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Podcasts, Pictures, People: The Storytellers Informing a New Generation with Creative Content in Kurdish and Arabic
This roundup focuses on some of our recent, young Innovation Hub grantees, who are changing the narrative of the Middle East, one story at a time.
As oppressive forces manipulate Middle East societies by silencing dissent and censoring the internet, a new generation is resisting with content that challenges extremist narratives and champions open debate. From videos that raise awareness around social issues in Iraq to podcasts that tackle Taliban ideologies in Afghanistan and a Youtube series confronting taboo topics in Jordan, the archive of information in Arabic – and other languages - is growing. Without access to information and learning, generations of young people continue to suffer, their futures defined by limited access to education, high unemployment and poor living conditions. Ideas Beyond Borders is supporting dozens of information activists across the Middle East and Afghanistan who are dedicated to providing a platform for truth. These are the people fuelling the fight for free speech, campaigning for the right to knowledge and the opportunities it brings. Here we introduce you to some of these inspiring individuals and the important work they have set out to do.
Dida Al Jabari
Minority Migration in Iraq and Kurdistan
Dida Al Jabari was in Germany when Isis overran Iraq. Kurdish by birth but brought up in Kirkuk, she felt a responsibility to chronicle the experiences of Iraqis living in exile. That’s how her career as a journalist began and soon she was writing stories for Kurdish Media, covering issues affecting refugees living in Germany, and later in Iraq. “With time I felt it was not enough to just write stories – I wanted to be a voice for more people, and particularly women,” she says. So Al Jabari became a video journalist, traveling around Iraq to produce reports on issues affecting different communities. With support from Ideas Beyond Borders, she is planning a documentary series on minority migration, looking at the challenges faced by sidelined ethnic groups in Iraq, including Yazidis, Kaka’i, Christians, Jews, Sabians, Feylis and Armenians. Each of the seven episodes will be dedicated to a different group, exploring their language, culture, history and challenges in a country that has become increasingly hostile to minorities, unraveling centuries of coexistence. “It’s through understanding Iraq’s diverse past that it’s future can provide more space for understanding and coexistence,” she says.
Ahmed Mansoor Ramizy: Voice of Science
Since the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021, Ahmed Mansoor Ramizy has been mounting a resistance to the extremist ideologies engulfing his country. Harnessing the power of words to fight censorship with open debate, he launched the Voice of Science podcast, giving Afghans access to information and ideas that the group seeks to crush. “The Taliban miseducate the young with corrupted interpretations of religion…. We aim to provide an alternative so they have the choice to think for themselves,” he says. An Innovation Hub grant has funded two seasons of the podcast, which provides a space for original Afghan thinkers, scientists and changemakers to share their ideas in Persian and Pashto. “We want to break down myths, provide a softer interpretation for religion and create a better environment for science, technology, modernity and philosophy - in a sense mobilize our own movement against the radicalism of extremist groups,” Ramizy says. “The more people we line up with us the stronger will be our front against darkness, violence, and dogmatism.”
Hussain Al Amshawi
Helping others achieve their goals is what drives Hussain Al Amshawi and he does it by creating content that can improve their lives. His videos, on subjects ranging from bullying and harassment to raising children and career paths, confront the challenges and opportunities in life, advising viewers on how to handle difficult situations make the most of the chances that come their way. An Innovation Hub grant is enabling him to reach a wider audience and produce content at a faster rate to meet demand. “Helping young people develop their skills is very important,” says Al Amshawi, whose videos feature tips and information on how to change your life for the better. “There are many important issues that people do not address, so my goal in this content is to help young people find the appropriate path, raise their awareness, and share experiences that may help them chase their goals,” he adds.
Osama Issa and Moath Abu Lail: Shezomedia
Osama Issa and Moath Abu Lail used to get abuse in the street and threats on social media. Now it’s mainly messages of gratitude, thanking the pair for making their popular Youtube show Schizophrenia. “People come to us and say ‘you have changed my life or ‘I look at things differently now. Sometimes they send emotional messages saying our programs have given them hope in bad times,” says Issa, 30, a former news anchor. The series, produced by Issa and Lail’s taboo-busting media company Shezomedia, ran for four seasons, covering issues including women’s rights, religious freedoms, sex phobia, and social equality, drawing more than a million viewers at its height. Now the pair is producing another show supported by an Innovation Hub grant. You Think So Show takes the successful Schizophrenia formula in a new direction, with discussions designed to engage a wider audience. “At least 80 percent of the subjects we will cover are not talked about in the media here, says Abu Lail, who is determined to bring under-represented issues into the public sphere.
Freshta: Zane Rooz Magazine
Watching women’s lives shrink under Taliban rule, Freshta knew what she would do. Gathering a team of young writers, she launched a magazine to give voice to Afghan women as they lost access to education, employment and public life. “I wanted to address the current situation. I believe the international community has to know what is going on with women in the country,” she says. The 26-year-old launched Zane Rooz Magazine with an Innovation Hub grant, aiming to shed light on the issues women face and the circumstances surrounding their daily lives in Afghanistan. Articles will explore the economic situation in the country and how it’s impacting Afghan women as many lose their right to work and earn an income to support their families. They will meet the teenage girls locked out of learning and forced to face a very different future from the life they envisioned, and the aspiring entrepreneurs trying to find a way to carry on despite the difficulties. As the magazine grows, Freshta hopes to raise awareness and attract foreign support to address these challenges. “We want to create a well-established media outlet in Afghanistan and cause a big change in the lives of women, people and youth,” she says.
At first, Omar Mubdir’s idea to teach English was a business venture – a plan to launch a language center and turn a profit. It lasted 18 months before it folded, partly due to lack of online marketing. With free time on his hands, Mubdir decided to make videos motivating others to learn English online and further their job prospects. He didn’t know then that this was the turning point in his own career. As the videos racked up views, the work became more and more rewarding. “It’s that feeling that you are doing something in your life and helping others, not just working for yourself or for your own sake and profit.” He started engaging with social issues like domestic violence in the videos, relating the content to challenges people faced in everyday life. With an Innovation Hub grant from Ideas Beyond Borders, he is planning to upgrade the video quality and tackle a wider variety of subjects that educate and inspire viewers to overcome obstacles and follow their dreams.
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