Petra Y. Fallaha – the girl who brought back hope

Claudia Cojocea

      Petra Y. Fallaha (ISL Qatar student between 2017 and 2021) was 17 years old when the explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4th 2020 hit the city.

She was so moved by the event, that she decided to take action and help the Lebanese community. Petra reached out to various Lebanese artists impacted by the event, learned Adobe InDesign by herself and managed to get the necessary funding in order to fulfil her dream.

Today, this bold 19-year-old young woman is proudly presenting us the results of her efforts and perseverance: her first art book, "Artists for August”.

Petra, first and foremost, congratulations on your motivation and determination. Without these qualities, we would not be talking now about this book. Your first book. How does it make you feel?

It feels very surreal to have been able to pull all of this together. I would not have been able to without the support and encouragement of my family, peers and wonderful former school. I feel relieved to finally have it exist and out there and even more excited to be able to support all of these artists.

The explosion in Beirut was the event that had a great influence on you. What do you remember of that day and how did you first think of “Artists for August”?

I remember I was studying in a little café in the Pearl with a friend and my mother had come to pick me up. I entered the car thinking about my studies and what I was going to do for IB and felt a complete shift in the energy as I entered. My mother was raising the volume of the radio and didn’t even look at me. There was panic in her eyes and she was trying to focus on the road while listening carefully. At first I heard chaos on the radio, I heard torment and about suffering, and a horrible explosion. Then they mentioned that it was in my home Beirut. I instantly opened social media and proceeded to see story by story my friends emerging from glass and rubble, looking for hospitals that would admit them, blood, cries, and mayhem surrounding the streets I once felt so comfortable walking in. My eyes were glued to my screen for weeks. It was a horrible day. The idea for the book was conceptualised and carried out spontaneously. I was already familiar with the art and music scene in Lebanon, it was one of the few spaces one could express and discuss things freely. I reached out to hundreds of people and hundreds of organisations looking for different ways to help.

The idea is great, but to be honest, I am more impressed by your determination. What were the most significant difficulties you had to face?

There were many challenges. Learning a completely new software, how to make a book, and learning the components of a book and curating artworks. The interviews with the artists were painful at times. I lived through their experiences as they recounted them to me. I had to reflect on their experiences and works every day. As it was the concept of the book. Of the blast. Of the ongoing suffering for weeks on end. The financial strain. The lack of medical support. On top of no electricity and the anxiety of the coming winter. It taught me to be patient and to persevere.  

What motivated you to continue despite the challenges?

I conceptualised and finished the book in a month. It was the last month of my high school and we had it off because of the COVID situation and uncertainty of exams. I was waking up every day distracted by the daily events in Beirut and I knew I had to channel my energy somehow. I felt an urgency and deep sense of connection to my community. Waking up every day and working on it was my way of processing. To compensate for the guilt of not being there and to suffer along with everyone. Creating this book to help raise awareness and support the artists helped me continue.

We talk about the book and the ideals that inspired you to create it, but I'd like to know more about the process of this endeavour, from the idea to the first time you held the book in your hand.

I woke up early every day and used youtube and other online tools to learn what I needed. I reached out to people and asked for their advice. A wonderful woman, Mayda Freijje mentored me throughout this project. She taught me how to see through the design of the book and important components to add. More importantly she gave me confidence and the guidance I needed to continue.

Petra, you are part of a digital natives generation. For you, the online world is utterly familiar, but living only here might be unwise. How do you balance your passions between the offline and the online?

I generally spend a lot of my time online connecting with people and discovering stories. It can become addictive and you forget that those same experiences in real life can be just as special and if not more important. This project has helped me realise the value in connecting with others in real life. Creating concrete memories and bonds. 

You were a student at ISL for many years and now you are studying Sciences at Maastricht University. What advice would you give to younger generations of teenagers?

It can be difficult when you’re young and ambitious in the world but feel as though you are completely out of reach. Especially with the overwhelming amount of news online. It is important to be eager, and want to challenge, but do so at your own pace. There is no right or wrong, there is what you’re comfortable with and ready to. Have confidence and go easy on yourself. You create your world with your perception and what makes us so special is that we manifest the consciousness to change it. If you believe that you can then you will. Regardless of the steps and time it takes to get to that point. We are all capable of so much and that’s one thing that makes us humans so brilliant.

The book can be pre-ordered via email (mail@islqatar.org) or bought online. All proceedings will be shared among the artists.