Jackie Sawiris is a half Jordanian, half Egyptian, Libyan-born, American-raised, Jordan-based writer, filmmaker, and actor. She discovered how truly powerful film can be when she initiated objecDEFY Harassment, an Arab world-based, self-perpetuating initiative that empowers people of all gender identities to combat harassment and regain agency over their bodies and spaces. She volunteered her skills at Video Volunteers in exchange for learning how to make the perfect cup of chai – and ended up with a whole lot more. Here, she recounts her amazing experience conducting what she likes to term The Passion Workshop.
I face a group of people I am in awe of and who I know through voices and images only – theirs and those of others they interview for videos they produce as IndiaUnheard Community Correspondents. I am shy. I am nervous. I am speechless. Perhaps the worst thing for me to be on this day when I’m supposed to be training these 24 men and women – who come from various communities all over India and speak three different languages – in voice projection and speaking with passion. I am doomed.
So I throw myself into the deep end and do the only thing I can think of to do. Emotionally prostate myself before them and tell them the truth: You guys are my heroes. You inspired me before I met you. Before I understood the extent to which you’ve made your communities better – and our world at large. You’ve inspired a whole bunch of people my country, Jordan, to find their voices and use them to do what you do.
I am met with silence - the opposite of the storm that is brewing in my belly. I know they understand what I’m saying because Stalin K, Video Volunteers’ Managing Trustee, is translating and interacting and ensuring that nothing escapes our collective consciousness. Uncomfortable silence oozes out of my own pores faster than this Goan-born sweat ever did. So I jump. As high into the air as I can. Release the tension of the body and the sprit will follow. I take a leap of faith – literally and figuratively – and ask them to do the same. They do. They jump. We jump. Together.
Our two-hour journey is a narrative in itself, one that dissolves our differences into laughter and gravity and hugs and the poignancy of people united by a common emotional currency that we are happy to spend on each other. We practice using words to relay important information and express the passion that drives it home. We practice speaking from the heart using theatre training techniques. We practice the power of clarity and what it means in the context of the global audience watching IndiaUnheard videos. We practice the significance between the words we speak and how we speak them. We negotiate the twists and turns of different, even opposing, cultural landscapes and find ourselves in the here and now of simply being human.
And at the end of our time together we practice our learning by telling each other what we have learned. Nadeem from Kashmir sums up many of the CC's sentiments when he tells us Before, I used to speak with my heart or voice – now I will speak with both. Everyone embraces the individual and combined importance of voice, facial expression and body language. And I want to embrace all of them, especially when I hear Sajad from Kahmir tell us Before, I used to think I can. Now I know I will; Sarwat from Chattisgharh tell us The lens isn’t a camera. It’s the world; and Meribeni from Nagaland, who gives me the warm and fuzzies, when she explains that I learned how to express from watching you express to us.
And me? I learned what thought I already knew. Until 24 colorful people from places I dream to visit taught me otherwise. That a hug really can say well done much more effectively than the words themselves. That we must be free yet careful with our laughs, lest they be taken as an offense rather than a show of camaraderie. That a collective purpose can make an entire world of difference. And that it really is all about speaking with a mind that thinks critically and a heart that is clear.