• Anastassia Kostin

Pepperdine student develops her own nonprofit following graduation

Amal Bahloul teaching children through her nonprofit — Lights, Camera, Learn.

Photo courtesy of Amal Bahloul.

Many students develop ideas of projects they want to do post-graduation, but not many can say they actually did it. Yet Amal Bahloul, a 2017 Pepperdine alumna, did just that.

Bahloul’s Instagram bio is that of a true entrepreneur; “My space for photo narcissism and life updates but I spend my time being President of @lights_camera_learn.” She wears a sleek black jumpsuit and red lipstick, confident in her stride, looking straight ahead with a sharp gaze. Her outer presence is fitting for a young graduate who founded Lights, Camera, Learn, a non-profit organization that aims to revolutionize both the travel and education industries by providing “edutainment” content for kids, by kids.

“There's all these kids that all they would love to do is learn about another culture,” Bahloul said. “And the best way to do that to put two cultures in a room together and be like, ‘Do something creative, like make a movie.’”

The idea for Lights, Camera, Learn came about in 2006 as she began thinking about how filmmaking can be used in education. By 2013, Bahloul had her first session and in 2016 during her junior year she took her American friends to Tunisia to test the program.

“At one point, I was like, ‘Okay, either I can do this on my own... or I can turn this into a big structure,” Bahloul said. “And other people can learn how to do what I'm doing. And they can make their own mistakes. And they can grow as leaders.”

During this test period, Bahloul said she realized that she grew most as a leader when learning about how to interact with the kids and how not be stressed during filmmaking situation. It was these stressors that she thought would make a great learning opportunity for interns and help them grow as leaders too.

Timeline of how the nonprofit Lights, Camera, Learn came to form. Photo courtesy of Lights, Camera, Learn.

Bahloul was able to adapt the research that her father, linguist Maher Bahloul, wrote about in his book, “Lights! Camera! Action and the Brain: The Use of Film in Education,” into her nonprofit.

The book is about teaching languages through the art of filmmaking and through the arts in general. Her father’s research found that filmmaking is the most realistic and creative art there is to learn languages, Bahloul said.

It was from this research, coupled with her love of languages, that motivated her to study abroad in Italy and China. However, she found picking up the languages in these countries difficult because of the short program length, coupled with Pepperdine students tending to stick with their peers and not making friends with locals.

“You're just trying to get through classes and see everything, you're not necessarily there to make friends with locals,” Amal said. “I thought, ‘Oh, it'd be cool if I could change the program so that we were living with locals or something like that.’”

Link to video made by Lights, Camera, Learn explaining what Edutainment is.

It was not until Bahloul had an enlightening conversation with president Andrew Benton after starting the Muslim Student Association on campus that she started thinking about how to continue her projects at Pepperdine after graduation.

“AKB was like, ‘What have you done to make sure that this continues when you're gone?’ and I was like, ‘What do you mean?’” Bahloul said. “So he kind of put that in my mind, like, ‘Okay, I have to figure out a more sustainable plan when I’m gone.’”

Bahloul getting interviewed by a media organization that wanted to know more about the work that Lights, Camera, Learn does. Photo courtesy of Amal Bahloul.

After accumulating leadership roles and recognizing how Pepperdine’s abroad programs can improve, Bahloul said it all suddenly clicked.

“People that go abroad with Pepperdine are on that side of the world anyway, so they might as well go and do an internship where they're actually meeting locals and they're immersed in the culture,” Bahloul said.

Bahloul decided to have her organization focus on the Middle East because Pepperdine currently does not have programs except for Jordan.

“But even then, you have to live with them [locals],” Bahloul said. “You can't live with people that are American, it’s like you’re in Disneyland.”

Zade Batal, a freshman film studies major at Santa Monica College, participated in the Lights, Camera, Learn program in Seville, Spain in summer 2018.

Link to Zade Batal’s video that shows him in action during the Lights, Camera, Learn program in Spain.

Though Batal had only met with Bahloul briefly before the trip, Bahloul’s leadership throughout the program was something that stood out to him.

“I remember that during the program if anything went wrong with the schedule or the school we booked didn’t realize what we were doing, she was always the one making sure we were still able to do what we needed to do,” Batal said.

While Batal said that Bahloul has amazing cultural awareness, she is also able to quickly adapt to any environment that she is in. This could be attributed to the fact that Bahloul grew up in a house of languages and culture. She’s trilingual and writes her Instagram captions in English, Arabic and French.

“I don’t think she would identify with any culture,” Batal said. “She’s kinda nomadic in that way because she’s always moving around. She can stay true to her roots but stay open to new things.”

Amal Bahloul with schoolchildren in Zanzibar Island. Photo courtesy of Amal Bahloul.

Bahloul’s nonprofit grew bigger than she expected. To date, Lights, Camera, Learn operates in seven countries, has over 16 interns and works with close to 500 children who have collectively made 50 films.

“We have a program in Nazareth and the first time we did it with 12 kids,” Bahloul said. “And on the second time, they wanted us to take 120 kids. Every time we do a program, they’re like, ‘OK now, can you come back and do more?’”

Bahloul’s innate leadership and love of serving others quickly becomes apparent to those that get the chance of working closely with her.

Daniel Iturri, a junior international studies major, has been friends with Bahloul since his freshman year when he met her in Model United Nations.

Iturri said that what makes Bahloul the perfect person to run Lights, Camera, Learn is her ability to balance different aspects of her life.

“She’s so good about having a professional life, a love life, a social life and do everything so well,” Iturri said.

Bahloul on set in the Zanzibar program. Photo courtesy of Amal Bahloul.

Iturri said freshman year he was emotionally closed off and Bahloul tried to “crack his code.”

“One day we were going to the beach and she looked at me and said, ‘Daniel, give me seven things that you’ve done this past year that you’re proud of,” Iturri said. “It was the first time anyone asked me to reflect on my experiences. It was such a sincere moment and I think it really shows who Amal is because she just cares so much about people and telling stories and hearing stories. And that’s what her business is about.”

At times, it seems like Bahloul lives a double life.

“She’s able to be in a place of authority yet when you need her to be she can be a friend,” Batal said.

The fact that Bahloul made her vision turn into reality is an inspiration for other students and Pepperdine faculty, including president Benton.

“What always impresses me is when students demonstrate that I can trust them to keep their promises and when they inspire my continued confidence,” Benton wrote in an email. “Amal has done that early and often.”

Students tend to live in four-year increments at Pepperdine and Seaver and then move on. To continue to mold one’s passion projects while in school into a career, however, has residual effects.

“By creating succession plans they never really leave us; their footprints remain and influence and impact ensuring cadres of students,” Benton wrote.

Bahloul said this summer, the nonprofit will add two new countries — Ivory Coast and Turkey. As Lights, Camera, Learn continues to expand, Bahloul will surely retain the same drive and motivation she started with.

Keep up with Lights, Camera, Learn at lights_camera_learn (Instagram) or lightscameralearn.org


© 2019 Anastassia Kostin / @anastassiakay

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