“As a documentarian, I want to show people the good that is overwhelmingly present in our world. Often times, the public media will bombard the public with nothing but negativity and horror. I want my stories to inspire hope and goodness in people. There is still a lot of good in this world, we just have to open our eyes to it!”
Name: Syed Hasan
Life-Changing Experience: Costa Rica 2007
Hometown: Queens, New York City
Where Is He Now? Healthcare Administrator by day, filmmaker by night in Houston, Texas
Words to Live By: “Surely, after difficulty comes ease.”
We’re catching up with one of GLA’s earliest alumni, Syed Hasan, who embarked upon a GLA adventure in 2007. A documentary filmmaker, Syed just released his first film, 100 Boats, which documents the affects of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. Find out what he has been up to since his first international jaunt as a high schooler in 2007, and how GLA helped to shape who he is today.
GLA Circa 2007
In 2007, Syed traveled to Costa Rica on his first ever foray outside of the United States. He traveled on a scholarship through Summer Search, a non-profit organization that works with high-performing, first-generation children of immigrants to ensure success in high school through academic support.
Syed’s experience was star-studded: His in-country Director and Mentor were none other than GLA founder Andrew Motiwalla, and Jessica Miller, one of the company’s first employees and its current Executive Director. As luck would have it, the group was able to meet Óscar Arias, who was then the President of Costa Rica.
“My experience in Costa Rica was definitely life-changing. It opened my eyes to the realities of life and how many less fortunate people there are around the world. But, it also taught me how you don’t need lots of money and things to be happy. Sometimes, living a simple life brings more happiness than a busy and complicated one. My GLA trip also helped me to develop my interpersonal skills and taught me how to interact with people from all walks of life,” Syed says.
“It gave me a deeper appreciation for nature and taught me the importance of giving back to my community. I also learned how to be more confident in myself and in my abilities. ” Some of Syed’s favorite memories from his time abroad? Ziplining through the Costa Rican jungle, hanging out at a volcanic beach, and playing capture the flag on the soccer fields top the list. The trip leaders also had a lasting impact on him. “They were AMAZING! We felt like we had known them for years. They never talked down to us or made us feel like children. They treated us with the utmost respect and kindness.”
“My GLA trip was definitely one of the highlights of my youth…I will never forget my GLA experience and I am still in touch with a lot of the people from my GLA course, which was over 10 years ago!”
Finding His Passion
After high school, Syed enrolled in college courses but he wasn’t quite sure what direction he wanted his life to take. Eventually, the medical field caught his eye and he began working toward a medical degree. After he began suffering from acute migraines due to stress, he changed course. “I decided to study healthcare administration instead because it allowed me to still work in the medical field without having the stress of a medical profession,” he says. Upon graduation, Syed began a career in Healthcare Administration at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; today, he continues to work in the field.
However, in recent years, Syed has found himself rediscovering his passion for media arts. After experimenting with photography, he began making short films for fun in 2010.
“I love to tell stories,” he says. “There’s nothing better than making a film to tell a story. Having the ability to hold the attention of your viewers for 60 – 90 minutes to show them your point of view is invaluable to me and this is what drives my passion for film.”
When Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, hit Houston in August 2017, many areas of the city were in shambles. Flooding and high winds caused billions of dollars infrastructure damage, and resulted in thousands of families losing their homes.
“I found myself sitting at home with a camera in my hand and nothing to do. I decided to visit a local automotive shop that had been converted into an emergency relief shelter to help victims of Harvey. I started taking pictures and recording videos at the shelter, not really having an idea of what I was going to do with the footage. Over time, the footage evolved into a film and I knew I had to share the things that I saw during Harvey with the world.”
The resulting documentary, 100 Boats, is a personal account of what Syed witnessed and experienced during Harvey, and “highlights everyday heroes who risked their lives to save the city and people of Houston.” The 30-minute film includes footage of rescues and depicts volunteers at the shop organizing to help save roughly 3,000 people. The film premiered at Houston’s River Oaks theater in January; Syed is currently in the process of submitting his film to film festivals around the US and expects a positive response.
Syed’s advice for young people wanting to make a difference in their own community? It shouldn’t take a natural disaster in order to get involved! “Sometimes, we may want to help but we don’t know how to help. So, just start in the smallest way you can. Whether you’re volunteering at the local food bank or helping an elderly neighbor or your own parents. Sometimes, the smallest gestures can make the biggest difference. No act of kindness is ever too small. ”
100 Boats will soon be available for viewing on iTunes. In the meantime, check out the trailer!
Interested in having your own experience abroad? Browse GLA’s Costa Rica programs.