A group of young women in the Syrian capital, Damascus, were given the opportunity this week to generate their own audio and visual stories, focusing on the theme: “Where I am now and where I want to be by 2015”.
The event, organised by the BBC World Service Trust, under a project called 'My Life', was an opportunity for the young women, aged between 14 and 20, to debate ideas and issues affecting them and to talk about how they can progress in life.
“I am indeed very happy. It is unbelievable to raise such a theme in our country,” Mwana Orfaly, 15, told IRIN.
Orfaly’s dream is to specialise in computer programming. In her story board, she highlighted the issue of tradition and women’s freedom in Middle Eastern communities.
"The 5-day workshop infused us with team spirit, to be courageous in expressing our ideas and saying the truth and we made new friends. We also acquired patience through the activities and learned how to plan for our future so that we become more effective in society," she added.
The workshop featured games, storytelling exercises and drawing. The 10 participants interviewed each other and recorded voice narratives; in addition to taking pictures with a digital camera which depicted present and future aspirations.
During a presentation of the 'My Life' stories, the women spoke about their freedom, environment, their love for their homeland and their dreams for the future.
Dima, 15, raised the issue of education, pointing out that the final year in school was crucial as access to university required high grades.
Dima’s dream is to travel and emigrate, whereas Iman, another participant, wanted to become a fashion designer and said she would use Syrian fabrics in her collection.
Twenty-year old Salwa said she wanted to focus on combating smoking in public areas, calling for the 'My Life' project to be implemented in schools across the country so that students can define what they want to be in the future.
“This project is being funded for this particular period and the idea we have is that when we get more funding, we will run a project as part of training the trainees where some of the participants that are involved in the project, that is the young women, when they get older will act as facilitators in subsequent projects,” Eleanor Morris, 'My Life' project director for the BBC World Service Trust, told IRIN.
“All girls have enormous energy and enthusiasm, as well as the will to create an atmosphere of harmony together that has been really powerful in all the countries. Some of the young girls were very quiet in the beginning, but at the end of the workshop they were lively, and involved in activities,” Morris added.
The creative media and storytelling workshop was held in partnership with the BBC Arabic service and the Syrian Environment Association (SEA) a local NGO, with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The project is linked to the whole concept of achieving parity in girls’ education and aims at developing creative media content, because the Arabic service has a strong online presence, according to Morris.
Taleb Kadi Amin, Deputy Minister of Information, told IRIN, “This project is indeed exciting, however, the media in Syria has already handled similar issues. The common issue that the young women discussed in this event was access to university and this issue is under consideration by the concerned ministries. The government is making great efforts to solve this issue and the opening of private universities is part of the solution for such a problem.”
The young women said the grades for acceptance at university were very high and could not be achieved due to a very intensive curriculum. For example, students need to get more than 95 percent to study in the faculty of medicine.
Andrea Kowalski told IRIN that the main objective of the project was to encourage girls to have a voice. "Personally I feel that the media tends to be a one-way communication, this is two-way communication. The girls who watch television and listen to the radio are also producing media and not only consuming media," she said.
"It is an opportunity for a very big sector of young people to say what they have to say and to express what they think about," she added.
Kowalski said discussions were being held with the SEA NGO to see if progress these women make could be monitored over the next few years.
A similar final regional event is scheduled for April this year, which will have a wider audience of decision makers, opinion formers, journalists and civil society, organisers said.