Not many people know that last fall was one of the toughest times for SAC Houston. Following the summer’s “Return to Homs” film screening success, the fall’s work schedule was difficult and frustrating for myself and my team to work around (we’re all volunteers). That was also the time we had our Worst Event Ever: a public film screening at the University of Houston. Fast forward to January 2015, one of our most successful months to date. We just orchestrated our Best Event Ever: A public conversation with George Sabra at Rice University. I gauge success by the strength of communications and media impact, and these two events couldn’t be more different. At our Worst Event Ever, we had 5 people show up and I asked them all to go home (3 times!). At our Best Event Ever, we had a robust and diverse crowd of 170 show up, with three media spots. In contrast to Worst Event, people were in great anticipation for Best Event. But despite these differences, both these stories ended the same way.
At our film screening at UoH, our only new outreach was to one Non-Syrian American family. They and their daughter had heard about the film from her high school (how, I have no idea). The audiovisual in the room wasn’t working, and we started the film 30 mins late. There was maddening audio feedback from a microphone we couldn’t turn off for what felt like the bulk of the film. I was deeply embarrassed, and asked them to go home so as to not waste their time. They stared back at me, and wouldn’t budge. In the end, they donated money to SAC Houston in exchange for Free Syria bracelets. Later my dad told me he and my mom spoke with the family. They were concerned and had no idea that Syrians were struggling on such a scale. They wanted to know how they could help.
Fast forward to January 2015. SAC Houston has had a full month of activity; we launched our “The Road Foward” theme by bringing George Sabra to Houston. SAC Houston presented a recap of all the facets of Syria: the revolution, civil war, armed opposition, civil service groups, etc. before handing the floor over to Mr. Sabra. He spoke in depth about war crimes happening in Syria, then took answers from myself and an audience of 170 people. Univision, a freelance journalist from CNN Arabic, and The Rice Thresher covered the event. For a small volunteer group, our event planning was professional and audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
After our program ended and the last stragglers left the room, I stood there packing up my lap top. A young girl came up to me. “I just wanted to say hi and thank you. I had no idea about anything you said..I’m a high school student taking a Middle Eastern class. I learned so much from this event tonight”, she told me, standing with her arms behind her back in a shy but open demeanor.
We looked at each other for a moment before I thanked her for coming. I recognized the look in her eyes from before; I had seen it the night one family showed up to our film screening last October. Their daughter had that same look when she handed me a $20 donation to SAC Houston in exchange for a Free Syria bracelet.
In that look was compassion and empathy. They connected with Syrians on a human level, and wanted to show support. Whether it’s a crowd of 5 or 170, this is why people show up for Syria, and its a reminder for SAC Houston why we do the work we do, no matter how big or small.
EDIT: To be accurate, our Best Event had a little less than 170 people. From where I was sitting, the audience looking completely full, but the photos show some empty seats.