After the celebrations of the Eid weekend, we returned to Tunis to begin our third session of the summer. Lights, Camera, Learn Tunis brought our biggest team yet (15 interns!) together with thirty kids from around the city. We created four films, bringing our total number of productions to 38. Our week was filled with laughter, learning, and life lessons–and of course, challenges to overcome.
We had many advantages going into the week: we worked with one-third the amount of students as our last program, and had twice as many directors on our team. Our class sizes shrank down to about three kids per counselor, locals from the Sawarly program joined us to help with translation, transportation, and camera operation, and we had one extra day to finish up our films. Yet this program contained its own unique difficulties.
Ten of the students who joined us this week are orphans. Upon meeting all of our stars at the start of the program, we learned that these ten face complex challenges. Nearly all of these students came to us with a low level of English proficiency, as they have not yet taken formal languages classes in school. Further, these kids came into the program mistrusting of our team and our motives, unsure of themselves, and hesitant to join in our activities. Where the other twenty kids took only a couple of hours (or minutes) to open up and begin speaking in English, the ten took much longer. For some, it took them until the end of the first day to speak at all.
Throughout the week we contended with shyness and self-consciousness. We knew that in order to give these kids a transformative experience, we’d have to work harder, put in more time and more energy and prove to them that everything we were doing was for their benefit.
So we kept pushing. Little by little, through confidence-building exercises and patient instruction, we chipped away at their apathetic demeanor. We worked every day to help them feel included, to listen to their opinions and ideas, to make them feel valid, heard, and understood. And we watched them evolve, integrate, make friends, get out of their comfort zones, smile. Kousay became enraptured by a camera and throughout his film took on the role of sound operator, production assistant, and even director. Loue, through the script-writing process, found the confidence to sing in front of her team, and then on camera. On the first day working with our kids, we could see an obvious split between the orphans and the others. When we began to shoot, the differences began to blur. By the time we had wrapped, we saw no divisions, only four teams of excited kids who had had a life-changing experience together.
The challenges we faced with this group magnified the importance of our job as role models. This experience was similar to that of working with refugees, as we did last December. Much like our program in Sharjah, this week led us to realize the weight of our impact in the lives of these kids.
This program might have been the first time that these kids had ever had the opportunity to speak in a new language. These six days might have contained for them the most personalized attention and energy that any teacher has ever given them. This week with Lights, Camera, Learn might have been the first time anyone has ever asked them about their ideas and searched for their talents. It might have been the first time anyone believed in them.
Because of these kids, we were reminded of why we are here. We travel the world to help kids to discover their passions, to dream of becoming something they never before thought possible. We work to give them the confidence to open up and to find their true passions, whether or not they lie in film and art. The effort and energy that these kids put into their films and their experience motivate us to continue our work.
This is why we are. This is why we do what we do. This is what makes all of the hard work and long hours worthwhile. Though our travels are unforgettable, we are not here for ourselves. We are here for these people. We are here because the experiences we provide to kids have the potential to change the world and the impact we leave on their lives is immeasurable.