Nadine Khawli recently joined the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York as a Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Generation 17 initiative and pens this blog. She credits her experience as a UN Volunteer in Lebanon for giving her leadership opportunities which prepared her for this role. Nadine was recognized as an ‘Outstanding Youth Delegate’ at the 2022 AFS Intercultural Programmes Youth Assembly in New York – the first Lebanese youth to receive this honor. That same year, she was esteemed as one of ten Outstanding Young People in Lebanon by Junior Chamber International (JCI) and the United Nations Information Center (UNIC) in Beirut.
Engaging with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme has been rewarding. UNV has helped me develop my confidence, leadership and communication skills, make new friends and become a Global Goals Advocate. On my path to UNV, I was involved in community service throughout my years in school and participated in the Youth Leadership Programme (YLP) launched by UNDP.
I began as a youth participant and then continued to support the YLP as an alum. Later, I was recruited as a national UN Volunteer for Youth Support with UNDP Lebanon, where I served from 2019-2020. The YLP taught me to design and implement activities in my community, gave me opportunities to be recognized as a change agent and support other change agents in Lebanon.
For example, I contributed to developing toolkits, mapping activities and awareness campaigns, which aimed to catalyze young women like me and encourage them to create positive change. In addition, I contributed to events, information-sharing and compliance reporting activities, in order to build the capacities of volunteers and gather support for our efforts at the national level.
Such activities entailed a high level of exposure, as I was constantly doing outreach and engaging with youth, community leaders and implementing partners. This, in turn, prepared me to become a Youth Development Delegate with UNDP.
In fact, UNDP and Samsung selected me to represent Lebanon in Generation 17, an initiative designed to activate youth leaders, elevate their innovative ideas for positive change and accelerate progress toward Global Goals.
I was able to amplify my voice through this initiative, participate in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, Cannes Lions Festival, Samsung Unpacking Event, and accept speaking engagements hosted by UNV Jordan and the United States Government, among others.
I was often the first Lebanese youth speaker many people at these events had ever seen and it was heartwarming to represent my country in this way. Therefore, UNV and YLP were the critical platforms through which I have connected my experience as a Lebanese youth volunteer to many others around the world. Importantly, these platforms also kept me close to the needs on the ground and the people in my community.
For example, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I co-founded Kafe be Kafak - a youth-led humanitarian initiative that raised funds, collected food, medicine and other basic items and delivered them to vulnerable families across Lebanon. The initiative later extended its service to people affected by the 4 August 2020 explosion at the Port of Beirut, helped to rebuild damaged homes and remained steadfast amidst severe damage to the infrastructure and limited security, electricity and internet service.
On the hardest days, I would wake up crying, because there was no running water, no way to maintain hygiene and no electricity to turn the lights on. My father was working abroad, and my family was still reeling from my sister’s death years ago. I was afraid. However, I knew I could create positive change through service, and this kept me going.
Then in January 2023, I was promoted to the role of UNDP Youth Engagement Coordinator for Generation 17 and relocated to the United States. I will be able to inspire and support even more people in this new role, including young women, and this is my greatest reward.