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INTRO: I left Iraq in 2011 and came to Turkey with my family as refugees. Those years were the most difficult in my life. The most difficult thing was that I had to wait for years for my resttlement process, I was not allowed to work, I had no purpose. A few years later, I started volunteering and working with different organizations to serve other refugees. I soon realized that was my purpose and what gives me meaning. I worked in different roles, as a caseworker, community liaison and an outreach coordinator. In 2017, I started to manage a shelter for LGBTQ refugees in Istanbul. Since 2019, I founded two humanitarian projects: the Aman Project, where we focus on LGBTQ refugee rights in Turkey and the MENA region and United Hands for Refugees, which is a COVID- relief initiative to help support vulnerable refugees with food and hygiene packs.
you IN 5 WORDS: Survivor, Dreamer, Changemaker, Activist, World Citizen
CULTURAL IDENTITY: I am half Iraqi, half Palestinian/Jordanian and identify as a Secular Arab. I speak Arabic and Turkish.
geography: I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. I lived there until I was 19, then we fled to Turkey. I lived in Eskişehir for 4 years and and since 2015, have been living in Istanbul.
WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS? LGBTQ rights, refugees, cross-cultural dialogue, bringing change, politics, travel, American hip-hop
WHY WORK ON THE DE-OTHERIZE PROJECT?
Part of my activism work is to speak to journalists and podcasts to raise awareness. I am also a filmmaker currently working on a documentary project on LGBTQ refugees in Arabic; I think this project is an opportunity to merge all of my efforts and better serve my community, the refugee community, by raising awareness and addressing the many problems we have in the world when it comes to pre-judgements, xenophobia and to promote understanding and acceptance towards the “other”
INTRO: I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2018 with a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and a B.S. in Environment & Society. Through my study of the Turkish and Kurdish languages I received incredible opportunities like the Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholarship and the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship to live in Turkey and Azerbaijan. I was also able to learn and connect with cultural and political leaders, activists and changemakers of the Middle East through the MidEast Wire’s Erbil Exchange and the Ibrahim Leadership & Dialogue Program. I dedicate my time and energy to social and environmental justice to be the change I want to see in the world.
you IN 5 WORDS: educator, activist, eco-warrior, creatrix, connector
CULTURAL IDENTITY: american of white settler descent, my ancestors were polish & german farmers
geography: We bounced around states when I was growing up through Washington, Nevada, Texas and California but now, with absolute gratitude and respect,I call the magical place of New Orleans, Louisiana home
WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS?
education, radical kindness, immigration justice, art, equity & equality, rollerskating
WHY WORK ON THE DE-OTHERIZE PROJECT?
The U.S. is rooted in colonial and white supremacist systems that utilize ignorance to divide and otherize people based on identity to maintain current power structures. The Middle East is an easy target for manipulation and misconceptions to justify policies against refugee and asylum-seekers that are in danger and need support. I want people to think outside of borders, to challenge these systems that say we are different, to humanize each other, find common ground and shared beliefs through organic conversation and turn the other into a friend and ally so there is no fear that can be utilized for other peoples’ profit and power. I dream the De-Otherize project becomes a movement to catalyze true connection and global community
"My name is Yazan, I'm 24 years old, Syrian, from Latakia. I graduated from high school in 2011, the year the war began in Syria, with a diploma in the scientific branch.
I grew up in Latakia's poor streets with my family. I have one brother and two sisters.
I remember Syria before the war, Syria is a beautiful country that has a lot of magical landscapes. Before the war started in March 2011, people didn't talk about religious views or political issues. All they cared about was how to make their life better, even if it was hard. Now engineers and doctors are getting paid less than $30 USD a month and can barely support their families.
I completed three years toward mechanical engineering at Tishreen University, but I couldn't handle the pressure and the poor educational quality of our universities. I started to apply for scholarships but there were so many difficulties in my way, I needed to translate my transcripts, take the TOEFL and SAT and get visas, all which I could not afford.
My dad helped me when he sold the house so I can have money to apply for a visa to the Czech Republic. I went all the way to Lebanon just for the interview, but after six months of waiting, they denied my visa application.
Although I was working on a project about mental health and survival that Ostrava University welcomed, I still couldn't get the money or visas to go there, so I had to stop the project.
They tried to force me to join the army but I do not want to be apart of the violence so I had to leave Syria. One of the only countries I could enter as a Syrian was Sudan so I waited for the Czech Republic's response in Sudan for five months but there were no opportunities there for me. When I learned they had rejected my visa, I traveled to Lebanon and stayed there for a month, but the hatred toward Syrians is so bad there that I paid $1700 USD for a ticket, visa and residency for Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Life in the Middle East is so hard, especially for the young people. There are too many obstacles in their way and there are alot of young people who are suffering from depression and mental health issues that nobody bats an eye over.
The problems: wars, revolutions, and racism.
But the Middle East is resilient because of those people who have survived the wars, revolutions and racism and they pass down the lessons on how to survive to new generations. For me as a young man pushing himself forward each day, they taught me to carry my depression and anxiety and mask them in happiness and joy; for survival.
Most of the scholarships I applied for responded to me with the words " you are not qualified enough."
I worked with a non-profit organization in Syria for children dealing with trauma but when I applied for jobs in the organizations in Iraq, they didn't consider my experience. Its hard to be "qualified" when there are no opportunities to get "qualified" as a Syrian.
Now I work as a travel agent in Erbil but I hope someday there will be more opportunities open to me and all Syrians."
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