Saturday, March 25, 2017

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Amanda Nesheiwat: Change Agent in Secaucus

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Amanda Nesheiwat graduated from Secaucus High School in 2007, and in the ten years since, her life has evolved in ways she never dreamed possible. Nesheiwat is the dynamic director of the Secaucus Environmental Department, a title and a department that she helped create with the Mayor and Town Council. The Town of Secaucus has been in the forefront of environmental initiatives with Mayor Mike Gonnelli leading the charge and Amanda Nesheiwat establishing the parameters and goals of the department along with her equally dynamic staff. Solar roof panels, smart cars with electric charging stations, food composting machines, honeybee hives, vegetable gardens, and programs on the environment are just a few of the many projects Amanda has successfully spearheaded in the past few years.

In the very early hours of the morning of January 21, Amanda boarded a bus in Jersey City and traveled to Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration of President Trump. According to the official “March” website, there were close to one million protesters (women and men) who gathered in the nation’s capital that day to protest the presidency of Mr. Trump. According to the same website, there were over five million individuals who took part in women’s marches worldwide that same day. Although Amanda wasn’t unique in joining women from all over the country in protest; what was unique about her action was the journey she had to take in her personal life to even think about boarding that bus to D.C. in the first place!

Amanda is the oldest of three children of parents who were born and raised in Jordan. As she describes it in a “TEDx” talk she gave at Bergen Community College, she is a young Arab woman whose parents grew up in an old-fashioned and rich in tradition Jordanian culture. She and her sister (there was a different standard for her brother) were raised strictly: they could not go out in public unless accompanied by a male relative and were expected to live at home until they married. Amanda was expected to get a college education but had to choose to be either a doctor or attorney or else marry a doctor or attorney. She started college with the intention of becoming a dentist, but had an epiphany when she joined Ramapo College’s Environmental Club. She changed her major from pre-med to environmental science (not telling her family at first) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in her chosen field. (Amanda is currently attending Stevens Institute of Technology in order to receive her master’s degree in sustainability management.)

TED is a non-profit “think tank” that spreads ideas via short, passionate talks on various topics, including science, business, environment, and other global issues. TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design,” and TEDx talks are given on a smaller, local scale. In her TEDx talk, Amanda introduces herself: “I am a change agent.” She explains that a change agent catalyzes change within her family, workplace or community. “I am very passionate about creating change. About solving environmental issues and climate change.” Nesheiwat, who turned 28 in late January, has certainly met the “change” challenge head-on: in her personal life and her career. She has struggled to break free of the shackles of centuries-old traditions that have stifled women’s independence and development, and in doing so, has raised the consciousness of members of her family. She has led Secaucus on a green path toward environmental sustainability. And she has shed the passivity and ignorance that she found herself in following high school and the first few years of college. She has transformed herself into a social activist who is very concerned not only with the health of our planet, but also the civil and human rights of all.

Amanda said she decided to attend the Women’s March on Washington “to show solidarity with women” in light of the anticipated attack on women’s rights that the new president made part of his agenda. She said the energy and unity generated by the march participants was incredible. She also pointed to the non-violent nature of the protest, calling civil-disobedient protests as important tools in effecting change. Amanda said the day “recharged” her politically, as it did women worldwide. She specifically expressed dismay that the U.S. government still makes decisions about “our bodies” (i.e., birth control). Amanda urges women and all citizens to voice their concerns over the loss of human rights to their elected representatives via phone calls. (She explained that phone messages get through faster than emails or other written correspondence). She also urged citizens to join Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, environmental groups, etc., to bolster their efforts to fight changes to laws that have been in place for decades. “Women must keep talking about what’s important to them.”

Amanda Nesheiwat’s “Why I Became a Change Agent” can be viewed on YouTube. We urge all residents to watch her short presentation. She is poised, precise, and passionate, and right on! We admire her passion for her chosen field and her emancipation from outdated cultural restrictions.

—GRETCHEN HENKEL

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