Last week, I went to Jerusalem! But, I didn’t see the Dome of the Rock. Or the Western Wall. Or Golgotha. I spent my four days Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem in dimly lit hotel conference rooms, and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.

I had the privilege of being a trainer for the US State Department’s women’s empowerment tech camps; one was held in Tel Aviv, and one was held in Ramallah. I spent four days with phenomenal women who are community leaders, founders of NGOs, technology geeks, human rights activists—a collection of people determined to change the world.

Women like Fida Ouri, (who just happened to be one of our panelists for Change Your World Cairo!), who is the deputy director of NISAA FM, an all-women’s radio station in the West Bank. Women like Ma’ayan Alexander,who works with NGOs at the intersection of social change and technology.

The format for both trainings was similar—they kicked off with a welcome from the local partner [Appleseeds Academy in Tel Aviv and Ellam Tam in Ramallah], and, happyhappyjoyjoy, a message from one of my favorite women, Secretary Hillary Clinton, whose tireless focus on both the empowerment of women and girls AND the potential of the Internet and technology as platforms for positive engagement are things of beauty. As is her most excellent response to this and, and, AND her fantastically over-it response to this.

I presented trainings about how to use Flickr to tell your story, facilitated group discussions about mentoring (those three years that I spent at Catalyst are the gift that keeps giving!), described myself in three words, and fulfilled a life-long dream of eating hummus at every single meal, including breakfast and elevenses.

For fantastic video from the events, see here and here.

Their descriptions tell the story best, but I came away with a few observations:
Technology is just a tool; I think Yahoo!’s 2009-10 Georgetown Fellow Evgeny Morozov’s work is properly realistic about the potential for technology to be used in ways that do not support human rights. But I continue to be inspired by people using ordinary tools and platforms to do extraordinary things. Check out Tech Camp participant Geocommons for examples of people using open source mapping to tell stories about everything from violence against journalists in Afghanistan to gender parity in African politics.

Storytelling is incredibly powerful, and technology is enabling people who don’t have access to traditional forms of media to tell their own stories.

See here , here and here for a few examples:

Finally, I was struck by how much energy there was, in Ramallah and in Tel Aviv, to connect, to create, to learn. Most of all, it was awe-inspiring to be surrounded by so many people so deeply passionate about creating a better world. I look forward to going back, insh’allah!