Narrating the Stories of the Syrian Diaspora
Film and television producer and writer
2015 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow to Jordan, Turkey, and Sweden
Hiba Dlewati was born in Flint, Michigan, and grew up in Damascus, Syria. She was a student at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Damascus when the Syrian conflict broke out. As the war escalated, Dlewati and her family moved back to the United States, where she pursued a degree in communications and international relations at the University of Michigan-Flint. After seeing the devastating impact of the war, Dlewati decided to focus on sharing the personal stories of those affected by political upheaval. Over the years, she has covered the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis from ten countries, working as a multimedia journalist and producer with online, TV, and documentary filmmaking teams across the Middle East and Europe.
While still in college, she worked with Women Under Siege to document sexual and gender-based violence in areas of conflict, conducting and translating interviews at the Turkish-Syrian border. After graduating, she spent the summer teaching English to Syrian students in Urfa, Turkey. Dlewati then moved to Istanbul, where she worked as a local freelance producer for publications including NPR, The Daily Telegraph, and ABC News Australia.
In the summer of 2015, Dlewati traveled from Turkey to Germany with Syrians seeking asylum in Europe for a WorldPost multimedia project, “A Thousand Miles in Their Shoes.” Reflecting on this journey, she told Huffington Post Middle East, “I honestly wish I were still there. The route may be changing, but more people are bound to keep trying to make it to Europe as long as the root causes pushing them to leave are not changing. And all these people have stories. They are not just numbers.”
As the conflict in Syria intensified, more than half of the Syrian population was displaced. Determined to find a way to tell their stories, Hiba worked as a Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow, traveling throughout Jordan, Turkey, and Sweden to share nuanced and underreported stories from the Syrian diaspora. The partnership between the U.S. Department of State and the National Geographic Society brings together new digital media tools and platforms to share personal narratives with global audiences to “expand our knowledge of pressing issues and build lasting connections between Americans and citizens of other countries.” By documenting their hopes, fears, and dreams, Dlewati was able to “share snapshots of the Syrian diaspora’s everyday realities, expressing the frustrations and triumphs of a people without a place, or perhaps, a people of many places.”
Her in-depth stories on the National Geographic Society Newsroom paint vivid portraits of the resilient men, women, and children of the Syrian diaspora: exploring sports, music, education, immigration and trauma. Locals and refugees who were brought together by a Jordanian skatepark; displaced Syrian women who launched an entrepreneurship initiative in Jordan; the despair of restrictive borders in Turkey; testimonies from survivors of torture and gas attacks; an inspiring account of asylum-seeking restaurant owners in Sweden; and many more.
While completing her Fulbright, Dlewati joined Parched, a National Geographic documentary series on the intersection of climate change, displacement, and conflict. She also worked on the documentary film Sky and Ground, researching and casting migrants who were on their journey from Aleppo, Syria to Berlin, Germany.
Dlewati reflects on her Fulbright experience: “My Fulbright experience impacted me beyond my career. It gave me the space and confidence to pursue a cause and project I was passionate about, something that I carry with me to this day.”
After completing her Fulbright, Dlewati spent a year as the Beirut-based deputy managing editor of Syria Deeply, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Syrian conflict. There, she specialized in covering the effect of foreign intervention and proxy powers on the Syrian war, the state of public health during the conflict, war economy, and truces.
Dlewati then returned to the United States to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism (CJS). She was selected for a third semester documentary program, where she co-directed, produced, and edited the short documentary Mi Isla, about a Puerto Rican teenage boxer displaced by Hurricane Maria, and his journey between the island and New York. Mi Isla premiered at the Harlem International Film Festival, and screened at the Enfoque International Film Festival and the Seattle Latino Film Festival.
After graduating from CJS, Dlewati worked as an Overseas Press Club Fellow at AP Middle East in Beirut, Lebanon, where she reported stories on Lebanese politics, trade, agriculture, and the Syrian conflict. She also completed a fellowship with Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar, where she edited the award-winning film, Sons of Jerusalem, which focuses on Palestinian youth detention and forced displacement in East Jerusalem as told through the story of one family. Dlewati later spent time in the field as an International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) Fellow covering sexual health education and women’s reproductive health and rights in El Salvador. Building off her work from the field, Dlewati completed a communications consultancy on migration and displacement for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Dlewati has spent the past year at Sesame Workshop, working as an associate producer of Ahlan Simsim, an original Arabic language TV program and part of a groundbreaking humanitarian initiative between Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). While at Sesame Workshop, Dlewati worked on seasons three, four, and five of the award-winning show, which centers on the early childhood development needs of displaced children and their host communities through socioemotional learning, numeracy, and literacy.
In summer 2021, Dlewati is focusing on obtaining her certification as a yoga teacher, which she hopes to use with marginalized communities and survivors of trauma.