By Nahla Mohaker

Recently I was invited to travel to the FiSahara International Film Festival to train a group of 37 activists on WITNESS’ Video-for-Change methodology. The FiSahara Festival takes place every year in the Dakhla Refugee Camp in Western Sahara, a disputed territory seeking independence from Morocco (see here for more information on Western Sahara and the festival). Leading up to the festival, I was both excited and nervous about the opportunity as I had never trained others before on the WITNESS methodology.

A couple of years ago I participated in a WITNESS training when I was working as a media and documentation officer in Sudanese organization focused on women and children’s rights. With WITNESS, we created a video that helped support our larger campaign to reform certain pieces of legislation that violated the rights of women. Using video greatly strengthened the campaign through showcasing the voices of experts and victims discussing the issues. I was eager to share what I had learned with others to help them tell their stories.

The trip from my home in Sudan to the Dakhla camp took nearly a whole day. During the journey I was so excited for the training and the opportunity to meet new faces, see new places, hear a new language (Saharawis speak a language called Hassānī) and to learn more about Saharawi culture. I was also looking forward to learning more about the political situation in Western Sahara and listen to testimonies from Saharawis.

Nahla and the participants during the training session at FiSahara.

Over the next week I ran a workshop for over 30 participants from refugee camps and other parts of Western Sahara and other festival attendees. The group included NGO-representatives, human rights defenders, film students and media activists. Most of the trainees wanted to improve their filming skills, learn more about how to document human rights violations in their area and using video as evidence. In addition, they were eager to learn more about distributing their videos in an effort to spread their stories and raise awareness around the situation in Western Sahara.

While some of the participants had made short films before, most faced a number of challenges including a lack of training, equipment, connections outside the region, and the risk of arrest while filming police or other authorities.

Even though our time together was short, I was able to cover many of the main components of WITNESS’ methodology including:

  •       Basic Rules of Filming
  •       Conducting Interviews
  •       How to Create a Video Action Plan (VAP)
  •       Safety, Security & Informed Consent
  •       Production Process
  •       Strategic Distribution
  •       Screenings

In addition, the participants broke into small groups and created short films that were shown at the end of the festival.

Participants learn about WITNESS’ video advocacy methodology.

The training was not without its challenges. We did not have enough filming equipment amongst the group to substantively practice some of the topics we had originally planned. As a back-up, I screened more video advocacy examples for the group to analyze and discuss. While we began working on Video Action Plans for a number of projects, time proved to be an obstacle and we were not able to complete as much as we had originally hoped for. Another challenge was language. I was training in both English and Arabic, but there were participants in the group who also spoke Spanish and Hassānī, thus I relied quite a bit on my co-trainer, Mohamed Lamine and other participants to translate certain key terms.

I enjoyed every moment of the training and I felt the warmth and friendliness everywhere I went.  On the final day the participants had a surprised farewell party for me, which was very kind of them. They lit candles and drank a cup of tea in memory of the late Sudanese poet Mahjoub Shareef, which touched my heart and made me cry. I left with my heart full of love and gratefulness for all the trainees, my host family and everyone that I met. I look forward to seeing the participants videos as they are completed in the next few months and  to returning to Western Sahara again soon!

Nahla Mohaker is a Sudanese human rights advocate, writer and filmmaker.

One thought on “Despite Challenges, 37 Western Saharan Activists Attend WITNESS Training

  1. How great to hear about your training at the FiSahara Film Festival, Nahla! As we have curated several playlists of videos from Sahrawi activists on the Human Rights Channel (a project of WITNESS), I’m thrilled to learn about this opportunity to gather local media activists and share resources and skills with them. Despite the obstacles, it sounds like it was a great training.

    While I’m aware of security concerns facing many Sahrawi activists, if any of the participants have YouTube channels or twitter feeds we should watch to see their videos, please share. Or feel free to share their videos with the Human Rights Channel on Twitter: @ythumanrights.

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