Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Youth in Qatar

One of our first readings, “Arab Youth, the Missing Demographic”, which focused on the large number of Arab youth and their identity struggles, complex relationships to media, and high unemployment rates, was something that I can relate to personally due to my involvement in the founding of The Youth Company. Before I explain what this company is, I also think what I am about to discuss relates closely to ideas of globalization and glocalization (customizations to better suit geographic areas) that we have previously discussed as well as hegemony, social construction, consumer cultures and ethnocentrism.
Almost two years ago a group of four friends and I sat down and decided to come up with a project that would shape and re-define the way the Qatari community views its youth. You may be wondering why I didn’t write about something more lighthearted, like the relations between the Arab dessert Umm Ali and British bread and butter pudding, or my thoughts on the “One Of Us” campaign here in Qatar, well it’s because The Youth Company is something that I feel everybody should know about because it genuinely relates to much of what we discuss in class and is something that we, as youth in this region, should be aware of.
We initially formed the company to be a way for youth from around Qatar to get to know each other and share thoughts about many social issues while working to remove any ethnocentric tendencies and foster notions of cultural relativism, however it quickly branched out and became a way for youth to gain different experiences in order to be more successful in the future. I’ll take a step back to explain briefly. In Qatar during high school, and even during university, it is very hard to acquire a part time job or even an internship, in order to gain experience that will help you in finding a job in the future. Unlike in many western countries, where during middle school you can work in a McDonalds or your dad’s car shop, there are limited activities here unless you model, work for Red Bull, or have very good connections or ‘wasta’ (it’s not what you know but who you know). Although this situation is improving each year, it used to be that in order to get the credits to get into a university, unless you were fortunate enough to play on a sports team or debate team, the most experience you were going to get was lax community and service work.
This is where the idea of The Youth Company (TYC) came from, now after two years of being fully functional I can quote our mission:
“Our youth work is informed by a set of beliefs that include a commitment to equal opportunities, and to young people as partners in learning and decision-making. We believe that the needs, abilities, and aspirations of young people should be recognized, understood, and met within a supportive environment, which encourages them to achieve their goals and make real measurable progress. We endeavour to value the whole person and not focus solely on the problems or difficulties that young people may present.”
This relates to our class discussions and readings as at TYC we have worked with Silatech and referenced the Silatech Index for many of our workshops and research conducted to determine how to best reach certain youth groups. As Qatar has such a multicultural and diverse population of youth, it becomes even more complex for the youth to have a say in society and have their voices heard when it comes to our rights. However, certain hegemonic views that ‘youth are just youth’ and the idea that we don’t accomplish much or contribute to society is greatly misinformed by society at large and unfortunately sometimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The dominant group, being the rest of society, deems youth as being lazy and unaccomplished and instead of having youth just accept this as their fate, TYC works towards disbanding notions like this.
Due to society viewing youth in certain negative ways, many youth have moved online to social media to create large communities of active media consumers where youth can share thoughts openly without judging based on gender or ethnicity and without being judged by the rest of society. Examples of this can be seen on Facebook with pages and groups such as “What’s Goin on Qatar”, “Teenagers in Qatar”, and “Run The World Festival”. TYC actively participates with many of these groups, functioning mostly online, and is the creator of the Run The World Festival, which aims to bring together many youth sub-cultures in Qatar and allows them to learn from one another. This can be seen in last year’s RTWFestival where dance groups, singers, skateboarders, and different sports players were invited to perform and socialize at an event (side note: not many people even knew of the skater sub-culture in Qatar although it does exist).
Again relating to the reading, there is a 25% unemployment rate amongst Arab youth, and although that number may be lower in terms of Qatar, unemployment among youth is still something we see a lot of here. Despite having all of this American education and Western ways of living, in terms of globalization and glocalization, when it comes to how youth are perceived in society, it is still a very traditional outlook. The older generations have an older sense of looking at things and there are not many things for youth to do so they begin to look at these youth as miscreants – gangs of young people with too much time on their hands, and so starts the infamous “when I was your age” speech. Although I digress, my main point is that due to globalization, we have a mix of so many different cultures in Qatar’s youth population and a unique lifestyle where tradition meets many global concepts and forms of education, making it hard for us to relate to one another and to be heard and recognized in society. Therefore, companies like TYC work to bridge gaps in our youth community and also give different youth experiences that can help them later in life, which in a way can be viewed as social construction of our own youth culture.

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