What is YOUR story? What resonates with you in terms of how you were driven to work in social impact?
I'm a Syrian-American writer and architect, born in Brooklyn, New York and originally from Aleppo, Syria. Growing up both in the US and Syria deeply affected my worldview — I became equally attached to the sense of belonging and heritage from my Syrian side and the significance of freedom and self-determination on my American side. I see this now in one of Karam Foundation's core beliefs that every human being on the planet deserves the right to freedom, justice, and the right to self-determination.
How do you feel the language/narrative surrounding refugees and the crisis has shaped your experience?
When the Syrian revolution began in 2011, there was no such thing as a Syrian refugee. As the humanitarian crisis grew, and people fled the country to protect their families from the massive violence, suddenly the words "Syria" and "refugee" became almost inseparable. I think that the common narratives surrounding Syrian refugees as helpless, hopeless, less than, and even worse, dangerous, are very misleading and untrue. Refugees are humans who may have lost their homes and country but are in full ownership of their agency and dignity. Karam's work is rooted in the belief that refugees are not defined by their displacement — they have limitless potential to build a better future for themselves and their communities.
Why is your current mission important to you?
Our mission to build 10,000 Leaders by 2028 is important to me because I believe that this is one of the ways we can exercise our own agency against this brutal war that is still ongoing. By empowering 10,000 young Syrian refugees with the tools and knowledge to build, create, and spread their ideas in their communities, we will have unleashed a ripple effect of positive change that is exponential in potential growth. That is what drives me every day.
What would you want the world to know about you/your background/line of work?
I don't have a background in nonprofit or business management. I'm an architect by education. I'm a creative person and built a creative team bonded by their passion to make a difference for the communities that we serve. I think Karam's "outsider" background helped us push the boundaries of what aid can be, what education can look like, and how to help communities by creating solutions together.
We work with Syrian refugee youth on incredibly innovative programs that teach them to build their ideas and believe in their potential to become anything they set their minds to. They are focused on the future, on what's possible. So they give me incredible hope in the future. They taught me an important lesson: home is what we make it.
Why is accurate representation important for you and your community?
It's important for the world, now more than ever, to see refugee communities, and specifically refugee youth, as significant assets and partners to rebuild our broken education, immgration, health, and economic systems.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone unfamiliar with the humanitarian/aid community?
We should each embrace the humanitarian in ourselves. There is no inherent boundary between humanitarian work and work in general. We created these boundaries when our political and economic systems and environmental standards became inhumane and needed humanitarian responses. I ask each person to search their own life, community, neighborhood, and find a mission or cause that they can contribute to, roll their sleeves up, and get to work. There is work for each and every one of us and there's no room or time for bystanders.
If you could go back to your 10 year old self, what message of hope would you give them? Or What is your hope for the future?
My hope for the future is that one day, millions of Syrian refugees will be granted their greatest dream: be able to go back home and live without fear and in freedom and dignity. My dream is that they will go back with all the tools and knowledge that they need to remake their vibrant and beautiful homeland. And when that happens, I dream to see my home in Aleppo once more.
In honor of World Refugee Day 2020, be sure to check out Karam’s incredible virtual event “A Shared Humanity: From our Home to Yours” on Thursday June 18th. For more details, please head to https://www.facebook.com/events/260492795192625/
To learn more about the inspirational work behind Karam Foundation, please visit at the following links: