How you ALL turned me into a YaLa’er by Stuart Baldock, UK

tumblr_inline_n7s71jljcd1sag8l3After spending almost a year in the Middle East, people in the UK often ask – ’what was the best part’?

Now I could talk about my dangerous new addiction to canned pickled chilli’s. As a Brit I knew I had a problem as when during a study break I went into the fridge and ate almost a whole jar in one sitting! Tea with milk and sugar – (yes I agree it is odd – but try it sometime) – is the normal procrastination tool favoured by students in the UK. I could talk about the almost illegal sugar high that freshly made knafeh can give you! I could also talk about the frequent friendly and highly informative chats I had with Uri Savir in Cafe Michal – it was an education in negotiation and peace building that will last a lifetime. The iced coffee wasn’t bad either by the way!

In all honesty though the best part was ALL of YOU! Everyone I had the privilege of meeting in person and interacting with online when interning at YaLa! You managed to turn an analytical graduate student whom was continually despondent about the region into a fully fledged Yala’er!

When reading the news, analysing the region, or especially when living in the Middle East – it is very easy to lose all hope! Looking in from outside the region you see only war; corrupt and narrow interest politicians; terrorism; and repeated cycles of violence and hatred. If we are honest – if you look from inside the region –  that is what it can feel like sometimes as well – particularly at the moment!

When you tell people you worked for and are still involved in YaLa you sometimes get told – “wonderful – though aren’t you a little naive?”! I tell them vehemently NO! 40 years ago – those that thought Northern Ireland would have peace; Apartheid would end without a bloodbath; and that Egypt and Jordan would have peace treaties with Israel – you too would have been called naive! I always tell myself in those moments of self-doubt / regression to despondency (be honest we’ve all had them) that history is on the side of the naive!! Those that today are called naive today – are called forward thinkers tomorrow!!

The reason you ALL turned me into a YaLa’er – is that it takes real bravery to speak out against the status quo – to seek opportunities and change political realities that have always been such – and to call for peace when those around you advocate violence, particularly when you are in a tiny minority and the cost is ostracism or far worse.

We at YaLa aren’t just a few though! We are almost 500,000 strong – we are almost half a million people who want a different reality! YaLa is growing – spread the word to everyone you can – if anyone tells you that you are naive – wear the label with a badge of pride – smile and think to yourself history is on your side!

Stuart,

YaLa Young Leaders

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