x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Where are they now? Islam convert saved by sheikh works for Al Jazeera

Six years ago Luis Garcia was abandoned by his parents and faced homelessness after converting to Islam. But a UAE sheikh heard about his story and sponsored his education.

Luis Garcia on the campus of the American University of Sharjah. Lee Hoagland / The National
Luis Garcia on the campus of the American University of Sharjah. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // Six years ago, Luis Garcia was abandoned by his parents and faced homelessness after converting from Christianity to Islam while studying in Texas.

But a UAE sheikh stepped in to sponsor the Mexican’s education at the American University of Sharjah.

Today Luis, 25, is a social media producer at Al Jazeera English.

When The National first interviewed him in February he had recently graduated from AUS with a degree in mass communication and international relations and was waiting to start his first job.

Since then, he has already received his first promotion.

“It is actually going really well,” he said. “It is just what I wanted to do, media and politics.”

He was hired on June 21 as a social analyst, but changes in the department’s structure meant that within a month he had been promoted to a social media producer.

“I’m very new to the media industry and it is really exciting what I have the chance to learn,” he enthuses.

His favourite jobs have been with the special investigation unit, whose projects are secret and exclusive.

Of these, the “most exciting” projects covered the release of Bin Laden files Al Jazeera had exclusive access to, and the death of Yasser Arafat.

“Every day when I wake up I feel really lucky. Even though my working hours are very long, I do not mind it at all,” Mr Garcia said.

“When I go home I feel my work contributed something. Especially for the social media audience who are people from my generation,” he adds.

He misses the UAE “terribly”. He came to the UAE in 2007 and made countless friends, even gaining election as president of the student council at AUS.

However, he says he is making the most of his new working life and is blessed with the support of many interesting new colleagues.

“I have made a few friends here and another very exciting thing, right next to me sits the American Iranian journalist Dorothy Parvaz.” Parvaz went missing for 19 days while covering the Syrian crisis.

“Before when I was still a student I was so into what was going on with her and now she sits next to me.”

As for his future plans, Mr Garcia says he wants to learn and produce more. “The industry is very competitive, so if you really want to be somebody you need to focus more on the future and look for new media platforms.

“We live in a post-broadcasting era where the whole concept of media has been redefined by new platforms. People do not sit at home anymore waiting for the news – they can know about it the moment it happens from social media.

You can read our original story on Luis here.

hdajani@thenational.ae