The sign behind Nadine reads “Greetings to Beirut from my heart.”
Nadine Khaouli is one of the newest members of Generation17, a partnership between Samsung and the United Nations Development Program [UNDP] highlighting young leaders worldwide who are helping to achieve the 17 Global Goals.
I'm 25 years old and live in Lebanon, which is where I’m from, where I went to university, and where I now work.
My days are very full because I have a lot of commitments. I work with the UNDP Lebanon Country Office to give workshops and trainings for young people about the Sustainable Development Goals, and I also manage the UN’s Youth Leadership Program in Lebanon and the Arab region. And I’m the cofounder of Kafe be Kafak, which means “Hand in Hand,” an organization that helps impoverished Lebanese families get the resources they need.
Every day is a whirlwind, but I love what I do, and technology makes possible things I would not have been able to do in the past. Getting to see the creativity and hope that come from the young people of Lebanon keeps me going, even when times are tough.
I live in Lebanon’s capital city, Beirut. I love this city very much—it is a city of laughter, of joy. In the mornings, I like to go for a run along the seaside, then drink a cup of coffee and look out at this beautiful place. However, our city is going through a difficult time right now.
I live in a country that needs my support to recover. Currently, Lebanon is facing many challenges, from COVID-19 to a huge explosion that occurred in Beirut in August of 2020. These events have thrust Lebanon into its worst economic crisis in decades: businesses were shutting down, the currency was collapsing, and inflation was driving up the price of basic consumer goods.
These factors motivated me to establish my youth-led organization, Kafe be Kafak, which is a network of roughly 100 young leaders and volunteers who help rebuild homes and provide necessities to struggling Lebanese families. Now, much of my day is focused on these efforts.
My volunteer work could be anything from distributing food, water, and medications to families, to helping rebuild a house, to arranging for donations to be moved to another part of the country through our network of volunteers. Jumping into this hands-on work is one of my favorite parts of the day, and it always reminds me of why we started Kafe be Kafak in the first place: to help struggling Lebanese families.
While we initially were focused on those impacted by the pandemic and Lebanon’s economic crisis, I am so grateful we had volunteers in place who were able to help after the explosion as well. While we never imagined doing emergency work, I remember heading to Beirut the day after the blast knowing that we needed to help in any way we could.
In addition to volunteer work, I also work full-time with the UNDP Lebanon Country Office. That could include anything from participating in marches, to leading workshops on youth participation in Lebanon, to writing a speech on engaging young people in humanitarian work.
This part of my day is a dream come true – I had always wanted to work with UNDP. I joined in 2019 as a United Nations volunteer for youth support. I was later selected as the Youth Development Delegate in Lebanon, and I'm working on coming up with a new agenda for youth in Lebanon and across the region.
While I used to travel a lot, today, due to the pandemic, more of my day is spent working online. For example, I used to travel to other countries to deliver workshops or trainings—now, I'm delivering those workshops or trainings virtually. I spend a lot more time on my phone, tablet, or computer, but I enjoy it. I’m learning more about different platforms to use when conducting trainings, especially from younger people who really understand mobile and online platforms—they’re geniuses.
When my friends Nivine, Sarah, Ali, Dina, Aya, and I started Kafe be Kafak, we began by creating an Instagram account, and we still use technology for our work every day. For example, we use our phones to capture our work with Kafe be Kafak, to interact with our volunteers and benefactors, and to learn more about how we can best help Lebanese families in need. We wear so many hats thanks to technology—we can be video editors, graphic designers, and content creators for our page.
I like to end my day in a similar way to how it began: by having a relaxing cup of tea, looking out at the city I love, and thinking about my role in serving the community.
The one-year anniversary of the Beirut blast is coming up soon. I’ve seen people on television talking about their experiences after the Beirut explosion and thanking young people who were pulling people out of the rubble and cleaning out debris in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. These young people pushed everyone forward after the blast; a year later, they are still pushing us to do more and to help more people. They have continued to volunteer for an entire year, long after all the cameras and TV crews were gone. That inspires me and makes me think about what else I can take on to create a better future for our country.
I'm very proud of the Lebanese youth and the capabilities we have. If I could talk to my peers directly, I would say, “Believe in yourself, and believe in your abilities. Don’t hesitate to get involved with your society and communities because nothing is impossible. This pandemic reminded us that life is short, and that we must accelerate our actions toward building a better future for all of us. Work towards enhancing your skills, and then take the first step towards real change.”