Multimedia Workshop with Iraqi Students

Though Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other social media platforms have been largely blocked in Iraq since June 13th, students of the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) still actively and enthusiastically participated in a multimedia workshop to improve their social media skills in order to engage the public and inspire action for social change.

During their short stay in Seattle, the 12 students took a three-day multimedia workshop held by What’s Good 206 with Deanna Isaacs. The course covered topics ranging from the understanding of media laws to the creation of blogs through diverse media software. By the end of this workshop, the Iraqi students had put together a fantastic blog in which they shared stories about their hometown, hobbies, life experiences, and opinions towards public issues. Their WordPress blog can be found here

“The best thing about the students here is that they are just like us.”

The class had a compact schedule and included a challenging technical lexicon, but the students were still highly motivated to actively learn. Alawy, a 17 year old student from Basra, Iraq, truly enjoyed engaging in photo and video editing, and looked forward to making his project as visually attractive as possible. He wrote a vivid and detailed blog post, “My IYLEP Application”, describing his experience applying and preparing for the leadership program. He later presented his story to the classroom, and during his presentation he showed great passion and excitement. I was impressed by Alawy’s openness to different cultures, willingness to meet new friends, and share his stories with others. Alawy’s time in Vermont prior to coming to Seattle, allowed him to spend time and share stories with students from the U.S., Germany, and Ireland, which gave him great insight into a teenagers’ life in America: “It was pretty much the same as ours, so that made it very easy to talk with them.”

Ibraham, a 16 year old from Babylon, Iraq, said that he’s naturally not as interested in multimedia and technology, but as an inspiring student who’s always willing to take on new challenges, Ibraham gave a great presentation about his IYLEP experience. His presentation even included Google Maps that displayed the locations he went to while in Seattle. One of Ibraham’s favorite experiences came from an interfaith meeting, “I learned a special thing in Seattle, from two awesome men: one of them is Muslim and the other one is Jewish. They are best friends and they became friends because of one thing: PEACE!”

The students’ presentations, as well as the experience I had with IYLEP, allowed me to clearly see the International Visitor Program’s mission. The first time I came to America I was very totally confused from constant misunderstandings and misconceptions about my hometown and culture, but programs like IYLEP, provide youth with diverse open communication channels to share their values face to face. This strongly diminishes the boundaries of language and culture, and helps people overcome their biases. It reminds me of what Dalai Lama once said, “We focus too much on cultural differences, we need to study the differences, but we need to study even more the similarities, which bring us together and unite us.”

“Every Iraqi person should have a sparkle of hope to nourish our dreams and the next generation’s dreams.”

When people think about Iraq, they often think about danger and endless war. However, this time, Fatima, a 16 year old from Baghdad, provided us with a powerful and different version of the story—a much more interesting description of the diverse Iraqi landscapes, individuals with unique personalities who are far from stereotypes; and a story of her beloved people in Baghdad living in happiness and trying to make their hometown a better place. “I have hope, I believe in changing, I believe in better future.”

Though provided with limited time,these students shared extraordinary stories from their daily lives. I deeply admire their critical and independent thinking and their advocating for people who might not have their voices heard. It might be impossible to live in a conflict-free society, but by widely using social media, people who are often left out are now empowered to share their ideas, connect with the global audience, break free from the information blockade, and finally, to make a difference in their community.