Hekayat Ashara, Arabic for the “Story of 10”, is a photography project, with a social vision that aims to develop talents and create awareness among underprivileged women through the medium of photography. The project can be captured in three words, culture, documentary and empowerment.
Zaynab Odunsi, a photography lecturer at Dar Al-Hekma, was the main force behind this initiative. She described the project as an interactive mission to engage women who have been isolated from the changing world and highlight their potential and capabilities through the art of photography.
Odunsi explained that the premise of the project was to connect 10 students, who would act as mentors, with 10 ladies from Al Ruwais District in Jeddah in a memorable photography journey. The 10 women chosen for the project were from different nationalities in a bid to interact with different cultures and explore new experiences through the camera lens. The participants included four Saudis, one Filipino, two Yemenis, one Sudanese and two Somali women. She stressed that her choice of Al-Ruwais District was intended to draw upon the history of the landscape and the vast potential, which lies within its inhabitants.
Dr. Suhair Al Qurashi, dean and president of Dar Al-Hekma College, said “As a leading higher education institution in Saudi Arabia, we aim to act responsibly in everything we do and always strive to be good social citizens, by giving back to our nation and society. We recognize that we have an impact on our environment and communities around us. The Story of 10 is our latest project and part of our approach and commitment to ensure that social responsibility is rooted within the college culture. The Story of 10 empowers women to be independent and encourages them to use their talent in a beautiful way, while making a living.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Lamya Gazzaz, vice dean of student affairs at the college, described the project as a “Rewarding experience in which Dar Al Hekma students took on the role of mentors to 10 remarkable ladies from Al-Ruwais District, teaching and assisting them on how to master the art of photography,” adding, “As a result, inspiring pictures were captured and a collection of images from Al-Ruwais District will remain in the Hekayat Ashara book as a reference for future generations.”
Roua Basaad, one of the mentors, and team leaders, described the project as a rewarding and challenging experience, which allowed her to grow personally and academically.
“As a fresh graduate, it was easy to connect with the students during the selection process. The experience of selecting 10 students from a varied body of enthusiastic applicants became even more interesting when we had to match the student “buddies” to the 10 women from Al Ruwais District. We tried to ensure that the participants were compatible in terms of their personalities and interests.”
Commenting about the challenges faced during the project, she said, “Naturally, all projects have ups and downs, but the matching process was truly a blessing, as it helped break down social barriers and served to create the most comfortable rapport from the beginning. Being involved in the project from the onset allowed me the vantage of watching how the 10 ladies progressed week after week. It was remarkable and inspiring to see their eagerness to learn; their enthusiasm was the fuel to our energy, as they pushed us on, in even during those rare dark days.”
Ahaad Al Amoudi, another student mentor, conveyed the experience as a gratifying journey of learning and group effort.
“We have been involved in this project for almost one year, working alongside one another. The beauty of the project stems from the opportunity it allowed us in being a part of a community initiative that gave these women a chance to learn and expand their horizons. Working on a project that gave back on a one-to-one level and a community as a whole is extremely inspiring,” she said.
For her part, Samar Al Ammari, one of the 10 female participants, said “As a Saudi I feel proud to have participated in this project. It has brought a great change in my life and my family’s life. Initially, it was challenging for me to engage with people from other nationalities, but now I feel I can do many things to make my people and my country proud. Photography has always been a dream to me, but now I can say I can dream, and for that I am so lucky. Zaynab has been a good mentor and has inspired us to believe we can do anything we set our heart and minds to do.”
Another participant, Brkyah Al Jahdali, expressed her happiness that Al Ruwais District was chosen as the focus of the project.
“Al Ruwais beats in my heart; this is the place I was born, brought up and in which I matured to who I am today. I feel immense happiness that Zaynab selected this particular place. I hope that I may be remembered among my brothers, sisters and locality as a self-motivated woman, who aspired to go a long way in her career,” she said.
One of the juries for the project, Abdullah Al Shahri, a prominent Saudi photographer, said being a part of the project provided him with a different and more realistic appreciation of photography. He explained that the women behind the lens captured their surrounding and life from a profound perspective.
Saudi filmmaker Mohammed Makki has documented the story and intricacies behind the project, to provide a wholesome perspective of the characters and storylines behind the project.
Recounting his experience, Makki said, “I am overwhelmed to be a part of Hekayat Ashara. It has indeed been great interacting with all the ladies and mentors from various background, and nationalities. Interviewing the participants has shed light on their experience and has added a unique, human element to the project. I hope this is a stepping-stone toward greater success. I believe Hekayat 10 will go a long way and open many doors of opportunity for the participants. The book and exhibition will also serve to further highlight the project,” he concluded.
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