The Ajala Project presents Jihad Mnasria, a film-maker changing the world.
Jihad is an independent TV and film producer and the founder of U smile I smile. A non-profit organization that support orphanages by helping to build playgrounds and providing toys for underprivileged children in Kenya and Egypt.
My name is Jihad M’nasria, I’m 31 years old. Originally from Tunisia yet with a US citizenship. I’ve always been a traveller. I was born in the US in 1985, then moved to Ivory Coast with my family when I was four, lived there for a year, then moved to Zimbabwe for another year, then Morocco for three years, then Saudi Arabia for 6 years & now i’m based in the UAE for the last 17 years.
Whenever my father had a good job opportunity in a different country we all moved with him as a family. I studied mass communication in the American University of Sharjah & had a concentration in Public Relations, yet I never worked in PR.. I graduated in the year of the crisis recession so not many jobs where available. The first job opportunity I got was in a documentary film production house & I simply fell in love with idea of film making production & I pursued my career in production since then. Mainly because it gave me the chance to travel through time & space virtually yet in reality I’m in my place. Once you are a wanderer you are always a wanderer. I was never able to blend in one place for long. I always longed to travel & move around..
Gratefully I was able to do that though production as I was part of a show called Khawatir & this show used to be aired in Ramadan & the production took place in so many countries. The show went for 11 seasons, I was blessed to be part of 6 of those seasons. I started of as local fixer/producer in UAE, until I became one of the producers that traveled throughout the whole season in the last & 11th season. Khawatir wasn’t just a job, it was more like a lifestyle, specially that the host (Ahmad Al Shugairi) who’s also the man behind the show has always been my role model & inspiration since I was 14 years old. The show was more like a documentative & social reality show that tackled all sorts of social aspects & issues throughout the years. Upon the completion of the show I wasn’t really able to do anything else in production, my relationship with the show & the crew was pretty much strong on the emotional level, as for it I have become who I am today.
Aside from being a TV/Film producer, I’m a philanthropist & I have always been into social & volunteer kind of work. I started when I was 14 years old- I used to always look for opportunities, even when I travel, I would look for something to do while I’m on my trip, be it a work trip or a leisure one.
In 2011, myself & my friend Luz Villamil started an initiative in UAE that used to be called Flea 4 Charity, we used to collect second hand items & sell them in the flea market & the money used to be allocated to different causes locally & abroad in collaboration with the Red Crescent. The team grew throughout the years & we managed to set many community events & gatherings tackling different topics within the UAE, such as Iftar distributions in Ramadan to labor workers, festive events from orphans & unprivileged children, hospital visits & much more.
When I first started in volunteer work here in UAE it wasn’t as spread as it is today.. It was in need back then, children in my school weren’t aware of it’s importance & used to be asked why do I what I do, why would I spare my free time & spend it on someone else. Honestly, I never had an answer & never will I do. I just do it. It gives me purpose & reason.
Today, community work is widespread in UAE & starting from 2014 I had this inner calling that I need to get involved in something different, more hardcore sort of work.. To get involved hand in hand with those less privileged around the world.. I had to come to a decision to let go of Flea 4 Charity. It wasn’t easy to do so.. But gratefully something else started.. In 2015, I started “u smile i smile” with two of my friends, Samo Rera & Ashraf El Mahrouky, “u smile i smile” is an initiative that focuses on drawing smiles on the faces of the unprivileged children in rural communities.
Where we build them playgrounds, clown for them & provide them with basic needs depending on the situation.. We have done work in Egypt, Kenya & Ecuador. We have been funding the project & we have done a couple of crowdfunding that helped us do what we do. So far we have been blessed & built our playgrounds, one in Egypt & three in Kenya. The one we build in Egypt was for a poor community serving 1000 children.
The three playgrounds we built in Kenya were in orphanages.. Each orphanage caters 100 children.. We have also been able to provide all sorts of different kinds of support.. Let it be education, medical support, nutrition, new mattresses, shoes, clean water, artsy workshops, edutainment.. We have managed to draw 2000+ smiles so far. We are planning to head to those countries in the next period: Nepal, India, Sudan, Tanzania & wherever the energy takes us to build playgrounds & draw more smiles 🙂