United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum placed a Portal in the museum from December 2016 to March 2017 as part of the exhibition, Genocide: The Threat Continues, which focused on the efforts of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide to bring attention to the people and places at risk today for genocide and other mass atrocities.
"Omar is poignant, funny, beautiful, wise and filled with other worldly joy. Meeting him and getting to know him briefly has been a highlight of my life. It is work like this that makes me hopeful for the future of the country and proud of this institution. Sarah O’ Malley, graphic designer at the Museum"
"Oman + Portal Team – thank you so very much for this once in a lifetime opportunity. An important conversation that absolutely needs to occur. All the very best.
P.S. it would be the next biggest honor of a lifetime to actually meet Omar face to face… in Berlin or elsewhere!"
"It was an almost surreal experience. It was amazing to be able to speak with someone who was willing to share his experience with the world. Thank you for this opportunity! -Georgran"
"It is a jarring and real experience. -Eliav"
"Amazing, fantastic, memorable experience chatting with Omar. His message - talk with refugees, not about them. Powerful. Congratulations to the USHUM for making this available. Estie"
"As the translator, this was an amazing and the most eye-opening conversation I’ve had in so long. As an Iraqi refugee in the US, it meant so much for me to be the connection between regular American citizens and Iraqi people. This is exactly what we need today to start the conversation and to help the American public understands a little more about Iraq and the Iraqi people. Love portal! Taif"
"What an absolutely perfect reminder that we have so much more in common than that which divides us. At a time when barriers and borders are being erected on our lands and hearts, so much more of this is needed across the globe. Thank you. Holly, England"
" I just witnessed my husband communicate with a refugee in Germany that moved me beyond comprehension. It changed the issues currently facing our world so much more real. This experience will stay with me forever, maybe for positive pleasure but also negative reasons from my own misconceptions. This changed me. I am so grateful for this deeply unique experience. Samantha Cooper"
"Incredible experience! Really wish all the society could experience this type of exchange to share understanding and empathy."
"Thank you to the cute guys we met! Best first date ever. Glad to hear about your experiences. Lots of love, Tatiana."
"As an educator, constantly opening my students’ eyes to current happenings in the world is something I consider one of my duties. Before I can do that I need to open up my own. Thank you for such an eye opening experience. Lauren Guagno"
"When asked if I had a question, I wasn’t sure where to start… too many things to learn. And it was the same for the Iraqi teenagers and their fathers to whom we spoke. We discussed culture, geography, education, politics, economics, religion and ISIS. Most importantly, we laughed from our hearts, because we connected. We got their message and now will find ways to act. Thank you!"
"My husband and I spoke with two college age men and their fathers for almost an hour. I was terrified going in – about what to say, what not to say – and all I wanted to do after a few minutes was to talk to them all day. Getting over fear is all you have to do to have a connection."
"Dear Portal, I have been sitting by your side for the last two weeks, listening to the thoughts of all the people who have shared in your experience: passersby, students, professors, lawyers, artists, children and even a snorty bulldog named Winnie. It has been such a gift to be witness to a growing, maturing, loving way of being in this young world. I felt different. I feel bigger and smaller at the same time, knowing how I was a part of Herat, a place I have never been, for this short time. And those on the other side, I feel such camaraderie for them! What will I do without Omid and Said every morning? I know this time has made a difference hundreds on people's’ lives, me being one of them. I want to go visit Afghanistan! Keep doing what you do, because it is important and it works. I’ll miss you, but hopefully I will see you later! Love"
"I spoke with two young men who were both English teachers at the university. One, Muhammad, was very interested in my job, loves American movies, and wanted to know about the casting process and the American education system. The other, whose name I didn’t quite get, is working on a novel about how he got out of Afghanistan to Italy without any documentation. They were both incredibly articulate and interesting, very friendly, easy conversationalists. It’s funny when you think about all of the stilted conversations you have from day to day at work, parties, the bar, smoking outside, that feel so limited by our contexts – we’re American, or Washingtonian or this age, so that dictates what we talk about. But there are so many experience out there and way to connect, that are not about what we should be thinking or speaking about – politics, job, etc. I do wish that I had learned more about them and talked less about myself though – I would have liked to know more about day to day life. But I really enjoyed the experience and it was worth the trip across the bridge. Thank you. Kirsta"
" I was nervous that I didn’t have anything interesting to say, but it turned out that the simplest topics of conversation are still profound when you are talking with someone you’d never otherwise have the chance to meet – soccer, shopping at the market, jobs, family. I felt honored that someone would want to take time out of their day to connect with me, and I hope to do it again sometime soon… thank you! Jen Taylor"
"I had no idea what to expect from the experience, but will cherish the wonderful feeling I have coming out of it for a long time. I was surprised how easy and natural it was to connect, but even more so about how much we had to talk about. We exchanged information, so will continue the dialogue! Washington, DC"
"An incredible experience. How often in our lives do we get to interact with someone so free of all other connection, so intent on connection, no less half way around the world. I will carry the feeling with me. Madeleine"
"This just made my day! I felt like I knew the person I was talking to and as if we were just catching up. I’m so excited to introduce this amazing empowering idea to everyone. Best"
As a senior at Georgetown, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how conversations have been the defining part of my college experience. This conversation is certainly one I’ll remember, even if it was only fifteen minutes.
