and the organization. And being a teenager, people didn’t take me seriously at first but I learned how to deal with it and I no longer struggle with it.”
Her message to the world is: “When you start something for the first time there is always this feeling of anxiety, but it is important to believe in yourself and never to give up. Never think you’re too small or young to create change. Act now and you’ll get there. And always remember that together we can create ever greater awareness and move it forward to contribute toward a better world.”
The organization abides by its core values and is working on providing efficient programs and activities for the less fortunate.
“A future project we aim for is to provide curriculums for the unfortunate who don’t attend school. Those curriculums will be taught by Us The Youth volunteers,” she told Arab News.
Khawaja met Martha Adams, film producer and author of “Girl Rising,” early this year at the Saudi Art Council. They discussed education for girls, and she told Adams about her organization. “I met Martha at a talk she presented titled: ‘Using Film for Advocacy.’ I was able to discuss with her how providing education for all girls is a powerful way to end global poverty.
“She was intrigued by the work we do at the organization and when I asked her for advice she summed it up perfectly in one word, “persevere.” After the talk I had the organization take action on sharing awareness about girls’ education.”
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