NU-Q Responds to COVID-19

July 08, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, Northwestern University in Qatar alumni are reporting on the virus, while a NU-Q student launches a face-mask awareness campaign in Pakistan.

Adan Ali was in the middle of his sophomore year at NU-Q when the pandemic hit. While in Qatar, he connected with some high school friends now studying at top schools in the U.S. and Pakistan, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, and started an awareness campaign to promote the use of face masks in Pakistan.

The goal of the campaign, Mask Banao (or 'Make a Mask'), is to use two methods to get every Pakistani to wear a mask. While the first initiative is a nationwide awareness campaign on various media platforms that encourages people to make their own masks, the second involved producing masks in a factory with the help of donations and distributing them to communities that are unable to produce their own masks.

Shortly after establishing the campaign, some of his fellow students from NU-Q joined his team, including Iffah Abid Kitchlew, Abdul Rahman Abid, Zeest Marrium, Krishna Sharma, Shahan Ejaz, and Saad Ejaz.

“With seven NU-Q students now serving crucial roles,” Ali noted, “Mask Banao is a living, breathing embodiment of what we are taught at NU-Q: to be grounded in facts, to tell the truth, only the truth, and to cast a light on stories that matter.” The campaign now includes 52 people working across eight time zones and 10 countries—from Qatar and Pakistan to Croatia and the U.S.

For NU-Q alum, Wijdan Al Khateeb, her skills in telling a story have been essential as an intern at the Qatar Foundation. Recently she has worked on a documentary with VCUQ FabLab, a fabrication laboratory team at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, on how the lab is producing protective face shields for frontline healthcare workers in Qatar.

Al Khateeb was also involved in the creation of an educational video on how children will be affected by the virus. According to Al Khateeb, the video is designed to start a conversation that will become critical after the crisis is over: “Will they act normally? Will they need more attention/help in certain aspects?”

“The pandemic taught me that we used to take everything for granted, down to the smallest things like being able to go and grab a cup of coffee,” Al Khateeb said. “These videos and projects are small ways in which we can educate, learn more ourselves, and try to create a more positive environment.”

According to Shereena Qazi, an NU-Q alum who now reports for Al Jazeera English’s website, providing accurate information is a way to give back to the community while in lockdown. She explains that for her and her fellow journalists working through the pandemic, this means being “on our toes trying to get facts out, as there is so much misinformation about it.” 

Qazi also noted that reporting in the middle of a global health crisis does not come without its challenges, as “constantly moving numbers” make coverage on COVID-19 a tricky business. “It has been a stressful few months reporting on the virus especially when it comes to documenting facts and numbers, as they move so quickly,” she said.

Echoing these concerns is Hangda Zhang, a Medill graduate on the Evanston campus who spent a semester in Qatar in 2016. “My experience about COVID-19 news reporting,” she said, “is that, in times of crisis, there’s so much to report on and so much to follow for journalists.” Zhang, who is working for AJ+ in Washington, D.C., is also taking this moment to ensure that she can reach the people that benefit the most from her work.

“It is actually the time for me to focus on what is the story here and what are my journalistic values,” she said, adding that at the very least these should “hold the powerful accountable, uncover injustice, and amplify the voices of the underserved who are most affected.”