Interview

Sara Al-Zawqari: from Yemeni girl to world citizen and journalist

Sara Al-Zawqari is a young Yemeni journalist, radio speaker, film-maker and spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Her education and diverse work experience made it possible for her to achieve lifetime goals right after the completion of her studies. When questioned about the secret of such achievement, great importance is given to something that – according to her – should never be underestimated: personality. The only way to stand out in a competitive environment, as the one of mass communication, is showing yourself for who you truly are, enhancing your strengths and learning from your weaknesses.

A new challenging experience
Today, Sara works in the communication department of the Red Cross. The well-known organization, active in 80 countries around the world, provides food, medications, and psychological support to populations living in war-affected areas. As a media delegate and spokesperson, Sara’s job requires a high level of multitasking. What does Sara’s job entail?

“I am in charge of managing social network accounts, filming, and content gathering. Basically, everything that involves a close relationship with the media. For my last mission, I was in Iraq. A few months after I arrived, the Mosul military operation started, where the Iraqi government and the coalition were fighting the Islamic State.

Snipers, bombs, and unpredictable attacks were the daily agenda. The population was stuck inside their houses in an attempt to escape the atrocities of the conflict. The city was unrecognizable. In a situation like that, there is only one thing you can do: talk about those people. Tell their stories, raise awareness about the humanitarian implications of war.

At that time, the war was all over the media, even internationally. Nevertheless, the emphasis was mostly on the ‘boom-boom-bang’ aspect of it, which had sadly become normality for local civilians. What were people facing in those cruel moments? What were they doing in their day to day lives? That’s what I wanted to know.”

The only way to stand out in a competitive environment, is showing yourself for who you truly are, enhancing your strengths and learning from your weaknesses

A long-lasting collaboration: using communication to have an impact in the world
In July 2018, a complex mission will put Sara to the test as Red Cross regional reporter for the entire Middle East. With this new position, she will be covering Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, and the occupation of the Palestinian territories. But what made her decide to engage in this battle for peace, and what fosters her courage despite the awareness of the innumerable risks?

“With the outbreak of the war in Yemen, I was stuck in London for five months. Back then, I was constantly reporting on the conflict on BBC, Al Jazeera English and ITV. However, it soon got to a point where I felt that I wasn’t doing enough. I was tired, and I wasn’t even allowed to go back to my home country. It was right in that moment that I thought I should use my communication skills to help people in a more concrete way. That was a crucial moment for me getting to where I am right now.

I needed to see the thing I was reporting on from London with my own I eyes. That was the only way for me to actually find out what was going on and to see how humanitarian aid was taken care of. I wanted to be there, carry food parcels, assist doctors, do some translating. When your country is in war, it’s horrible to think that you’re not doing anything. I wanted to have an impact somehow.’’

Know your audience: a take-home message
Since the beginning of her career, Sara has come a long way. Many are the goals she still hopes to achieve, but nothing seems to be able to discourage this young journalist from pursuing her life project. To anyone willing to follow in her footsteps, the advice is:

“Try as much as possible to respect any culture you work with. Respect all people, regardless of their social class, education or whatever exerts influence on them. Always know your audience. When I am invited to news programmes with politicians, my language is quite serious, but if I join a talk show watched by the youth, my tone has to be much lighter. In Yemen, I normally adopt street language, because that’s the language people understand me in best. Does it sound rude? I don’t care. Did the message come across? Yes? Great! That’s what’s really important.”

You can cry in the morning and go out at night to forget about everything that went wrong

A matter of time, purpose and hard work
A Yemeni woman living abroad independently and pursuing a career in journalism. How did your country react to that? Did you face any obstacles due to the different cultural backgrounds?

“It hasn’t always been like this,” Al-Zawqari explains, thinking back of a time when it wasn’t in fact all roses and butterflies. “It wasn’t all roses getting to where I am. You need to really love what you do, because that’s the only way you’ll be able to get over hard times. When working in Yemen as radio speaker for Chai Haleb, the show I created to discuss things that are wrong in our society, I got phone calls, letters criticizing me for what I was doing. I received threats.

People will try to get you down, but you can’t listen to anything but positive criticism. Once you have proved yourself, no one will ever be able to change what you have achieved. In the end, what truly matters is your work and the effort you put into it. I had many doors shut in my face. There were times I never thought this day would come. But please, whatever you are doing, never quit. Read, film, edit, write, ask, talk to people, network! You can cry in the morning and go out at night to forget about everything that went wrong. Just keep on working and something will come up!”

Cover: Saara Mansikkamaki / Final editor: Iris Ausems

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Gilda Bruno
Born and raised in Italy, Gilda (21) has moved to the Netherlands to continue her studies. In 2015 she was an exchange student in Copenhagen, Denmark: an experience able to change radically her viewpoint on the world. Deeply in love and addicted to any expression of art, in the free time, she likes to write, read books or shoot photos of whatever inspires her. She has also been acting for the past 5 and a half years. If asked about future plans and career aspirations, Gilda replies by saying that she wants to become a journalist, yet trying to incorporate all her interests into a single, unique life project.

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