A Palestinian Preaches Positive Thinking To A Tough Crowd: His Own People : Parallels Motivational speaker Saed Karzoun has a tough sell in the West Bank as he tries to preach optimism and self-empowerment at a time when pessimism runs high among Palestinians.
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A Palestinian Preaches Positive Thinking To A Tough Crowd: His Own People

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A Palestinian Preaches Positive Thinking To A Tough Crowd: His Own People

A Palestinian Preaches Positive Thinking To A Tough Crowd: His Own People

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's not a very encouraging time to be a Palestinian on the West Bank. Unemployment is high, morale is low, the peace process is frozen, an independent state seems distant. But one young Palestinian man is trying to offer inspiration anyway as a motivational speaker. NPR's Daniel Estrin went to his latest talk in Ramallah.

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DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: High school students file into an auditorium at the Arab Evangelical Episcopal School. They take their seats in rows of metal folding chairs. The special morning assembly is a pep talk by Saed Karzoun.

SAED KARZOUN: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He's a gregarious 31-year-old with curly black hair and a small goatee. He calls himself a motivational speaker. He holds up a book he published in Arabic and English called "30 Secret Numbers." It tells the story of a Palestinian boy named Farhan.

KARZOUN: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: The other kids bully Farhan. They call him stupid. He's convinced he's worthless. But then he travels to different galaxies. He meets Beethoven and Steve Jobs and collects pearls of wisdom - to follow his heart, to persevere. As Karzoun explained to me, his book is about harnessing the power of the mind.

KARZOUN: Let's do our best. And our best is about being a positive person, productive, helping others, helping yourself.

ESTRIN: The story of Farhan is the story of the author himself. Karzoun grew up going to school in an impoverished refugee camp in the West Bank. His schoolmates used to tease him when he wouldn't throw stones at Israeli soldiers. He was convinced he was weak.

KARZOUN: And to be weak is a very dangerous thing in your future and for your future. You will stay weak until you decide and to tell yourself that I'm not. I am someone who really can do something.

ESTRIN: Karzoun has received money from a few international groups to help run his seminars on activism through social media. He says he draws inspiration from self-help books like "Think and Grow Rich" and watching motivational speakers like Les Brown on YouTube.

Karzoun broadcasts his message of positivity on his weekly radio show, but it's a tough sell.

KARZOUN: You know what my challenge is? When I post something about positivity, always people they say, Saed, you are living in a different world. Saed, you're not from this society. Everybody is negative.

ESTRIN: The economy is stagnating. The Israeli military occupation continues. There's Palestinian political infighting. There's plenty to be negative about.

Karzoun was warmly received at this high school, but kids here still have frustrations. High school senior Bisan Khouri says she feels cooped up in the West Bank without an Israeli permit to go to the beach or travel in Israel. She was inspired by Karzoun.

BISAN KHOURI: I learned that I should never let my negative energy control me. I should always think positively, think differently. If you work hard for anything, you can change it.

ESTRIN: Karzoun's message is look inward. Focus on the self. He says being positive can be a step toward nation building, even if peace with Israel seems like a distant prospect.

KARZOUN: People do not believe in peace anymore, but you need to at least to have peace with yourself.

ESTRIN: Karzoun says he's been invited to meet the Palestinian Authority president soon. And he has some advice for Mahmoud Abbas - go on Palestinian radio and inspire people. Tell them yes we can. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Ramallah.

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