by Gemita Samarra
Jack of all trades, master of none. Not to say that I haven’t accomplished anything in my 27 years on this particular planet but I have recently learned that I have mastered nothing. Which is perfect, because for someone like me who likes doing a bit of most of everything, to master something means you dedicate so much more time to one thing than anything else, which isn’t on my agenda. I like my spread thin.
On a road trip through British Columbia, Canada.
My name is Gemita Samarra. There is no clear way of summarizing myself. On paper, I am a stunt woman, documentary producer, charity founder, artist, athlete, model and actress; however my life ebbs and flows through these careers and lifestyles. One minute I’m training full time to get on the Olympic pathway, another minute I’m living in the middle of a ghetto in Kampala, the next I’m fighting villains in James Bond. Since a young age, I’ve always been swimming upstream and taking the lesser known paths that everyone around me has advised me against- be it within sport, work and personal life decisions, I’ve always macheted through the long grass to create my own path.
My parents were in [some sort of] circus, as much as they deny it now - although find me any other place you’ll find someone [AKA my mother] on a trapeze and someone else [AKA my father] dressed as a giant tarantula, crawling around a stage with other acrobatic performers.
My father performing as a giant mechanical spider.
They encouraged my brother and I to be as active and outdoorsy as possible growing up. It was my brother's love for outdoor sports and my childish excessive competitiveness that originally got me hooked on pushing myself. I tried to avoid formal education as much as possible and by 17 I landed my first stunt model gig.
Bouldering in Portugal.
I accidentally joined a modeling agency in the UK and they sent me through a brief for an ‘underwater acting role’, asking if I’d be able to do it. My first reaction was- ‘how is that even a real thing’ and ‘sign me up immediately’. I rock up to my audition in a swimming costume and nose clip having not read the brief at all to find myself auditioning with the director on land, with a script shoved in my hand and a measuring ruler in the other. My audition consisted of me slitting my wrists with the ruler and coming back as an ‘underwater ghost’. Still probably my most convincing audition to date, I got the job and that was the birth of my stunt and acting career. The following 12 months consisted of me doing solely underwater jobs; either dead, drowning, killing or mermaiding around in tanks and open water before my first job on land…. Fast and Furious 6. That was a shock to the system. I felt like…. A fish out of water. It was a hefty introduction to the real film world and with that, I was booked for the following three years. I worked on Game of Thrones, 007’s Spectre, Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, 24 and more.
Me and Léa Seydoux behind the scenes on James Bond's Spectre.
Throughout my time working in film, I often wondered what life was like in the real world again. I’d read the news daily and wonder what the hell I was doing dressed as a cyborg staring at a green-screen fantasy world. It was during my time filming Spectre that the refugee crisis hit Calais in France, just a couple of hours away on the other side of the English Channel. I didn’t know what I could do, but I wanted to touch base with reality and learn more about what was going on. Throughout my time filming I would spend my days off volunteering in the camp, distributing donated supplies from the UK and serving food, hearing some of the most heartbreaking stories, and if I only had one day off I would stay local with charities doing beach cleanups and working with animal shelters. It turns out the world was falling apart outside of my little bubble and I had to break out. I still loved film and wanted to try and combine film with my love for doing good, so I thought [at the time] it was a good idea to pack up ship and move to LA to start working on that combination.
Bushra and her daughters in Turkey working on a refugee community garden project.
Producing documentaries seemed perfect as I get to film AND make a positive impact on things I believe in. For a hot minute I was living my best life. Living in California, surfing in the morning, doing community projects in the afternoon, writing and researching incredibly amazing and incredibly depressing stories. I even rescued a parrot and had friends for the first time in my life. What I naively didn’t factor in is that, Los Angeles, the City of Angels and broken dreams, wasn’t quite on the same page with how I wanted to tell those stories so after learning the hard way, I found that it wasn’t the right time or place for me to pursue that dream. I learned more than I could have ever wished for. From having the most amount of money that I’ve ever had, to running out of money, to living on the streets homeless - to seeing how people were changing and even how our environment had changed drastically even in the short time I had been aware of it suffering. Film rapidly became less of a priority to me and I wanted to find a way of driving wide scale positive change.
