May 2019 | By Joe Snell | Photos contributed
TURLOCK — In 2015, as TV host Maryam Shamalta was leaving the studio of a live show, she received a call from her uncle.
For the last two hours, she had been interviewing two women in honor of Assyrian language day. The interview was special, Shamalta recalls, because at the time it was rare for Assyrian TV shows to exclusively feature women.
“My uncle had just watched the show and he called to tell me he loved that three strong women were together on one show for two hours,” she said.
The next day as she entered the studio, one of her colleagues pulled her aside to say something similar.
“He said it would be great for me to start a show focused exclusively on women,” she said. “That show in 2015 was when I started realizing what my calling is in the world and it is to empower women.”
Four years later, that idea turned into “Assyrian empowHER”, a lecture series by Shamalta and Dr. Adrenna Alkhas. The lecture series tackles topics pertaining to women’s empowerment and promotes inclusivity and collaboration. Discussions range from women working together in corporate America to collaboration in education and volunteering.
FINDING A COLLABORATOR
In early 2016, before launching the “Assyrian empowHER” series, Shamalta created a TV show called “Assyrian Feminine Power” and a year later she created her own media platform and video production company called Shamiram Media. Around 2018, however, she realized another avenue needed to be created to get closer to the women in the community.
“I was on TV and doing shows and interviewing women, but I had to meet them in person and let them ask me questions,” she said.
In January 2018 she interviewed college professor and marketing director Dr. Adrenna Alkhas for an episode of “Assyrian Feminine Power”. Alkhas had just published a new book titled, “EMPOWHER, Empowering Young Women” and was also leading women’s empowerment discussions in California.
“Sometimes you make connections with people for a reason,” Alkhas said. “I was honored that she asked me to work on this series. It is vital that Assyrians connect and support each other instead of tearing each other apart.”
The two began brainstorming what the new series would look like. The initial idea was to have a single lecture but they both agreed this should be a larger series. The title and logo of that series, “Assyrian empowHER”, was formed from a combination of Shamalta’s media company, Shamiram Media, and Alkhas book, “EMPOWHER”.
They reached out to Sam David, the president of the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock. David put them in touch with Ramsina Betsayad who had just started the Assyrian Wellness Collaborative, a new initiative that works closely with the local government to provide health, empowerment, and education opportunities for Assyrians. Betsayad agreed to sponsor the launch event in Turlock.
LAUNCHING THE EVENT
The first lecture took place on Sunday, April 7 at the Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock. The discussion covered women working together in corporate America as well as supporting each other both inside and outside the workplace.
“I found myself laughing at times, thinking deep at other times and even getting really emotional as I could relate to some stories or examples,” said Savina Dawood, an Assyrian activist who resides in Turlock and attended the event. “I was encouraged and guided to a better way of dealing with people talking negatively behind your back. Only focus on your goals and the positive people around you who want your well being and success.”
Sponsored by the Assyrian Wellness Collaborative and funded by the Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, the event was free to the public and drew nearly 130 participants.
“I wasn’t expecting people to walk up to me and open up,” Shamalta said, who was also encouraged by the number of men who attended.
“There is this idea as women that we can do it all by ourselves and we are better than men, but I don’t like that,” Shamalta said. “We can collaborate. We can learn, volunteer, get involved in organizations, and work together with our men. We bring different ideas. We have different visions. We have a different perception of things. When we combine that in a good way, we can make a big difference.”
The next event will take place in Los Angeles through the Assyrian American Association of Southern California (AAASC) later this fall and will cover different topics. Shamalta is also in discussions with other cities across the country including Assyrian communities in Texas and Connecticut.
Learn more about Shamiram Media by visiting their Facebook page.
Each lecture in the series will cover different topics and be videotaped and published online. Highlights from April’s lecture can be seen here: