Traveling through a foreign country where you can’t really speak the language, and looking at street names that you can’t even begin to pronounce can be quite challenging. I know this from previous experience, traveling all over Europe and South America.
I remember most specifically in Berlin, Germany, the streets of Kurfürstendamm and Dimitroffstraße. Trying to ask for directions to these streets was near impossible. I later learned that locals can’t even pronounce these streets, and that they resort to nicknames.
When I was little, I remember thinking how cool it would be if I could name all the streets in my town. I’d name a street for every member of my family, and then have meaningful words become street names as well. While I’ve been able to do this virtually in games like The Sims for some time now, being able to actually name a street is finally possible.
Arjan El Fassed is a Dutch Palestinian humanitarian, lobbyist, campaigner, blogger, and author. El Fassed is known on the social networking site Twitter as @arjanelfassed. That also happens to be the name of the world’s first street named after a Twitter account. That’s right, ‘@arjanelfassed tweetstreet,’ is the name of an actual street in Askar, a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus in the West Bank.
Yes, El Fassed named the street. But how? Jouw Eigen Straatnam, a Dutch-based website, has been given the rights to sell 200 street names in the camp. Nearly all of the proceeds go to the Palestinian Child Care Society, which helps fund cultural and expressive afterschool activities for the nearly 1,000 children in the camp.
“Twitter is a great place to connect people with issues,” El Fassed said. “But it’s also good at bridging cultural gaps. For most people, it’s difficult to identify with life in a refugee camp, but by linking it to a global network that resonates with millions, I was aiming to promote a sense of connectedness.”
Basthios Vloemans is the co-founder of Jouw Eigen Straatnam and says that he was inspired to help out after a visit to Askar earlier this year. “The camp is overcrowded and lacks many basic facilities; it’s a particularly traumatic existence for young children,” he said. “There’s a center run by the Palestinian Child Care Society where they provide activities like dancing and group play to help ease the anxiety of daily life. It’s an absolutely vital service for protecting the psychological well-being of these kids.”
Vloemans said that the center was crumbling, and he wanted to help. After sharing his experience with his co-workers back in the Netherlands, the company came up with the project to raise nearly $20,000 to help rebuild the center. Vloemans said, “Walking around the camp, we noticed that the streets were nameless. We discovered that if you want to post a letter to someone, it had to read something like ‘The Ahmed family, two down from the butcher’s on the left.’ And this, of course, is where the idea to sell the names came from.”
Now of course being a refugee camp, the city will most likely be abandoned, and alas the street names will no longer exist. Although El Fassed knows that several years from now that ‘@arjanelfassed tweetstreet’ may not be a street anymore, he’s glad that he can help an effort to make the world a better place for the kids of the present. “Since a refugee camp by definition should not remain permanent, selling street names of the camp is a creative way to connect people and support these children after school. Naming the street to my Twitter account is a symbolic way to connect both online and offline with the children of Askar.”
The right to name a street in Askar isn’t as costly as you’d think. It will cost you 100 euros, which translates to between $145 and $150. The company will send you pictures of your street sign as well, about three weeks after you have made you donation. As of today, there are still 141 street names available.
There are also two other twitterstreets in the camp, which are owned by @tweeterjp & @dhuwail. It’s amazing to see that the world of social media can help change the world. I think we will all be waiting for the day a Twitter account becomes a street name in our own hometowns.