After all, it's a small world

Opinion: Columns

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By JOHN RICE

Recently I profiled a courageous Iraqi woman named Alyaa Shakir [Changing the world, one piece of litter at a time, Viewpoints, Jan. 15]. Alyaa is leading a movement to clean the streets of Baghdad in Iraq. I compared her to some like-minded people in our community. Picking up litter around here, though, is not dangerous, while Alyaa risks her life daily in the war-torn city. 

The column captured the attention of local readers but I had no idea it was being read by a reporter half a world away. Then I received an email from Daniel Boehm. He is a German TV journalist who is covering the Middle East from Beirut, Lebanon. 

He found Alyaa's story to be very inspiring. It's also a good fit for a series of short TV pieces he is producing. Boehm is focusing on young artists and activists who are working to improve conditions in Arab countries. His aim is to show young people fighting for a better future, instead of the typical news stories that dwell on the misery, hopelessness and destruction in the region.

Boehm said Lebanon is now experiencing protests like the ones in the streets of Baghdad. They are not targeting a brutal leader. It's an uprising against a government that doesn't provide adequate services and exploits religious divisions. Protesters want to hold their political leaders responsible for their actions.

He believed that Alyaa's story reflected many of these problems in the Middle East: failing governments, civil strife and gender inequality. But instead of dwelling on the negative, it showed how she is doing what she can to improve the situation. Collecting litter may appear to be unimportant compared to Iraq's more pressing problems but that is precisely why he wants to do the story. Boehm said real change doesn't start from the top; it starts with ordinary people like Alyaa. Her civic pride and sense of citizenship is inspiring others to take action.

He hoped to interview Alyaa. When I forwarded Boehm's request to Alyaa, she was thrilled to grant an interview. I'm very happy that Alyaa's story is going to reach a larger audience and astonished that a TV journalist in Beirut is picking up a story from the Review.

I had no concept of this paper's reach, until I spoke with our circulation manager. It is read all over the world. At any given moment, we have readers in Europe and countries across the globe.

It sounds self-serving for a columnist to praise their own newspaper. But I loved this paper long before I started writing for it. Ours is a "hyperlocal" newspaper that has global reach. Thanks to the column, a young Iraqi woman is taking her place on the world stage. It's not the first time a Review story has had impact overseas. Some years back we wrote a profile of a young woman playing her cello on the corner of Circle & Madison. The article was picked up by another publication and led to her being hired as a music teacher in South Africa. That was quite a promotion for a former street musician and shows it's a small world indeed.

John Rice grew up in Oak Park and is a columnist for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.

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