Dream Summer Alumni Spotlight: Yara Al Mazouni
Dream Summer Fellow 2016
Organization: AFL-CIO, South Florida
Yara Al Mazouni was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. She’s a pre-medical student at Florida Atlantic University. Yara obtained her Associate’s Degree from Broward College, where she graduated with honors, and appeared on President’s list for two years. She identifies as a Muslim, and an immigrant. Moving to the United States after fleeing from a war-torn country, knowing her loved ones back home live in constant fear, is a main concern of hers. Facing difficulties pursuing higher education, adding on culture barriers, while trying to preserve her identity, are many of the challenges she faces. Yet, Yara, believes with enough hard work, love, acceptance, and empathy, the sky is the limit wherever she is.
What inspired you to apply to Dream Summer?
I heard of Dream Summer through the Urban Breach College Track, a program that empowers minorities and students that have a very difficult background. My mentor emailed me about Dream Summer, and I was fortunate enough toapply and be accepted into the fellowship. At first, I second guessed myself about applying, but my greatest motivator was my mother. My mom has always encouraged me to be involved in social justice. She has been able to see in me power that I had never seen in myself. Thanks to her I applied to this great national program. She has taught me how to love, how to respect and be respected, and how to be a person of value to this world. She’s really the reason why I applied to Dream Summer.
What was one thing you learned during your Dream Summer experience? One take-away moment?
If I can choose one thing that I’ve learned during Dream Summer, is that without compassion, love and empathy for each other, we will never win. Nor would we understand the beauty of this world, nor the beauty of our differences.
During my fellowship I was a part of the labor cohort. I worked for with the AFL-CIO in Miami, where I conducted a survey on construction workers, documenting and writing stories. My findings indicated the workers were mostly immigrants and many of them were undocumented. They all had harsh, heartbreaking stories. The AFL-CIO’s goal with the survey was to expand on their database, but that’s not the extent of what I wanted to do with this assignment. I wanted to treat them as human beings and hear their stories, not just write about them on a sheet of paper. It really turned out to be something. These were construction workers — strong men that were tasked with building the community and a lot of them had tears in their eyes when they told me their story. They told me that they were working under very harsh conditions and circumstances and were getting paid below the minimum wage. They had to do that just so that they could send money to their families back home.
What I’ve learned from that experience was to love and to listen before speaking; not to just reply, but to think and be grateful.
What was your take away moment?
I definitely had different take-away moments from my assignment. I wished I could heal them in those moments and take their pain away. I simply opened my ears and heart for them. What I noticed is that these workers, sometimes what they need is someone to listen to them. Many workers thanked me and those that teared up were relieved. They went back to work with a smile on their face. It was a moment that they were really glad to share. I was very surprised to have people openly tell me that they are undocumented. These workers had been going through so much pain and no one had asked them how they were doing. They just wanted someone to listen to them and at that moment, that was all I could do.
One very powerful and beautiful moment during Dream Summer, was when we were given envelopes and people were encouraged to write notes for others. That was very beautiful. People were writing very nice things, and when I got mine, I waited until I was in the airport on my way home. I opened it and started reading. The messages made me so happy and it was a very special. That moment, in the airport reading those messages, was a very fond memory I take from my time in the Dream Summer.
How has Dream Summer shaped/advanced/provided a platform to amplify your leadership?
At both retreats I felt that, for once, I belonged. Although I was surrounded by people that were very different— and I believe I was the only middle eastern person there or person that spoke Arabic— I felt different, but proud to be different in that space. It made me feel powerful and believe that I mattered and that my story matters. I felt so comfortable that I wanted to facilitate a workshop at the closing retreat. I wanted to share my story with everyone else.
Dream Summer taught me that there are many cultures that are going through the same suffering and how they were fighting for their human rights, just like our own culture. I was reaffirmed to not only listen but also understand and learn. Dream Summer taught me how to magnify people’s strengths and not their weaknesses. It made me believe again that I am important and that my worries are important as well. It was a good type of leadership experience.
If you could share one piece of advice to other movement builders, what would it be?
You have been given this heavy stone to show and prove others that it can be move. Stand up for yourself and everyone else. Fight for your rights and stand up for those who have no voice to be heard. Stand up for unity. Stand up for all the kids around the world that are watching and searching for love and acceptance, and prove to them that love is indeed all we need and want. With our own hands we can make the world a kinder place.
Given your passion(s), what would a world of justice for our immigrant communities look like?
A very loving and accepting world. A world that is full of bold, strong, kind, and humble people; but most of all, people full of pride. A world where we embrace our differences and we celebrate them. A world that offers education for everyone.