“I have worked hard to build my name, but my name means nothing without a message”
Souhair Al Qayssei has worked in the toughest of environments to bring us the truth about what is happening in areas of conflict. Determined to play a positive role in helping those in need, she is now a representative of the United Nations World Food Programme, encouraging us to act now and save the millions of refugees displaced by war and unrest.
Hi, please introduce yourself to our readers:
Hello, I´m Souhair Al Qayssei, an Iraqui journalist, senior news anchor at MBC, TV presenter, celebrity partner with United Nations World Food Programme, a loving daughter and a person who loves nature; taken by the beauty of the creation.
Tell us about your education:
I´m a dentist. However I studied video journalism because media has been my great passion since I was a child. I’ve had media experience since I was 10 years old.
So what motivated you to pursue a job in a different genre?
When I was a little girl, a team from Iraqi TV came to visit our school to choose students with high grades to participate in their TV show called ‘Cinema for Kids’. During the show, the organisers noticed how interactive and natural I was on screen and they told me how much potential I had. When I turned sixteen, the Iraqi media organisers came to me again and gave me a job opportunity as an English-speaking radio presenter. However, at that time, my parents thought that I should focus on school and on being a dentist. At that age I agreed, but when I later came to Dubai, I tried to show my family that I could do both and managed to do so right up until I decided to focus mainly on media. This was when I officially become a part of Al Arabiya TV. With God´s grace things only got better, and that´s where it all started. Since I was a little girl my passion has been to influence others and encourage the community to make the world a better place.
What was your big breakthrough?
My breakthrough was with Al Arabiya TV. We created a new TV show, which was the first of its kind. It was the first debate show launched from Baghdad, because for once the political diversity allowed different parties to use their voice and also to debate publicly on screen. In 2010, Baghdad was the most dangerous place for journalists to work, but we didn´t think about that. We worked there for thirty-three days with passion and succeeded so much that The New York Times wrote about the show. It was such a historical moment for us. I was so proud.
I continued my career producing and presenting a daily show about the crisis in Iraq. Later I presented The Forth Hour, which became a highly rated hour about Gulf Affairs.
In 2015, I was chosen by United Nations World Food Programme to join their Worldwide Celebrity List as a partner to be the voice of the voiceless, to support 3.2 million internally displaced people and refugees who are the victims of war against ISIS.
I’m so humble that God has given me so many amazing opportunities in my life.
Looking back on your teen years, can you see how your personal characteristics would lead you to become a journalist?
I was a good reader, passionate about media and presenting. I started to write and produce stories for Baghdad FM station from my house when I was 16 years old. After that time, the radio station offered me a job.
How was the experience working from Iraq as a journalist and what were some of the challenges you had to face?
I worked from there in a high-pressure environment. I remember that Iraq was still among one of the most dangerous places for journalists across the world. I have lost several collogues there. It broke my heart when the studio where I recorded my show, back in 2010, was destroyed by terrorists; even the lovely woman who used to cook for us was killed. The memory brings tears to my eyes even now.
What inspires you?
Success stories, children’s energy and creation of beauty. The feeling of giving and supporting vulnerable people inspires me to do more for them.
How did it feel to be selected as the Goodwill Ambassador and now a celebrity partner with United Nations WFP? What are some of your responsibilities?
It is indeed an honor to be the voice of millions who suffer the lack of the simplest Human Rights. But what is most important to me is to help them and let the world hear their silent screams. I want the world to participate. Children have had their childhood taken from them and women don’t have enough food for their families in the camps. What I care about are the 4 million people who spend winter nights in the camps. Yezidi women were kidnapped and sold by ISIS. I want the world to act and save them. That’s my goal.
Are you ever made to report stories you would otherwise not give a second thought to?
Yes, especially now with MBC. The MBC prime-time news bulletin is so different and we have softer, more popular stories. The team surprises me every day. I love them!
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Representing my country within the Arab and international media as an Iraqi; being away from the divisions and differences. I represent Iraqi Muslims, Christians, Kurds etc. To bring Iraqis together in love and unity is a challenge because politicians are now trying to use sectarian divisions to win elections. Unfortunately, they sabotaged the Iraqi mentality, and my role is to do the opposite.
How do you stay motivated through difficult times?
Through my connection to my creator and believing that God is with me. God is the source of my strength and power. Also my mother makes me happy and stronger; I adore her and my family.
Tell us of any unforgettable experiences you had during your live interviews?
The unforgettable interview is with the speaker of the house in Iraq. He became angry in a funny way. Millions of people watched the interview on YouTube.
Do you feel there is too much sensationalism in the media?
Yes. The media should be careful how it deals with the stories. We have to pay more attention to the humanitarian cases that we have. We should play a positive role in bringing more aid and help to those people who are in need.
Since the news business is so fast-paced, what makes a long-lasting story?
Unforgettable stories that we have in the media are usually stories that are told in an honest way, talking about the issues we have in our region. The most real and honest the story, the more it stays on our mind.
What are the most important characteristics a successful television personality must possess?
First, of course, is talent. Some things cannot be acquired from the environment, like personality. It comes from God, you can’t play with that. However, when you have the talent without working from the inside, then you can’t be an influencer in the media. So, it is very important to have talent.
Also, you must work on yourself; dedicate yourself to hard work, be persistent, continue learning by reading and working on the mind. All these things together can make a successful media personality.
Why should teenagers watch and, more importantly, care about the news?
I want teenagers to be educated. I want them to know what is going on here in the Middle East because it is important to encourage teenagers not to repeat the mistakes that previous generations have made.
It´s our role as media personalities to encourage teenagers to create a better future for the region. I want them to watch the news to get sufficient information to do that. They are the hope of our future.
What are your plans for the future?
I have worked hard to build my name, but my name means nothing without a message. Being known is a blessing. I want to use my name to serve the community. I can be the voice of the voiceless; I can help as much as I can to support people in need.
Tell us about some of your hobbies and how you spend your free time.
I love life! I love sports, dancing, singing and reading. I love self-development and self-improvement books. I´m also very active on my social media channels. It keeps me connected to my followers, they know a lot about my life. I also use the channels to spread the right messages to help others.
What advice would you give to other budding presenters?
Do not act too much, just be yourself. If you have the talent, let the talent speak and work on yourself. If your intention is to be famous, then you’ll get nowhere.
If your intention is to be an influencer to make a difference in the world, use your talent.
Your message for us at CP magazine:
Thank you so much. I have lots of followers from Kuwait, they message me every day. I love you guys in Kuwait, thank you so much for the interview. I wish you all the very best.