Q&A with Sanaa Khasawneh, 2022 Ambassador of the European Year of Youth
As part of the ETF communication campaign on youth during the month of June, the ETF Strategic Communication Team interviewed Sanaa Khasawneh, the 2022 Ambassador of the European Year of Youth in which she reflects upon being a key player in the community service initiatives that target youth in Jordan, and on the most important milestones of her career as well as her plans for the future.
Q1: Can you brief us about your nomination as Ambassador of the European Year of Youth for this year and how it all started?
A1: First of all, I was contacted by the Euro Med for an interview to talk about my involvement in the RESMYLE project, an initiative that aims to connect youth (NEETS) with SDGs through doing activities and workshops related to ecotourism and sustainable agriculture. Throughout the interview, I happened to refer to my participation in some other initiative in Jordan related to raising awareness of road safety. After the interview was published, I was surprised to receive an email informing me of my selection as Ambassador of the European Year of Youth for this year. I was quite happy about my nomination because it was a good opportunity for me to highlight the vital role of Arab youth as well as the contributions they make to their societies; I also believe it can be a useful way for me to gain exposure and widen my connections at international level.
Q2: How far did your academic background and professional career qualify you for this selection?
A2: I graduated in architecture from the Jordan University of Science and Technology as I was interested in designing environmentally sustainable housing units. Upon graduation, I started working with the Jordan Green Building Council. Then, in 2018, I was admitted to a fellowship to do a master’s degree in sustainable transport and road safety at the Saint Joseph University of Beirut, a great opportunity and turning point of my career. In 2020, I defended my thesis, titled “Death on Foot”, which was a tracing of the pedestrian fatality patterns in Amman, Jordan.
Q3: What made you change your interest from architectural engineering to road safety?
A3: I changed my career orientation, yes, but I have to say I benefited a lot from studying architectural engineering. In the sense that, when you study architecture, you get to learn how to design housing units, meet the needs of the inhabitants in terms of light and ventilation, etc. However, when I embarked on my first job in engineering, I found it quite exhausting in a way that negatively impacted my social life. I then had this opportunity to study sustainable mobility and road safety management in Lebanon and thought it would enable me to benefit my country, especially given that Jordan is suffering from an expertise deficit in this field.
Q4: How was your master’s study a turning point in your professional career?
A4: Being in Beirut was a mind opener for me; the Saint Joseph University provided an opportunity for networking and building new connections. For instance, during my study, I was admitted to a couple of internships, one at the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) in Geneva, while the other was in France. It was only then I realized that sustainable mobility and road safety are really my passion.
Q5: What made you that passionate about road safety?
A5: The idea that Jordan suffers a lot from road accidents and victims is what made me interested to pursue a career in this domain. In addition, speaking of my previous speciality architectural engineering, the Jordanian labour market is already saturated with engineers and there are not many job opportunities. It was also an opportunity to raise public awareness of road safety since many people weren’t acquainted with the concept. Therefore, alongside a group of my colleagues, I drafted a concept note and approached some NGOs that work in the area of public awareness of road safety and pitched the idea of building a website that provides tips and information to the public on what road safety is since it is multidimensional and involves a myriad of stakeholders. We started gathering data, hiring volunteers and writing and translating articles in order to develop informative content for the website. We now think about posting short videos to encourage more people to get engaged online.
Q6: How were you nominated for the title of Ambassador of the European Year of Youth?
A6: As I said, I was contacted by Euro-med after I appeared in the RESMYLE project video. During that time I was applying for a grant offered by Total Foundation to support projects related to road safety. The fund was in collaboration with the Global Youth Coalition for Road Safety. My proposal was luckily accepted, and I managed to receive the fund needed to continue a campaign that I have started to raise public awareness of road safety in Jordan, named Deterrent on the Road. A few month later, I was selected to represent youth at the UN Global Road Safety Week where I was honoured to deliver a speech amongst many international figures including Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Furthermore, I took part in developing an ecotourist map that provides geographic/anthropologic info about the forgotten areas, ones off the beaten track in Jordan as part of my involvement in the RESMYLE project. I got nominated to attend a 3 week workshop in El-Hamamat City in Tunisia where I was requested to come up with a promotional map of the International Festival of El-Hamamat as a way to revive regional tourism. I was so happy to have won first place in the Global Road Safety Film Festival together with a group of students last February for making a short movie to raise awareness amongst youth of road safety, an achievement that I am so much proud of. I believe all of this contributed to making the EU select me for the title for this year.
Q7: What message do you want to deliver to youth?
A7: I would love to say that we – youth - have a huge responsibility to take initiative and try to be the change we wish to see; we shouldn’t just sit down and wait for opportunities to come. Instead, we should create the opportunity and be proactive. I would also say that today’s world is full of crises and challenges, from unemployment to poverty to climate change, etc. And these challenges are worldwide and faced by everyone whether in Europe, America or the Middle East. So there is a huge need for youth to go and prove themselves instead of being passive, getting depressed or feeling entitled to get special privileges. Life is hard and tough, yes, but we must rise to the challenge.