A few months ago, the Entube Center in Doha, Qatar invited me to run a video production workshop and webinar for Qatari youth, primarily aged 15-35. This was a brand new facility run by the Ministry of Culture and Sports there. As I had no experience working with people from the Middle East, I was a little nervous. Would the lessons and stories in my videos for good workshop translate well in a different country with a vastly different culture? How would they take to receiving instruction from a young woman?
I knew there was only one way to find out – take this challenge face on!
Teaching Videos For Good
I was given the freedom to choose the topic for my video production workshop, so after much thought, I settled on “How To Help Your Community Through The Power of Video”. I wasn’t sure if youth in Qatar have the same “I want to change the world” mindset that many youth I’d encountered while in college at Northwestern did, but I figured it’d be worth a shot.
Since I knew that English wasn’t their first language, I tailored my presentation to be more visuals-based, and swapped out US culture-specific terms for more general terms that would translate more easily. Even though I wanted to use pictures of people who looked and dressed more like the Qatari, I had trouble finding copyright-free images that fit my needs.
The Webinar – Opening Hearts
I ran the hour-long webinar back in November from the comfort of my home office, showing multiple examples of videos for good, and breaking down what it takes to drive people to take action. I closed with a challenge, asking participants to follow-up by telling me what issue in their community they wanted to tackle through video, and what obstacles stood in their way. The responses I got were fascinating.
One boy, still in high school, shared that he wanted to create a video to encourage youth to respect their parents because he had lost his mother. Another young woman took the courage to share this:
I would love to create more awareness to people in my country to the problems we are facing and how little changes can help make a big difference. I want to inspire people, to encourage them and help them take the first step toward good change.
I think my biggest challenge is the community itself. I don’t think people will take a Qatari female as Youtuber seriously nor accept the idea itself. So far I have being making videos without telling everyone who I really am nor showing myself in the videos. It doesn’t matter to me because I want people to focus on content rather than me, but I still do believe that the audience needs to see a face to be able to connect with, if that makes sense.
My heart swelled reading these responses. It affirmed that there was a demand for video production workshops with a social good focus, and that Qatari youth have a desire to make a difference in their communities, but faced some critical barriers. I couldn’t wait to meet them in Doha.
The Lead-Up To Doha – Hungry For Knowledge
I had many e-mail exchanges with Marta, the Entube Center staff who was in charge of organizing these workshops. I learned that whenever they fly in an “expert” to run workshops there, they offer all the government-run youth centers across Qatar the opportunity to invite the person in to conduct a lecture. Two weeks before my scheduled workshop, I heard from Marta:
The subject of your workshop and lecture is very interesting for many people in Doha and we were asked if we could organize 2 lectures for the Ministry Centers instead of one.
The week I was due to fly, Marta wrote again:
Today I got the information that third institution is interested in your lecture. This topic is very interesting because normally we organized only 1 or 2 lectures and this time we were asked to organize 3. Is it fine for you?
Wow. I had no idea there was such a hunger for learning to produce social change videos there! The Entube Center also requested that I create and present to camera 10 tips on creating videos for good, so they could post the content up on social media. I was impressed to see how they were thinking about multiple ways to reach their target audience. Of course, I was absolutely stoked to share all that I could!
Hello Doha – Fascinating Land
They say that to truly learn about a culture, you have to immerse yourself in it. Nothing I’d read on Wikipedia or online travel guides would prepare me for what I learned in just 5 days there.
With a population of just under 1 million, Qatari citizens make up only 15% of Doha. Since most Qatari fill the managerial and government roles, the storekeepers, taxi drivers and construction workers you encounter are mainly from the Philippines, India and Pakistan. The staff at the Entube Center are mainly from Poland.
Qatari carry themselves with pride and grace. The men wear a white Thoub, always perfectly clean and ironed, and the women wear a black abaya. While Qatari women kept their heads covered, non-Qatari women simply have to keep their shoulders and knees covered. So I was fine in a t-shirt and jeans.
Set in desert land, Qatari seldom go outdoors in the sweltering daytime heat. Doha bursts to life at night, when the weather is cooler. Most cars are white, as sand doesn’t show up as noticeably against it. Most windows don’t stay clean because of frequent sandstorms.
Walking through the local market, Souq Waqif, reminded me of what I’d seen as a child on Aladdin. Hundreds of little shops selling everything from spices, to houseware, to pets and tailored garments. Ask for a vegetarian meal, and you might still find chicken inside. The food lover in me was treated to everything from grilled meats at an Iraqi restaurant, to fragrant Lamb Tagine at a Moroccan Restaurant. Shisha, or Hookah, is widely available at most restaurants.
The Doha City Center skyline is adorned with shiny skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes. The beach, while beautifully lined with deck chairs and umbrellas, remains empty under the scorching sun. No speedos or bikinis allowed.
The Entube Center’s brand new facility is located in the Katara Cultural Village. Much of the architecture there seemed infused with what I’d seen in Rome – from the Colosseum-style amphitheater to the random water fountains along the street. The Entube Center’s neighbors – many art galleries and museums – were a testament to how important culture preservation and development is to Qatari.
Video Production Workshop – Entube Center, Katara Cultural Village
Minutes before the start of the workshop, I started chatting with a young man who’d arrived early with his Sony a7s in tow. He shared that he’d recently won a cinematography award for his last short film, which he proudly showed me on his phone.
The Entube Center said that they’d received 15 RSVPs. So I asked for help moving the participants to the front of the room. But then we saw that the rows kept filling up, gradually getting closer to the back. By the time we got started, we had 37 Qatari youth in their seats, wide-eyed and eager to learn. Wow.
