Meet Nousha Kabawat and her unstoppable drive to help Syria’s displaced children thrive

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This month’s Young Woman to Watch is Nousha Kabawat, founder and director of Project Amal ou Salam (meaning Project Hope and Peace), a grassroots organisation dedicated to empowering Syria’s children to rebuild their country and work for peace. As one of its co-founders, Nousha also served as the director of the Syrian Center for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace in Toronto.

 

Her work has been recognized by the United States Institute of Peace and featured in National Geographic, BBC News, USA Today, and the Peace and Conflict Monitor. She holds a master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University and a graduate certificate in Global Journalism from the University of Toronto.

As a young female Arab, born to Syrian parents in Canada, Nousha represents a breath of fresh air in a field traditionally led by older men. With her values-based approach to work and leadership, she is a role model for other aspiring leaders in her field and the young people she is working with. She distinguishes herself by putting authenticity and servant leadership at the heart of her activities. With all the drive and ambition she puts in her work, it doesn’t take long to be inspired by her vision, contagious energy and charisma.

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Carried by the conviction that Syria’s children are the best hope for a peaceful and prosperous future for the country, she believes that it is important to empower them. By helping Syria’s next generation cope with trauma and tragedy of war, Nousha is committed to helping them become strong, capable and productive members of society, ready to rebuild their country.

Besides fully funding a refugee school in Jarash, Jordan and an underground center in war-torn Aleppo, Project Amal ou Salam has started funding a girls learning center in Gaziantep, Turkey and a learning center in Irbid, Jordan. It is also running workshops in refugee areas in Jordan, Lebanon and inside Syria which provide open dialogue, giving the kids a safe space to come to grips with their situation and develop their own ideas and visions for the future of Syria.

With her work at Project Amal ou Salam Nousha is trying to pass on values of non-violence, pluralism and hope to Syrian children, whom she refuses to see as a lost generation, but rather as the best hope the country has to shape its future for the better. Her commitment is based on the idea of making a non-violent revolution work with refugee children, to break stereotypes and to create a generation with different values.

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Nousha, how did you end up doing what you’re doing at Project Amal ou Salam?

I left Syria when I was 17 years old to attend university in Canada and when the conflict in Syria broke out I decided to pursue a masters in Conflict Resolution because I knew one day I would need to go back and would need to connect people who had been torn apart by what was happening.

Sure enough, a few years later, I found myself at an Internally Displaced Peoples camp in Syria-2 years after I had said goodbye to my Damascus as the people took to the streets demanding their freedom. I was there to reconnect with a people and a land I had been separated from for two very long years. I wanted to see how I could give back to a cause I so believed in. While I was there I came across a large group of Syrian children that were not only not attending school but also mimicking the language of hate that they heard from their parents and the adults around them because they had lost everything- I was not only worried but scared. Thinking that this would one day be the generation that would have to go back and rebuild Syria, I knew I had to do something that would feed their self-esteem or else they would become angry and revengeful thinking the world had forgotten them. I began to recall my own peaceful childhood in Syria and all the things that positively influenced me growing up… like the summer camps I attended. I once read that ‘Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate”- and I decided to do just that. Inspired by my own memories as a child in Syria- I imagined a series of floating workshops that would change the way Syrian kids saw themselves and the world around them. That led me to found Project Amal ou Salam. Through education, intervention and Trauma based care- Project Amal ou Salam has been able to inspire and empower more than 6000 children in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and inside Syria with the help of over 100 Amal ou Salam ambassadors from all over the world.

What’s your definition of a leader?

For me a leader is a person who is able to inspire. A person who does not tell you what to do but shows you how to do it. A leader is a person who is constantly seeking to empower those around them. When you are humble, you keep your feet on the ground, focus on the work and the mission, and constantly looking to learn more and grow more, especially from the people around you- you are a leader.

What was your proudest moment?

I have had many proud moments. Each year the team at Project Amal ou Salam and myself keep pushing ourselves a little bit further so that we continue to do great things with the children of Syria which makes me proud every second of everyday.
But a recent proud moment was this part March at the Project Amal ou Salam school in Jordan where we held our first “Career day”- by the end of the day the kids were running around claiming they wanted to become chefs and journalists and “Leaders”- I was so proud of the dedication to innovation and education that my team and the kids had shown.

What do you enjoy most about your job/business?

What I enjoy most  in the work I do is being with the kids on the ground.  Having that renewed sense of hope whenever I am with them. They inspire me and push me to work hard because I know that they are the future of Syria and by doing so I am actively contributing to their future and to that of our country.

What’s your advice to young women in leadership?

Be humble and work hard. And also remember that as women we must support each other and lift each other up. If you come across a woman who is trying to better herself or “make it” lend her a helping hand or simply a shoulder to cry on. Women are what make this world go around, we have the ability to influence so many different layers of society and it is a responsibility we should take seriously.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be exactly like my mother: Strong, caring, loving and most importantly giving. She taught me what a strong leader is, she showed me daily how to give back to the community. My mother used to always tell me growing up: “Ask not what your country can do for your, but what you can do for your country.” And I guess it stuck with me!  She gave me the opportunity to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be and so I wanted to be: the first female president, a lawyer, a journalist and a mother all at once 🙂

 

For more information on how you can get involved with Project Amal ou Salam, visit: http://projectamalousalam.org/

Article by Nele Rohricht

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