Muwaz and I broke the ice by discovering a lot of things we have in common – we’re both attending university far from home, we both care about access to education, and we’re both 22-year-olds unsure of exactly what course our lives will take. But as we got talking, I also realized that he had had many experiences I never will. He was sent to Pakistan when he was nine to work on a construction site and he worked as a translator for foreign troops in Afghanistan. These moments of difference were uncomfortable for me, not because they surprised me necessarily, but because I realized that despite 22 years of interacting with people different than me, I still don’t always know the best way to respond – support? consolation? more questions? I’m reminded of a quote by anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn (or something like that) that says, in essence, “Everyone is the same, some people are the same, no one is the same”. We’re all human, we’re all part of a culture, and we’re all individuals – all at the same time! Thanks, Portal team and Merwaz reminding me of that."
"This experience was so eye-opening. Inside the portal, time and place fade away. I met Susan, a budding fashion designer who love her friends. She is inspired by art and music and the TV show 2 broke girls. It felt like we were in the same strange room, existing in a place other than where we physically were. I’m so grateful to have had this experience. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. -Caroline A"
"Wow. The whole experience felt so real! It was real! We are both married, and it was so eye-opening to hear how he spoke about his wife and kids. The deep respect he has for his wife, how happy he is to have kids, how much he thinks I should have kids! We are the same age, both run our own businesses, amazing. He was so thoughtful, so curious about me and my thoughts on the world. He openly acknowledged the difficulties between the US and Afghanistan, but he felt so much hope. Honestly, he had for more hope than I feel day to day, he has inspired me to keep writing my blog about different people and how they live around the world, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity."
"What a small world this is! Maryem, whom I spoke to, studied in India, a couple of hours from where I was studying/working in India! The portal is like that thing that brought together 2 beings separated by time and space and gave me a beautiful interaction, and hopefully a lifelong friendship with someone who though so far geographically, is not really distant in thoughts, and wants. I was also reminded of how different someone else’s experience of the world is. I sincerely hope my ‘portal friend’ can get what she wants in life, and that I someday would be able to play a part in making world an easier, more equal place for her. Thank you for the opportunity!"
"It amazes me just how universal hip-hop has become. Here in America it was originally created as a means to express ourselves despite the forces oppressing us. Blacks had few ways to convey their thoughts publicly so we confused creativity with passion in hopes that the words in our hearts would be felt. Today I spoke with a man on the other side of the world who said that positive hip-hop is blooming where he lives in Afghanistan. It’s inspirational to say the least. I’m honored to be able to share my voice with the world. This portal is a gift, a treasure in time that I feel will one day be incredibly impacting! Javier S"
"A very unique and thought-provoking experience, unlike any I have had. Unaware of what, exactly to expect, I kept an open mind and found the opportunity well worthwhile. The chance to meet, connect with and catch a glimpse of another’s life, halfway across the globe is a rare one and this portal is an incredible use of space and technology that offers a great deal of room in forging community with disparate people to share and open up borders, geographic and personal. Max"
"That was incredible! I know I will cherish and treasure this experience for my whole life. Being able to see someone who has the same hopes and dreams as you across the world is just awe-inspiring. I thank you so much for this."
"Wow! Was a bit nervous at first, but it was absolutely totally awesome. A cosmic experience!"
"That was a truly phenomenal experience! It was amazing to see how similar he was to me in his goals for himself, his awareness of the issues in society, and his hobbies. That being said, he is clearly working in a much more difficult environment (lack of electricity, economic hardship, educational barriers, etc.) that contextualize how lucky I am to have the opportunities I do. I was especially blown away by the fact that he is trying to start his own IT company and asked for my help as a business major who has worked both in start-ups and microfinance to help him develop a business plan… business really can be used for good. We exchanged emails + will be in touch! -Joshua Romjit"
"Fantastic concept + flawless execution – felt like I was really in the room with Syed, we chatted about work – he’s an app developer, and had some good insight as well about the NGO development community in Herat, where I have very little knowledge. It was humbling to hear about his displacement – twice – by war. Thankful that things seem quite a bit calmer in Herat. I think this sort of connection – physically + emotionally – is exceedingly rare and something I will cherish. In peace, Aaron"
"Best experience ever in my life entering this Portal and speaking with someone from Havana, Cuba. The conversation was easy, friendly and I highly recommend for the whole world to do this."