Gaza Strip - We Are Not Numbers (WANN), a project of Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, held a graduation ceremony on Tuesday for young writers in Gaza. The project was established in 2015, and aims to tell the stories behind the numbers of victims of human rights violations in the news.
The graduation of 35 young Palestinian men and women from the Gaza Strip and other locations around the world was celebrated; the WANN project recruits talented writers twice a year and provides participants with six months of training on human rights, basic English writing skills, creative writing, debating, and addressing Western audiences.
What distinguishes the project is that it connects Palestinian writers with English language specialists, who are native speakers. In working together one-on-one to create a polished piece to publish online, these mentors serve as links to the outside world for writers who reside in—or have strong ties to—a culturally, literarily, and politically besieged sector.
During the graduation ceremony, Euro-Med Monitor’s Strategy Director Maha Hussaini said: “We Are Not Numbers is not just a project launched by a human rights organisation, but rather an idea, a fact that the world needs to understand and realise—that every Palestinian living under occupation is a distinct story by itself, and no one can tell a story better than the one who’s living it.
“At We Are Not Numbers, we do not tell the stories of people living under occupation; rather, we give these people a microphone to tell their own stories,” she added.
In her remarks to the graduates, WANN Project Manager Enas Ghannam said: “Being at WANN is a phase which will never end, and a step forward to becoming the ambassadors of victims in the [Occupied Palestinian Territory], for you are not like anyone else. Your country needs you, the world needs you, and humanity needs to hear from you, so raise your voices, speak up, and make us proud to have young people like you representing our society.”
Over the course of 2022, WANN published more than 100 stories in the form of creative nonfiction essays, poems, and articles; cooperated with 35 local and international organisations; hosted 35 national and international speakers; participated in nine interviews, podcasts, and live social media events on international platforms; and offered paid opportunities to 22 emerging youth leaders, plus produced seven short films.
Three graduates spoke about their experiences as “WANNers” during the graduation ceremony. “WANN has never been only about writing,” said Sara Hegy, 20, a WANNer and third-year English student at a university in Gaza. “Aside from all the topics that we attended sessions on, like human rights, journalism, and mental health, many [additional] new truths were unfolded to me.”
Abdallah Nasrallah, 19, another WANNers, also shared about his experience at WANN. “I started my training period, but I didn’t know I would create a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would change my whole perspective on the world,” he said. “I was taught what every writer needs to know by highly qualified trainers and [given] an immense amount of information.
“This was a life-changing experience for my inner child,” Nasrallah added. “How was it a life-changing? I am super proud…I was traumatised [by wars]. By writing and publishing my first story, ‘Forced to relive the past five wars’ with WANN, I was also able to publish it at Mondoweiss.”
To honor those writers who were the most committed, active, and prolific during the six-month training period, WANN staff members created a video which was shown at the graduation ceremony. The ceremony concluded with the staff recognising each writer individually, and presenting them all with certificates of participation, as well as letters of recommendation.