WITNESS hosted a convening in Istanbul, Turkey with 20 activists from across the Middle East and North Africa. My colleagues, Raja Althaibani and Sulafa K. Musa, organized the days’ events to cover storytelling, video as evidence, digital safety and more. Rooj Alwazir was one of the participants.

I had the chance to talk with Rooj, via Twitter and email about what she found most valuable at the training and she sent me this reflection about her experience at the convening:


Reflections on WITNESS convening in Istanbul

It was a Sunday night, a few short hours before almost 20 visionary filmmakers, educators, and human right defenders would convene for the 2015 WITNESS “Video 4 Change” workshop in Istanbul, Turkey. The next morning I arrived to Istanbul, only to be surprised by the amount of excitement and vibrancy that filled the workshop room in SALT Galata so quickly.

“Hi, I am Rooj Alwazir from Yemen, co-founder of SupportYemen Media.” I told a half circle formed room. We went around the room and everyone introduced themselves. “Hi I am Nahla frm Sudan, Manaf from Palestine, Mohammed from Libya” and it continued on until the last person.

Twenty of us sat in this same room day after day, hearing stories and learning from one another. It didn’t take long before I realized that I was sitting in a room full of people who became family.

The workshops were absolutely relevant and useful. This was nowhere more evident than the sharing of stories of how video has been productive in our work, in which Syrian activist Abdulkader, Sudanese journalist Nahla, Western Saharan activist Bani Saber and Moroccan filmmaker Nadir, wove local movement struggles into visions of a new future, with creative ways of documenting human rights abuses and relating to each other. The next day, WITNESS exemplified what participatory meant, participants delivered a challenging, interactive workshop from grassroots organizing to analyzing “Third Cinema.”

We went beyond filmmaking to explore citizen video production and live-streaming. Allowing us to learn what’s possible when we use film as evidence in the courtrooms and explored new possibilities of working towards justice. Rather than the typical transactional workshops I have previously attended, organizers and participants were ready to challenge, dig in, get vulnerable, and make lasting connections. WITNESS seemed to prioritize relationship-building – ensuring everyone is included and learning from one another.

We addressed our digital security risks to Bahraini activist Mohammed al-Makatari. We learned we were not so great at keeping ourselves safe. In smaller groups we addressed logistical concerns in filming, described some challenges we had encountered, and emphasized why this tool is useful for us as human right defenders in the MENA region. In the process, our own interest and belief in the power of moving image was refreshed and reinvigorated. This convening, along with deep conversations with all the human right defenders that attended during lunch and dinner, and in between sessions made me remember the power of video for justice.

I was most looking forward to the “video bootcamp,” which filmmaker and activist, Ehab Tarabieh, screened his film The Forgotten a 20-minute fictional film about an old man who was forced from his home in Golan Heights and his attempt to return.

Despite the packed full days, in which we broke into small group work sessions, took on case studies and rarely ever finished by 6pm, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. The convening shattered the myth that video has no place in human rights work. With plenty of determination and hope strapped to us, we, as people on the frontline of our diverse communities, will continue to visualize change for years to come. From video to storytelling, technology and beyond, we are bringing another world to life. Exploring one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox, we learned how video-based strategy can help us continue shedding light on human rights abuses and advance the kind of deep changes we need for justice.

In Turkey, I heard the knock once again. My dignity came roaring. It will continue on. I was reminded, we will not be silenced.


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