Empowering Communities: A Fellowship Journey

by Sonia Rahmani

“In the pursuit of fostering positive change and community empowerment, my journey through the transformative sphere of the Professional Fellows Program (PFP) unfurled a tapestry woven with learning, collaboration, and tangible impact.”

Back in Tunisia, Sonia Rahmani reflects on her PFP Fellowship with GirlStart in Austin, Texas with the PFP Spring 2023 Cohort. You can see the color that a person like Sonia adds to the world just from her words, and beyond that illustrative statement was a force that continues to multiply her impact across Tunisia.

Sonia’s experiences, lessons learned during the PFP Fellowship, and motivation gained from her existing and new network of collaborators resulted in her development of the Cyber Civics Hub. It is this exact recipe that successful international and professional exchanges aim for and Sonia delivered. The Cyber Civics Hub project aimed to combat cyber hate speech, bullying, and violence among Tunisian youth. Sonia crafted and launched three comprehensive online courses on cyber hate speech, digital citizenship, and advocacy resulting in an empowered community, a safer online environment, and a positive culture of responsible digital citizenship.

Sonia saw her efforts “paint a vivid picture of the impact rippling through the community” as youth engaged during online courses, participated in enthusiastic dialogue, and advocated against cyber hate speech. Seeing the Cyber Civics Hub come together after the intensive PFP experience from Washington, D.C. to Virginia Tech and Austin was also a recognition of her own growth. Sonia saw “the amplification of [her] skills, the collaboration that enriched initiatives, and the Cyber Civics Hub exemplified that tangible impact.”

As she heads into 2024, Sonia works for continued growth and greater impact of the Cyber Civics Hub project on Tunisian youth. She plans to expand the reach and efficacy of the online courses to target cyber hate speech and promote digital citizenship. Beyond the digital world, she aims to continue engaging the community through partnerships with local organizations by bringing attention to other prevalent social issues. Her fresh leadership strategies and education gained during PFP have boosted her confidence in initiating meaningful dialogue, creating awareness campaigns, and targeting economic development and societal challenges.