Summer workshop students uncover Doha’s stories

October 25, 2010

The story of a wartime doctor came to life last week in the classrooms of Northwestern University in Qatar.

His story was heard thanks to the work of Farida Zahran, and her  partner, Burhan Mahmoud, two high school students who participated in  NU-Q’s inaugural summer journalism workshop, “Northwestern Connect:  Journey,” which ran from July 25 to August 5. The program gave students  introductory training in journalism and then the opportunity to use  their new skills to write stories and produce documentaries about people  who live in Doha.

Farida and Burhan wrote a story and produced a short film on the  doctor, Mohammed Kairat, and his wartime life. During the height of the  Egyptian-Israeli War in 1973, Khairat was serving as a military doctor  in the city of Egyptian city of Suez, which had been surrounded by  Israeli forces. He received word that his pregnant wife was about to  give birth and needed to know what to call their soon-to-be-born son.  Khairat, whose communication with his wife in Cairo was all but cut off,  smuggled a note with a wounded soldier back to his family containing  instructions on a name.

“It’s amazing,” said Zahran, who is Kairat’s granddaughter, but had  never heard the story of her grandfather’s crafty smuggling until she  started asking questions during Northwestern Connect.

Zahran, like the majority of the students who attended the two-week  workshop, had little or no previous exposure to media production. But  during the camp all 25 students were given a laptop, camera, editing  tools and plenty of instruction in how to go about doing the job of a  journalist.

“At first they were terrified to go report anything,” said NU-Q  associate professor Trish Roth, one of five faculty members who taught  during the program. But by the end of the first night of reporting at  Souq Waqif, the students had gotten over their fear. In fact, “one pair  of girls was late getting on the bus because they were having so much  fun,” Roth said.

Students interviewed a wide variety of people: from a retired  American survival expert to a Sri Lankan optical technician to a  12-year-old actor who hosts a show on Al Jazeera Children’s network.

“It’s been amazing,” said Burhan Mahmoud, a high school junior in the  program. “Everyone is really nice and the teachers have been amazing.”

In addition to gaining experience interviewing people – and learning a  bit of family history – the students have also been exposed to the  technical aspects of newswriting, photography, and image and video  editing using the same cameras and software that media professionals  use.

While, for some the camp was an opportunity to learn new skills  during the summer months, others wanted to get practical experience for  future professional or college careers.

“I’ve just always liked writing and photojournalism,” said James  Robertson-Malt, an 18-year-old from Australia who lives in Doha. “My  dream job would be to work for National Geographic Adventure.”

Ghada Tayseer, a senior from Palestine who was born and raised in  Doha, said she looked at the camp as a way to decide where to apply to  college. “I came to [Northwestern Connect to] decide what I want to do  after I graduate,” Tayseer said. “Now I know I have to apply here.”

Apart from learning about creating media, the summer camp participants also made quick friends with their fellow students.

“No one knew each other at first” said Alanna Alexander, a  16-year-old from India who has lived in Doha for four years. “But now  we’ve become this weird, dysfunctional, fun family. It’s great.”

And that weird, dysfunctional family apparently makes academics a bit  easier. “It’s easy to learn when you’re enjoying it,” Mahmoud said.

For information on future programs contact