I got this overwhelming feeling November 2014 to pack up and just go to Lebanon. I was exhausted from seeing the media portray Syrian refugees and Palestinians in general as non-victims. I wanted to see first hand for myself what was really going on.
My second day of visiting various refugee camps and settlements in Lebanon, I got back to my hotel room and stared blankly with a million thoughts not even knowing how to register all of what I was feeling.
I guess I should begin with how my desire for all this came about. In college, I got my basic 2 year Associates Degree and wanted to continue for my Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism focusing on the Middle East but my career took a turn toward fashion. My blog started getting recognition so instead of applying for a University in Florida like planned, I applied to FIT in New York to try and get a degree in fashion design. Long story short, FIT denied me because I couldn’t draw. From then on I told myself I was going to make a career out of fashion without a degree. I knew what I was good at and I focused in on that. It was a strong desire for me that I loved. Here I am 4 years later with so many amazing opportunities. Featured in magazines, popular blogs, designing clothes, modeling, haven't thousands of people tell me how much they want to be me, and I still never felt fulfilled. I always wanted to help in a major way, even if it started off minor. I’m incredibly happy that I am able to help people feel good about themselves and with their bodies. All of your stories about how I inspire you, inspires me.
In the Summer of 2013, I was incredibly depressed although I didn’t show it through social media. My bank account was constantly negative, I kept getting fired from all of my PR/Marketing jobs in New York because I had to fly to different places for my blog and they were tired of me taking off work to work on my own brand instead of theirs which is totally understandable. I knew it was a sacrifice because I wanted to be my own boss one day. I couldn’t afford my rent and was on the verge of getting evicted from my Washington Heights apartment. I was so stressed about money and how I couldn’t even take care of myself that I’d cry almost every day. Then one day, I decided not to work a 9-5 anymore, it was pointless. It wasn’t what I wanted. So I came up with a plan. To cover rent and bills, I’d stay at a friend’s house or sleep on the couch and would rent out my bedroom to people through airbnb. It paid the bills enough for me to throw all of my energy in to my blog. Once I focused solely on my blog, things started to pick up. A year later I can finally say I’m very well off. I went from being damn near homeless to signing 50k contracts.
I’ve always known you can’t take care of other people if you can’t take care of yourself. I told myself the day I’m financially stable enough, I want to travel the world and do something greater than me. As soon as I signed my first big contract, I bought my ticket to Lebanon. For those who don’t know, my father is Lebanese, so at a young age I’ve always had a desire to go but would constantly put it on the back burner.
On the news, you constantly hear the Middle East being a topic of discussion but I’ve noticed it’s very much one sided. I was tired of every movie coming out only portraying Arabs as terrorists. I was tired of seeing mass murders happen and when it wasn't a person of color, they were considered mentally ill or a kid just unstable. But when it was a person of color, they were either a thug or gangster, and even terrorist. I now have a platform. If we get together, we can change the narrative.
For the most part, I've been in touch with reality. I hate fabrication. I wanted to see first hand how some of the issues in the Middle East are affecting people who are just trying to live their lives like you and I. I wanted the truth. I knew I wouldn’t get honest answers from the media, so I set out to research myself and share it with all of you.
Not only do I want to raise money for these refugees but I want to bring awareness. I want people to open their eyes and minds. I want people to research in to this as much as you can. View this from all sides. It’s not about who is wrong and who is right, this comes down to people who are suffering. It comes down to human life.
We cannot sit back in our own little bubbles. Not enough people care about what's happening in the world other than their own world. Anyone who says we can’t change the world or significantly make living better for people less fortunate are naive. I’ve seen first hand how many aid/relief charities help make these refugees lives better than what they originally were last month. Most of these charities I met with work on children’s education. Sawa has built 2 tents in Bekaa Valley where more than 300 children are currently getting schooled by 8 generous teachers. Before they had no education. How is this not changing people’s lives?
I never realized how privileged I was until this trip. Most of us sitting here on our computers are already way more privileged than others. Thinking back when I was worried about being homeless was nothing compared to what these people are going through. This is about refugees, but it's also about awakening you and what you're capable of contributing to this world we all share. We have such a limited amount of time on this planet, I want to help encourage people to focus on whats important to them and close to their hearts. THANK YOU TO OXFAM, NAJDEH, SAWA, AND EVERYONE WHO HELPED ME CREATE THIS VIDEO INCLUDING NATALIE EDGAR FOR PRODUCTION AND ANTHONY BENITEZ FOR MUSIC.