A documentary that charts the efforts of seven young Qataris who traveled to Brazil last summer to rebuild part of a school in the Amazon has been published for the first time, but fails to make any mention of the problems that beset the endeavor.
Throughout the trip, a number of social media detractors criticized some of the participants – particularly the young Qatari women – for not dressing in abaya and headscarves.
Many also came out against the trip, which was organized by Vodafone Qatar, because it was mixed-gendered, which they said was against the Gulf state’s conservative Islamic principles.
As a result of the online furor, Vodafone pulled its support mid-way through the charity excursion in August last year.
Filming the trip
The four women and three men taking part in the charity effort had signed up as part of the Vodafone-backed initiative Qatar Firsts, a program to encourage young nationals to challenge themselves.
They were initially supposed to be posting regular online updates of their experiences by uploading videos, photos and messages as the trip progressed.
However, Vodafone’s chairman ordered that support be withdrawn and the company took down the website just a few days into the endeavor.
At issue appeared to be one of the short clips uploaded to the website, which showed the group arriving in Brazil and featured some of the women with their hair uncovered and wearing Western clothes.
Despite Vodafone’s withdrawal of support, the trip continued, assisted by local production company Mediadante, which had been hired to film the effort.
Members of the seven-strong production crew stepped in to keep the team members’ families informed by posting updates on the company’s website, and sending photographs and emails, as well as carrying a phone that could be used by parents and close family.
About the film
However, Mediadante did not post any public footage during the trip, as had been the original plan.
This 26-minute film, “One Step for a Better Future,” is the first peek into the adventure that has been made available for public view.
Speaking to Doha News, Mediadante’s founder and executive producer of the film Rosie Garthwaite said that the documentary skirted the elephant in the room to protect the reputations of the adventurers, who were aged between 17 and 24 years when they went on the trip.
Those taking part included Mohammed Al Shammari (20), Leila Al Tamimi (22), Aisha Al Naama (24), Tameem Walid Al Hammadi (19), Noor Al Muhannadi (17), Maqdeem Al Naama (22) and Mohammed Adel Al Naimi (17).
“The young adventurers wanted to address some of the issues they had with their reputations on social media while they were away. But I felt, in the position of responsibility I had for their lives and reputations, that would not have been best, given that they are getting on with their lives now, without threats.
It is better to avoid dwelling on the negative and focus on the positive.”
She said that the film could have been edited in a number of different ways, and producers thought hard about the message they wanted to get across with the short documentary.
“This was the story we wanted people to remember about the Amazon trip. In the future, when these adventurers are talking to their children about the event, these experiences are the ones they will be talking about.” she added.
The film starts in Qatar, with team members and their families expressing trepidation about their impending trip.
They are then seen in the Amazon jungle, battling insects and their own fears about what lay ahead. A planned three-day stint in the jungle, rafting and sleeping in hammocks is cut short after the majority of the group is seen to be emotional and ask to be removed from the environment.
The group then heads to the village of Ararinia, where they spend the next week helping to kick-start the rebuilding of school facilities, which had burned down nearly a year prior.
Reflecting on their work, which included building a covered stand so the school community could watch football matches, members of the group said they felt grateful for their own privileges.
Maqdeem Al Naama says on the film: “It makes me sympathize for laborers in Qatar. We take things for granted sometimes.”
The adventurers also learned about the harsh life of many local families, who survived by planting bananas and catching fish to sell to raise money to feed themselves.
In the film, the mother of one of the village families talks about her dreams for her children, saying she hopes that they will be well-educated and get university degrees, to help them move away from the area and make better lives for themselves.
The female members of the group are seen bonding with one of the local women, Donna Ralmunda Pereira De Lira, who shows them how to make juice from acai berries and a traditional black bean stew.
Summing up their experiences at the end of the film, Aisha Al Naama says: “This has taught me so many things I couldn’t have learned from a book.”
Meanwhile, Al Mohannadi, who was one of the youngest in the group and struggled initially with the jungle, said:
“I wanted to go home so badly at the beginning. I never thought I would end up wanting to stay longer.”
And one of the male team members said, “I’m proud to have come here and worthily represented my country. We’ve done some real good here.”
Despite the negative comments from some detractors, the group received strong support from family and friends upon their return.
Some Qatar residents even set up a coed support group that advocates against cyber-bullying and gender inequality, in response to tweets about the Brazil trip, Islamic values and westernization.
Some of the adventurers’ family members have also spoken out against the negativity.
The father of the Al Naama sisters previously told Doha News:
“We are very proud of our girls. They are not doing anything wrong. They are benefitting the country and society by taking on this humanitarian act.
There are a number of mix-gender groups that travel together. They’re certainly not the first Qataris to travel in male company without their male family members. It happens all the time with university trips, studying abroad and in the workforce.”
Garthwaite told Doha News that it was this family support that encouraged the production team to make a positive film.
“I was incredibly in awe of the maturity of the families, friends and adventurers when they returned to Doha. When they signed up to go to the Amazon, they didn’t sign up to create a cultural revolution.
We wanted to show that philanthrophy and giving is something that Qatar does very well. This was the intentions of the young Qataris. Everything else that happened was a distraction and was not a true reflection of modern Qatar.”
Since the excursion, members of the team have gone on to tackle other feats. Aisha Al Naama was part of a team which climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in October, making her among the first Qatari women to reach the summit.
And she also took part in her first half-marathon earlier this month, having never really run previously.