I was provided with a professional translator who stood with me in the front of the room. For every sentence I said in English, he repeated in Arabic. And just like that, we danced our way through lessons on Storytelling, Interview Skills, Technical Skills and hands-on practice.
Since I wanted their learning to be guided by their underlying passion – their why – I asked every student to write down the top 3 social issues they cared most about. To help, I displayed a list of social issues I’d commonly come across:
We tallied their answers, and these were the top 3 listed by the class:
Fascinating. We divided the students into groups based on shared interests, so they could later practice interviewing each other on their chosen topics.
When it came time for hands-on practice with the camera and sound equipment, we were a little worried that the large group sizes (we had prepared 3 sets of equipment for 15 people initially!) would make the practical session chaotic. Thanks to the Entube Center’s quick thinking, we scrounged up enough equipment to form a 4th group, and instructed each group to assign 2 people to each production role instead of just 1.
The youth were so cooperative and enthusiastic that they got to work right away, with leaders naturally emerging within each group guiding the rest. They made it so much easier for myself and 2 other Entube Center staff to walk around and offer assistance whenever needed.
When they were done, I wrapped the session by encouraging them to see the light in themselves and to share that light with those in their communities that need it. I can’t wait to see what they create next!
Here are some highlights from the workshop:
Documentary Video Production Tips for the Web
The Entube Center had asked me to prepare 5x 15-second tips, and 5x 3-minute tips, and present them to camera for their social media channels. It was challenging at first to figure out what points can be brought across as short soundbites, while still providing value to the viewer.
Here’s what I ended up going with:
- 15-Second Videos
- You Can Make A Difference
- Choosing A Topic
- Sound Matters
- Respect Ethics
- 3-Minute Videos
- Storytelling – People First
- Interviewing – Get Full Sentences
- Driving Action
- Interviewing – Start Easy, Give It Time
- Mic-ing Your Subject
Thanks Michal and Karol who made a super innovative makeshift teleprompter using 2x magic arms, a laptop and a wireless mouse, and patiently worked with me to get everything recorded. Here’s a sample of how it turned out.
The Lectures – Qatar University, Alkhor Girls Center, Sumaisma Youth Center
Running a workshop and delivering a 90-minute lecture can be pretty different, even if they’re centered around the same topic. With no hands-on component in the lecture, I shifted the focus away from the technical aspects of filmmaking, and more towards showing great examples of videos for good and explaining each one, helping them see that the world needs their voice and their contributions, and encouraging them to join a larger community of video changemakers to take the learning beyond the lecture.
A photo posted by Media Club نادي الإعلام (@qu_mediaclub) on
It was beautiful to see how engaged the youth were, taking notes diligently, feeling proud when they’d answered a question correctly, sharing their views, and mustering the courage to raise their hands when I’d asked for volunteers for a demonstration. I had initially brought a bag of Hersheys Chocolate as an incentive to break the ice and encourage participation, but as it turned out, no incentives were needed!
My youngest participant – a 10-year-old girl – came up to me at the end, asking curiously about the little lights I had used as props during my presentation. When I told her she could take one if she wanted, her face lit up! Before I knew it, she told her two friends about it and they, too, rushed to the front asking for their own lights. 🙂 I hope the little props remind them to shine their lights brightly as they learn and grow in their communities.
A week after my return, I was sent some feedback from the organizers:
The workshop conducted by Shuling Yong was great! She is a competent person and engages fully in what she do. She willingly shares her passion with others.
All participants of the workshop very positively assessed the workshop run by Shuling. All of them said that the workshop was very good and collaboration with Shuling was also very good.
Shuling, thank you very much for your great work!
– Marta Mazur, Entube Center
My Lessons Learned
Through these 5 days, as with all things in life, we were greeted with a few surprises. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Schedule Prayer Breaks
It is part of the Islam faith and Qatari culture to pray 5 times a day. I didn’t realise this at first, and thus had to pause my lecture/workshop abruptly whenever they intersected with prayer times.
- Learn From Your Audience Too
After I had screened an example of a fundraising video I’d made for a non-profit organization in the U.S., one of my participants informed me that the charity she was working at didn’t need to fundraise. It was fully government-funded. I chuckled, slightly embarrassed that the fundraising video example may not have made sense in their context, but at the same time appreciative that I’d learned something new from them too.
- Don’t Make Assumptions
I had initially planned to keep the conversation going post-lecture/workshop by inviting my attendees to join a Facebook group. It was only after talking to Entube Center staff Wojtek that I realized that Qatari don’t use Facebook as much as they do SnapChat, WhatsApp or Instagram! Facebook is such a huge part of peoples’ lives in Singapore and the US, that I’d assumed it’d be the same elsewhere. Boy, was I wrong.
Saying Goodbye – Friendships Forged
By the time I was packing my suitcase and getting ready to fly back to Chicago, Doha had found a special place in my heart. The staff at the Entube Center couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming to me. Thanks for providing the technical and organizational support, Kasia, Michal, Eddy, Karol, Khalid, Wojtek, Marta and everyone else working behind the scenes at the Entube Center.
I especially appreciate getting to know and spend time with Marta and Wojtek at the end of each day, chatting over some delicious food and fresh fruit juices. They make me wanna visit Poland someday too.
And as for the youth, I hope that I was somehow able to plant a seed in each of them. I can’t wait to see them share their voices, and help their communities through videos for good in their own ways.