Chapter 4256, the birth of my organization. I had seen how the average Jo(e) looks at the average homeless person, spanning from ‘Get a Job’ to ‘Looking at you will ruin my mood so I will deny your existence’, to even the odd coffee or taco dropped like a hit and run. The homeless were seen less as humans and more as an emotional inconvenience. The lack of basic humanization bothered me so much that I dived into researching organizations that were focusing on more than just keeping the homeless alive on the streets or providing shelter. There were a few that offered skill training for employment but few and far between. I started My Name is Human Project to originally engage the community to interact with the homeless population, not just by dropping laundry money or a cold coffee but through meaningful conversation and relationship building. I posted on social media with a call to action, offering support to any of my followers that wanted to get involved in their local communities and much to my surprise I was bombarded with messages.
A My Name is Human pop-up in London for the homeless to shop for themselves and attend skills workshops.
We started a global movement of people interacting with the homeless in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Human to human, sharing stories, passions and interests and eventually when relationships were built, many of my followers felt comfortable enough to take things further and start activities such as going to the library, museums, the beach, hiking, rock climbing and more. Is any of that going to save someone’s life? Not necessarily, but it’s more likely to give them something to live for, which in my opinion is equally as important. Connecting with people on a deeper level and having shared interests and passions totally breaks down the inequality between both lifestyles. I didn’t intend to start an organization but it seemed like a sensible way of having some formality and general safety and advice for how to work safely with vulnerable communities.
I applied this principle to my work with refugees. How can we make temporary spaces, such as refugee camps, better places to live without building a permanent city. First of all- ask the people what they need and facilitate it in the most sustainable way possible. Easier said than done, but nothing is easy in this space. It doesn’t require much in the way of finance when you’re up-cycling trash to use as structural materials such as bottle bricks.
I first heard of bottle bricks through the Earthship project, which is a brand of passive solar earth shelters made of both natural and up-cycled materials such as earth-packed tires, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds. This principle of building seemed cost effective, sustainable and ‘temporary’ enough that governments and larger NGO’s would allow it in refugee camps. I had mainly been working with refugees from the Middle East, seeking refuge in countries such as Turkey, Greece and France and seemed to constantly be hitting my head against the wall. There were, and still are, thousands of new arrivals everyday so it seems like an impossible task for any country to be able to successfully accommodate everyone comfortably. The most effective way to make an impact is to identify a leader that has a voice within the community, collaborate and work on self-sufficient, creative ideas to make positive change, and then facilitate that as best as possible with as little money as possible. The sooner you can enable someone to be self-sufficient the better for everyone.
Working on a women's group project at Nakivale refugee settlement.
In 2019 I started a project called ‘Build Tomorrow’ which activated during a partnership with a refugee foundation called Karam House, based both on the Syrian border and in Istanbul. They asked me to host a workshop, so I chose to bring this project to them knowing they had the best facilities to do it justice. Karam House is a a community innovation centre equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, wood workshops and design labs. It’s a safe space where youth can grow with confidence, learn life-skills, and think critically. I chose 10 projects I’ve been working towards within My Name is Human, including building water filters for drinking and also to capture pollution in trenches, creating wind powered and human powered energy, making waterproof clothes, showers and washing machines from up-cycled materials and a couple of community and residential space design projects inspired by Earthships and Bluezones. The students researched about the projects and then used equipment at Karam House to build a functioning prototype. The next step is to package the ideas up into an easy step-by-step guide to then distribute to refugee settlements globally to demonstrate how to build all of the above even with the limited resources they have in the camps.
Through my partnership with Mizu and their involvement with projects such as Build Tomorrow and sharing their extensive knowledge with water filtration systems I hope to continue to grow My Name is Human globally.
So where does all of this leave me now? After spending the past few years living in refugee camps and ghettos in Turkey and in Uganda, it’s taken quite a toll on my physical and mental health so I have relocated to Vancouver, where I will continue mastering nothing, getting involved with everything, continuing my charity projects remotely and maybe dip my toe back in the film industry to work in stunts again.
Learn more about My Name is Human Project at https://www.mynameishumanproject.org/
Follow Gemita on Instagram @gemitasamarra