Country/area: Jordan

Organisation: GRLبنت

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

GRLبنت is a local initiative designed to share stories highlighting culture & art, travel, personal narratives, & social justice issues in the MENA region. We are excited to be considered for this award so that our work is recognized by an international organization celebrating data journalists around the world. We find our work to be impactful to local communities and to international audiences through digital platforms that are able to spread news and information on a wide scale.

We believe that the past few years have been crucial in shaping the opinions of the MENA region after the Arab Spring in 2011, especially youth, which constitute 60% of the MENA population. Many people living in the region no longer want to accept governmental actions limiting their personal freedoms, including their freedom of speech. At the same time, Western audiences have been fed misleading information about the Middle East, especially following the 9/11 attacks leading to many misconceptions.

Since March 2020, GRLبنت has aimed to amplify the voices of individuals, particularly women & LGBTQ+ members, as they share their cultures & prominent challenges they face in their societies. Through storytelling, we are able to share individual experiences from the region that give a contrasting view to what is presented by state owned media resources. Meanwhile, GRLبنت also showcases the beauty of Middle Eastern countries by sharing travel destinations, cultural practices, & success stories to shift misconceptions.

Lara Bellone d’Altavilla and Sam Sykes are the original co-founders of GRLبنت. They met upon arriving in Amman in September 2019 and instantly connected over their shared passion for cross-cultural experiences, travel, humanitarian work, and a love for the region. GRLبنت, was created to shift the preconceived notions that many people have about the MENA region, which is often perpetuated by Western media, and to give global audiences a greater understanding of the people living in the region. يلا نتعرف

GRLبنت was launched in March 2020, just before the Jordanian government implemented one of the strictest international lockdowns. GRLبنت developed during a time of uncertainty and peace in a small apartment in Jabal Al Weibdeh. Since then, our team has grown and our mission has shifted. Initially, GRLبنت was meant to only focus on travel and culture in the Middle East, but we realized the importance of sharing locals’ stories, interviews, and experiences especially during COVID-19. Our focus changed due to the Jordanian people that we befriended while living in Amman, who were open to sharing their stories with us. Now, we have broadened our focus to other countries in the MENA region, making new friends along the way. Our team has expanded to include Ahmad Taha (Translator), Reem Metwally (Content Developer), Raed Meyhar (Web Developer).

Our main activities focus on publishing content on our social media pages regarding community, gender, & cultural topics. We have established our social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok) along with maintaining our website. 

Our activities have included interview series highlighting issues not covered by local media, such as honor killings & sexual harassment, due to social stigmas & media controlled by national governmants. We aim to continue raising local & international awareness about specific issues, such as violence against women & LGBTQ+ rights.

Description of portfolio:

Our activities fall under our 1001 Stories project, which is a series of interviews educating people around the globe about the experiences of MENA locals. Through this series, individuals share their personal stories & perspectives on the social issues they face on a daily basis. 

1001 Stories includes the following activities:

  1. Solo Stories- We passionately share marginalized stories through interviews & storytelling, aiming to amplify diverse perspectives leading to greater cross-cultural understanding & societal change. Our interviews range from mothers, artists, to activists including women’s rights activist, Rana Husseini.

  2. COVID-Stories- Set of interviews highlighting the experiences of individuals during COVID. Some of the interviews focus on the different aspects of Ramadan & others focus on female healthcare workers in MENA. We developed this series to emphasize the importance of unity & human connectivity as we continue to live in an age of COVID-19.

  3. Harassment is a Crime- Highlights victims of sexual harassment & assault in Jordan. We interviewed notable female figures in multiple Jordanian sectors about their experiences with sexual harassment in their respective fields. These courageous women, including actress Rania Kurdi and Dr. Manal Tahtamouni, spread awareness about this topic specific to Jordan.

  4. مشروع IMPACT (Project Impact)- Focuses on organizations that are working towards the enhancement of groups within their local communities. We interview & describe the work that impactful individuals & organizations are performing, from social peacebuilding to community art projects. 

Salam of Mind (Peace of Mind)- Focuses on breaking social stigmas & fears that circulate around mental health in the Middle East, but exist globally. By sharing the stories of psychological professionals & individuals that sought treatment, we hope to create a safe space for everyone to learn & share about their struggles so that we can end the shame of seeking therapy services.

Apart from 1001 Stories, GRLبنت’s editor, Lara Bellone’s articless have been published by various publications including MyKali, The New Humanitarian, and The American University of Cairo. Her articles focus on social issues of women and girls in the MENA region and directly connect with GRLبنت’s work. The following would like to be considered for the SIGMA Awards.

– Warnings of Worrying Rise in Northwest Syria Suicide Rate Among Women- The New Humanitarian
– 90 Day Orientalism, The ‘Other’ Way- Arab Media & Society
– There is No Honor in Crime- MyKali Magazine

Project links: