When I released my documentary 10 March, 2016, I never imagined that a year later I would be giving a TEDx talk about it. My film is very much a student film, a personal creative project that helped me engage deeply with a personal topic: Syrian refugees. I never intended or even imagined that I would share my film outside of my student groups and communities. However, I am coming to learn that the amazing experiences in life are those that are not planned.
A few months after releasing my film, I was interview by Esther Ciammachilli at WBHM, Birmingham’s NPR station. A few days after the interview, I was contacted by Matthew Hamilton, the head organizer of TEDx Birmingham. He asked me to be a speaker at TEDx Birmingham 2017 and a year later I found myself standing on the infamous red dot speaking to an audience of around 600 people about my personal discoveries in Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp.
Although it seems like a blur in retrospect, I faced several challenges before getting on that stage. For starters, I spent months crafting and tweaking my talk, and then another month memorizing it word by word. I am pretty sure I practiced it at least 100 times and even having my talk to memory by showtime did not stop me from needing a paper bag to breath properly before going on stage. So, yes, I learned that public speaking is no easy task and requires time for processing, practice, and reflection. The most important lesson I learned, however, had nothing to do with my public and professional life and everything to do with the people who loved me and supported me throughout the process. I know it’s a bit cliché to talk about the friends and family who got me through the anxiety, self-doubt, and potential public humiliation but in reality this experience really was a personal lesson in trust and love. I literally could not have physically made it onto the stage without my incredible speaker coach, Julie Holly, and best friend, Susan Hagen. Had Julie not grabbed me for a moment of reflection before going backstage I would not have had the calm to get through my talk. Without Susan’s paper bag (she intuitively knew I would need one to breath properly) and constant hugs backstage I certainly would not have had the physical strength to stand on the red dot and speak.
The best part of the whole evening was hugging my family and friends who came to support me (if you cannot tell, I really love hugs). Feeling connected to others made the stress and anxiety worth it, not the flashy, colorful pictures. This feeling of connection was the same feeling I experienced while sharing coffee with Syrian refugees in Zaatari and listening to their stories of loss, war, and hope. It was a nice reminder and affirmation for the path that I have chosen. I do this work because I want to feel connected to humanity, because I want to give back and support people in the way I was supported.