Oula A. Alrifai, Executive Producer
Oula is a Syrian-American Middle East and North Africa analyst. She has been involved in the Syrian protest movement. Oula is currently a Master’s candidate at Harvard University.
How do you feel about the Syrian crisis and what is your connection to it?
I fled Syria in 2005 due to direct death threats from the Assad regime to my family. It has been 12 years now, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to go back home. What is going on in my homeland is a genocide. Watching my country fall apart is painful and I struggle with that every single day. In 2011, Syrians peacefully protested against a brutal dictatorship regime and called for dignity, freedom, and democracy. And the eyes of the world have been witnessing their suffering until this very moment. But no real action has been taken to stop the bloodshed. Still, I keep my hope alive. I believe in what our freedom fighters tell me, “one day we will all celebrate our freedom together in Damascus.”
What made you start this project?
I wanted to give voice to the Syrian children. Not only I wanted to know how they feel about the ongoing crisis in Syria, but I wanted the world to know how they feel. I wanted to shed light on what is happening in Syria through their young eyes. Syrian children have suffered the most. Giving them a voice and empowering them is essential, because they are our future.
Did you face any challenges working on this project?
Yes. The challenges were all over; internal and external. I will leave the external and technical challenges to my brother, the director, to talk about. But what was very challenging for me on a personal level is simply hearing the stories of the children I met. It was painful to learn about what they went through and it was painful to see their pain and loss without being able to change that. The war has dramatically traumatized them and I saw firsthand fear in their young eyes. During the shooting, it was equally painful for me to be on Syria’s borders; very close to home, but without being able to go home.
Most people feel helpless as they watch the crisis in Syria unfold. How can people, especially millennials, make a difference?
Everyone can make a difference if they have the will. No action is trivial. All actions count. It does not matter if people donate a small amount of money or a big amount of money to invest in the future of Syrian children and their education. I believe what matters is the will to help and be involved. We can’t ignore this tragedy. Millennials have the tools to make an impact and we are a powerful generation that should not stay silent in the face of oppression worldwide. No matter what your field is or your interests are, you can always make a difference. You can be powerful through art, technology, medicine, and many other fields. Use your skills and talents to help others and end their suffering.
How is your relationship with the kids featured in Tomorrow’s Children?
All of the children featured in our documentary are beautiful inside and out. They touched my soul and I loved being with them. Fatima has a special place in my heart. She is a strong little girl who is determined to work hard and succeed in school even though she is learning in a foreign language faraway from her hometown and friends. She reminded me of myself. Fatima values education and her books are her new friends, she told me. Indeed, in her eyes I saw hope and a bright future. All what she needs is to be empowered, supported, and given the chance to thrive. Fatima will never give up dreaming and girls like her motivate me to devote my life to making change.