By Jihan Anwar
“I see TEDxSanaa as an opportunity to develop hope by showcasing the creativity and spirit of hard work that our Yemeni youth enjoy,” Dr. Hilal Lashuel, a Yemeni Swiss-based associate professor told TEDxSanaa.
TEDx is a locally based, independently organized TED-like conference, prepared by volunteers. TEDxSanaa was the result of the determination and hard work of two remarkable Yemenis who curated the event, Mazen AlHebshi and TEDFellow Walid AlSaqqaf.
TED(Technology Entertainment Design) was first organized in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman, architect, graphic designer and author of 83 books. Chris Anderson, founder of the non-profit Sapling Foundation, took ownership of TED in 2002. With the focus on “Ideas Worth Spreading,” two major decisions were taken, first in 2006 when TEDTalks were made freely available to the public via the internet, then in 2008, when Anderson allowed a licensing system that allowed other countries to host TEDx events.
“I was amazed and excited to hear that you’ll be holding TEDxSanaa, the first ever TEDx event in Yemen,” said Chris Anderson, TED curator in a video showed at the opening of TEDxSanaa 2012, on 31 December. “TEDx is about rethinking the future, owning it, figuring out how to shape it. That process is amazing and thrilling. I imagine you’ll be doing quite a bit of that today [at TEDxSanaa].”
National Yemen would like to give its readers a glimpse into the event, including the thoughts and feeling of speakers, attendees and organizers from the time TEDxSanaa was announced until the successful conclusion of the event.
TEDxSanaa got official license approval in July 2012; speakers Amad Almsaodi and Akram AlOmainy were excited about the news.
“But honestly I thought there would be so many hurdles and that it might be a big mess based on what I had heard about previous events and conferences,” AlOmainy said.
Taghreed AlSaeedi,TEDxSanaa volunteer said he used to think poorly of Yemen.
“I used to think my country was a hopeless case and that I would be better off travelling elsewhere.”
A day before the conference
The atmosphere was charged with intense feelings and expectations.
Waleed Abdulqawi, also a TEDxSanaa volunteer, said he was too excited to feel the exhaustion from all his hard work.
“I was tired, but I was too busy and excited to feel any fatigue.”
Ali AlMarrani said that while listening to speeches at the rehearsal, he realized that there really were ideas worth sharing.
“I reviewed my talk and a sudden fear surfaced in my mind. I recognized the big responsibility I had.”
The big day
“Going through the inspiring talks and touching stories was like riding an emotional rollercoaster. I felt extremely happy to know more about Yemen’s invisible stories and treasures,” Ibrahim Mothana said. “The conference gave all the participants and me a dose of hope and inspiration that we all desperately needed.”
Fadl AlJoneid, a TEDxSanaa volunteer, was very hopeful.
“My emotions were soaring with the feelings of hope. I was neither worried nor nervous because I trusted the team and the volunteers. We offered the public an event that brought hope-inspired smiles to their faces.”
More than 110 people applied to participate as speakers, 19 of them were ultimately selected.
Yemen was depicted through them in different areas of expertise. The event’s on stage host was Shatha AlHarazi. Every talk will be available on the TEDxSanaa website and YouTube.
Khalil BaMatraf, a medical school graduate and social activist, spoke about her challenging life, made more difficult by her father’s choice of a typical male name for his daughter.
“My father wanted a son and his disappointment at having a girl led him to make my mom choose between calling me Khalil or Qarura (glass bottle).”
Khalil is now the first female president of a Yemeni NGO and encouraged others to find their true passion and commit to it.
Faizah AlSuleimani made history simply by stepping on stage as the first woman with niqab speaking at a TEDx event. She spoke about the “culture of impossible” that has been cultivated in the minds of Yemenis and declared that nothing was impossible.
Emad Al Saqqaf, a renewable energy researcher, wowed the audience and earned a standing ovation by presenting a possible solution to the current problem of water scarcity in Yemen.
Ibrahim Mothana, writer, activist and Arab Thought Foundation’s Ambassador, focused on social engagement and discussed ways to create connections between citizens and leaders.
Maad Sharaf, a student and the youngest speaker at the event, argued that education was not confined to classrooms and learning was a thought process stimulated by experiences and interactions.
Businessman Mohammed AlBasha argued against the widely-held view that Yemen is poor and presented coffee as one of the undervalued treasures of the country.
Professor and member of the Socotra Archipelago Project Dr. Abdulkareem Nasheer illustrated the amazing properties and economic potential that plants in Yemen carry.
The impressions attendees, sponsors, speakers and organizers had about Yemen were expected to undergo a transformation by the conclusion of TEDxSanaa, taking home with them at least a hint of hope for the New Year.
Iona Craig believes that if professionalism and slick presentation were anything to go by, Yemeni youth should be running the country.
“TEDxSanaa was absolutely astonishing. I was inspired, I cried and laughed. Most importantly, I gained hope in Yemen. Very well organized,” attendee Alaa AlJarbani said.