Last week, Bridgercare had the pleasure of hosting two university students from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions. The students, Randa Far (a Palestinian who lives on the West Bank) and Nassim Elkhou (from Morocco) were being hosted by MSU as part of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) program through the U.S. State Department. This program was designed to train young leaders from the Middle East and North Africa and increase diplomacy between our countries and has been hosted by Montana State University’s International Studies office for the last 14 years.

As part of his time at Bridgercare, we asked Nassim to interview some of his fellow MEPI students about various sexual health topics, including how accepting various cultures in the MENA region are of people with STIs or that are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

This is what he wrote:

What was exciting about interviewing different participants of the MEPI student leaders program is getting the chance to hear the story, from different perspectives and backgrounds. I figured out that the MENA region isn’t one whole geographical spot, where everyone is similar to everyone; it is full of diversities and differences. The level of acceptance of the LGBTQ communities in Libya for example, isn’t similar to how it is in Palestine, West Bank. How the society sees HIV+ people in Morocco has nothing to do with how they are negatively seen in the neighboring country Algeria.

The interviewees were all unsatisfied about the situation and mindsets of people in their home countries, and that shows how millennials have hope, and the willingness to change. They think it’s unfair to oppress minorities, and reject people of different orientations, and at the same times, they showed how it’s important to cut with taboos, and open conversations and dialogues about sensitive topics.

The MENA region is rich and diverse, and we will be missing a lot of chances if we cannot accept each other no matter how different we are. Diversity brings creativity and innovation, it opens new perspectives.

Bridgercare couldn’t agree more with Nassim!  It was an honor to host these two students – their passion to create a more accepting future story for their loved ones and their countries as a whole were truly inspiring. Thank you Randa and Nassim for lifting our spirits and, while there is still so much work to be done in the face of seemingly endless opposition, thank you for also reminding us that if you have hope, you are unstoppable.