Surviving the war in Syria: Waad al-Kateab's "For Sama" | Middle East/North Africa | DW | 31.03.2020
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Middle East/North Africa

Surviving the war in Syria: Waad al-Kateab's "For Sama"

Waad al-Kateab captured the conflict in Syria and her own life with her camera and edited the footage into an award-winning film. Taking part in DW Akademie workshops helped pave her way to becoming a citizen journalist.

When 20-year-old Waad al-Kateab began her studies in Aleppo, demonstrations against the Assad regime were already dominating university life. Like so many others, she joined the protests and began using her cell phone camera to film events. "Our cell phone videos were the only way that we could show the world that we were fighting for our freedom," she said. Although the material was shaky and the quality poor, it portrayed a vivid and realistic picture of the events.

The resulting film, "For Sama," has won many awards and is being shown worldwide. Al-Kateab says she is proud to be a voice of the Syrian people and sees her work as a personal statement against a war that continues to claim many lives.

Good journalism in times of crisis

It was not long before the initial protests in Syria turned into a war claiming civilian lives, making citizen journalists and activists on the ground increasingly important. Alican Emre (name changed by the editor) had followed the revolution since the start and, recognizing the need, began developing a tailor-made training module together with DW Akademie. Participants would need support and a safe environment where they could learn how to report professionally.

But it was hard to find and convince suitable activists to take part as many were afraid and were working under false names. Although she was wary herself, al-Kateab took part in the first workshop held in Beirut in 2012. The training laid the foundation for her later work.

Waad al-Kateab For Sama with camera

As a citizen journalist, al-Kateab took on a dangerous but urgently needed task

Al-Kateab continued documenting her own life and the protest movements in Syria with her cell phone camera and kept in touch with Emre. In November 2013, she began working on a television program for Syrian children called "Yalla Nehna" ("Let's get going") aimed at empowering young viewers and not portraying them as victims. DW Akademie trained editors, VJs and presenters together with the moderate Syrian opposition channel Orient TV and in March 2014 the program went on air.

Yalla Nehna

TV program for Syrian children: "Yalla Nehna"

Al-Kateab, having taken part in workshops in Turkey, found herself back under siege in her hometown of Aleppo with a camera and editing equipment from her work on "Yalla Nehna". 
"I followed the bombings uneasily," recalled Emre, her trainer. "At one point the hospital was attacked and I didn't know whether Waad and her husband had survived. It was a relief to later hear that they had."

Not distorting the truth

Al-Kateab, her husband and daughter Sama remained in Aleppo until they were evacuated in 2016. Before leaving, they took care of the injured, comforted survivors and lived through chlorine gas, cluster bombs and barrel bombs attacks.

Waad al-Kateab For Sama Hospital

The hospital where al-Kateab and her husband worked was attacked several times

Al-Kateab constantly had her camera with her as well as a desire to at some point turn the material into something bigger.

"I felt an obligation to the city, to the people there and to our friends to tell their stories so that they won't be forgotten and, in a way, that no one could distort what we have all gone through," she said describing her work.

Al-Kateab started out as a young citizen journalist who took part in DW Akademie trainings, but now she is a well-known film director whose vision and persistence brought the story of the Syrian conflict to the world.

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