Founder of Art of Hope : a FemCity Interview
I caught up with Tara Kangarlou, Founder of Art of Hope. Her story and intention will inspire you to no end.
Q : Your main project is Art of Hope. What inspired you to create the organization?
A : For the past couple of years I covered the Syrian crisis closely from the border regions of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and spent a significant amount of time across Lebanon. Being a journalist allows you to watch history unfold and have a front row seat to events that shape, impact, and influence people lives all over the world. I had that opportunity but felt the need to do more; especially in light of so much bureaucracy, injustice, and poverty that I got to witness in the Middle East. With regards to the Syrian conflict, one of the biggest needs and challenges in this catastrophic humanitarian crisis was and continues to be the issue of psycho-social support, trauma relief, and PTSD support.
I got to learn a lot about what’s not being done in this space and in supporting the massive trauma that’s caused by the ongoing war and conflict in Syria and also the existing challenges of living in the surrounding host countries. Witnessing the widespread epidemic of this particular need and the lack of support in addressing these deep and invisible wounds made me angry. Last year, after Al Jazeera America shut down, instead of joining another news organization or television network I decided to weaponize that anger into a solution and take on projects that can have tangible impact on the lives of those I once reported on. I realized I could potentially make a difference on he lives of these people who once had ordinary lives just like you and I. When it comes to supporting the refugees or even thinking about them we should never forget that the only difference between us and them is that they were born in a different country. They did not choose to leave their homes—they were forced to do so; and with confidence I can tell you that over %85 of he refugee population I met across the Middle East, want to go back home.
Q : What do you feel is the biggest challenge with the work you do?
A : Art of Hope grew out of passion and empathy. It was a project that I felt compelled to launch as a human obligation, as an American woman, an American journalist, and someone whose roots come from Middle East. But in the process you face massive challenges. First is the issue of funding. The Syrian crisis is saturated with large and small NGOs; many of them are not credible and the rest are—so it’s always a challenge to make your voice heard in an environment that’s over-saturated with different agendas and groups. The second is working in Lebanon. I deliberately chose to work in one of the toughest places in the Middle East—because I wanted to have an impact on those who were receiving the least amount of help and needed it the most. Lebanon is a country of about 5M with almost 2M refugees including the 500,000 Palestinian refugees. This is a small country—torn apart by sectarian and political divides—that has the largest number of refugees per capita in the world and is receiving the least amount of financial and political support by the UN and other donor countries; much of that of course has to do with western political views toward Lebanon; and you get to know all of this after spending time reporting from the ground. But when it comes to this humanitarian fiasco—it’s not fair that innocent people be deprived of basic needs because of political quarrels.
Also, Seven years into the Syrian crisis, I feel people have lost their sense of urgency to support the refugees; and much of that is due to the absence of any solution to end the bloodshed, the repetition of the chaos that pops out on our “Facebook” feed once in a while; and the lack of leadership in brining some sort of stability to those spread out in the Middle East, in the EU. On top of that, lets not forget the Islamophobic, anti-refugee, and fearful political climate that we’re facing here in the States.
Q : What was one of the most rewarding moments launching your organization?
A : I have a bad habit of not enjoying the moment and always thinking and working on what’s next, how can I grow, expand, and build the next step. I always think, “ok, I did this, now I have to improve.” This attitude always takes away from the opportunity to enjoy an accomplishment—especially in this space where the needs are so high and resources are so minimal. But also, I don’t do this for myself, it’s for the people who work in Lebanon and the Syrian refugees who are receiving some of the basic support that they deserve. I’m just a tool that’s delivering this basic service as best as I can. But with that said, I think knowing that I did not just talk the talk, but truly walked the walk is the most rewarding thing that makes me satisfied. I also made promises to those I met back in Lebanon and I felt I delivered—wether they were Syrian families who I interviewed for a story or local aid workers who helped me maneuver the borders for my reporting.
Q : If someone was thinking of starting an organization, what advice would you give them?
A : Do it because it’s your passion; your calling; your duty to others—especially in the nonprofit and NGO space. Don’t do it for profit, for recognition, or any other reason but what you put down as your mission statement.
Also, research, research, research; know your subject, what you’re dealing with, your mission, and how you’re going to tackle it. Also, I feel we usually get excited when launching an initiative or an organization and tend to think we have to go big or we’re not successful. In my work I learned that even if we help ONE child overcome trauma and PTSD, or a women be saved from abuse and violence, or prevent a young man from joining extremism we have made a difference. Making a difference is not in the recognition you’d get, or in the massive number of people you can highlight in your portfolio—the smallest of initiatives, if done with good intention and proper execution—can be of great value.
Q : When you have tough moments and feel like quitting, what keeps you going?
A : Tough moments—I have so many of those to be honest—because working in media, journalism, humanitarian aid—especially in the Middle East—is incredibly challenging. But two things always make me rise above challenges and adversities. First is the fact that “I can therefore I must act.” Every time I’m in the field I think of my own life and how easily I could have been that refugee child or woman had I not been born in the country I was born in. Second, is a general thought that always stays with me. It’s something that a great mentor and one of the most incredible women I’ve known (surprisingly a TV executive) told me at one of the most emotional points of my career. She told me, “Tara, great people are not born, great people are made” , so deal with the cards that life deals with you, and gracefully find a way to turn every “No” into a “Yes”.
Q : What is your overall vision for your organization for the next 5 years?
A : Expand and replicate our trauma-relief, vocational training, and art-therapy programming across Lebanon and beyond. Build a coalition of both small and large international NGOs who work in the “mental health” sector and develop a consistent and scalable programming to support all refugees in the areas of trauma-relief, PSTD support, and aggression replacement. And of course become the loudest voice who advocates for the invisible wounds among the refugee population and its terrifying impact on not just their own well-being but the communities at large.
Q : Your personal and positive mantra?
A : “Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do” Rumi
You can follow Tara on IG @TaraKangarlou and also on Twitter @ArtOfHopeGlobal.
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Violette is the Founder of FemCity // an online global network featuring business and lifestyle trends with over 70 local communities designed exclusively for women. Violette is also a motivational speaker, small business consultant, writer and mother of three. As a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience, Violette is passionate about supporting women entrepreneurs through business growth, big vision strategies and positivity along the way. For more inspiration and business tips, visit www.femcity.com and www.violettedeayala.com. Follow Violette de Ayala // @violettedeayala