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May 7, 2012 Posted by admin in Blog

AAANY Youth Dinner: Teenagers from Diverse Backgrounds Discuss Practicing Safe Lifestyles

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The Arab American Association of New York hosted a Youth Dinner this past Thursday, April 28th where teens came together to discuss issues they face in high school. Thirty Arab-American high school students from the Bay Ridge area joined Project SAFE, an organization that utilizes peer-to-peer training for youth between the ages of 14 and 19 to provide life-saving information. Through workshops, performances, and community outreach, Project SAFE initiates dialogue between teenagers about sex, drugs, and alcohol. When I got to AAANY I saw all my girls and was so glad that they were there and that I was not alone. The kids from Project SAFE were mostly Latino and Black and came from different backgrounds than me. In all honesty, I thought they wouldn’t understand the rules and challenges my friends and I face as first generation Arab-Americans. Boy was I wrong, not only did they get where I was coming from, but they also experienced similar cultural expectations.

To begin the event, we had an icebreaker to kill the awkwardness and get to know one another. Then, we broke up into two different groups, boys and girls, in order to discuss topics that were more relatable to each group. What I enjoyed the most from the event was the role-playing activity. The activity began with trained actors who acted out situations teens face with peer pressure to drugs, sex, and alcohol. The actors then asked if any of us girls wanted to act out a scene. We would either be the “presureer” or the “presuree," and would finish the scene based on how we would react to a situation involving peer pressure.

We also spoke about culture expectations and the fact that women are not treated the same as men, which I call a double standard. The group asked if us Arab-American girls would act out an example of this, so I volunteered to play the role of a father and my friend decided to act as the teenage daughter. The situation was that the father isn’t happy about his daughter coming home late. While her brother can be out until the sun comes out, if she’s home at 11:30pm it’s as if the world is ending. The father (me) said what any normal Arab father would say, “he is a man, he can do what he wants.” I really think the role-playing is what got the ladies from Project SAFE to ask us more about our culture. And I learned that our cultures are really not so different.

I think events like this are very important. In the end, not only was that night informative, interesting, and delicious, but, it really opened my eyes and let me know that there are other girls out there who also go through the same situations and problems as me. The best part is that they weren’t Arab or Muslim, so it made an even bigger mark on me personally to know that we share many similar experiences. I feel like it is organizations like Project SAFE that help make me less skeptical and more hopeful for the future of teens in America.

-Naema Hegazy, Senior at Fort Hamilton