Celebrating EAA’s Women on International Women’s Day: Alya Fakhroo
Interview with Alya Fakhroo, Law and Advocacy Senior Officer, Protecting Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC) programme at Education Above All (EAA)
This year’s International Women’s Day takes place against the backdrop of the terrible violence unfolding in Ukraine and the impact it is having on people and civilian infrastructure in the country. EAA’s PEIC programme has been leading global calls for the safety and protection of students, teachers, and schools in Ukraine, staying true to its core mission of advocating for the protection of education from attack.
As we mark EAA’s 10th birthday and on the occasions of International Women’s Day, we take a moment to delve into the minds of the women behind the Foundation’s work to protect education. Today we hear from Alya Fakhroo from EAA’s PEIC programme, and how growing up and seeing injustice around the world has motivated her to make real, impactful change through justice and inclusion of the world’s most marginalised.
Q: Why Education Above All?
A: A place that values and works directly on human rights, international law, humanitarian assistance and development and social justice – in Qatar!
Finding EAA, I cracked an almost ‘impossible mission’: an impact-driven foundation that works with vulnerable communities, making real and tangible change while impacting the lives of many. Finding EAA not only excited me but gave me a sense of relief. I have found a place for my meaningful contribution to both my country, and the world.
Q: Why education?
A: Education’s importance was engrained in us from a young age and was always the non-negotiable in my family – which is unfortunately not the case for many. My family did and accepted a lot for our education: travelling abroad, going to American system schools, moving to neighbourhoods closest to the best schools and studying abroad for university.
Q: Do you have any experiences that have made this career choice a personal one?
A: There have been different events at different stages of my life - watching the continuous plight of the Palestinian people from an early age, volunteering in orphanages in Romania, teaching poor disadvantaged communities in Saudi Arabia, and English as a second language (ESL) to labour workers in my high school. I always felt personally about the plights of others – I struggled to really detach myself from whatever was on the news - and I hated feeling helpless. I just knew that I wanted to play a role in bringing justice, opportunities, or ease to the suffering of others.
For the longest time, especially in university when I was finally studying law, I was told my ambitions were too idealistic for the Gulf. I was repeatedly told to reconsider and to study corporate law. I even did an internship in a leading corporate law firm but it was simply not for me. My aspiration in international law and human rights overrode all else. Disproving sceptics was just a bonus.
Q: Are there particular memories you hold that motivated you to get you on the path and to get you to where you are today?
A: I was fortunate to be a child of a diplomat. That definitely shaped my ‘motivations’ in terms of deciding to study law, aspiring to work in the development sector, wanting to learn more about justice and the realisation of human rights.
Being exposed to different areas of the world and different versions of what “injustice” looked like, in different countries, drove different parts of that path for me, whether it was the consequences of Ceausescu’s oppressive and violent dictatorship in Romania, the crushing inequality across Morocco, or the injustices of capitalism suffered by London’s immigrant communities. I knew I wanted to work closely with affected communities, I wanted real connections with those on the ground. I believed law was the strongest means to justice – it sets the precedent that bounds all sectors, be they governments, corporations or individuals.
Q: Of your time working, what have been some of the biggest learnings?
A: EAA is my first experience and I have learned more than I ever imagined – and I’m still learning! I think a takeaway for me is to always be open to the opportunities that come, even if it’s out of your comfort zone.
I joined EAA primarily for its work in international law – I envisioned being on a narrow law and policy path. But I’ve had to learn ‘on the job’ for other key facets to our work ranging from communications, advocacy, youth empowerment and events. As part of that I’ve developed EAA’s Youth Advocacy Programme, empowering youth in conflict zones around the world to use their voices for change.
Q: To date, what have been some of your most memorable moments or achievements in work? If you had to choose one thing that helped you get there – what would it be?
A: Going to Uganda as part of an EAA mission with Artolution and the Whittaker Peace and Development Initiative in March 2019 was the first time I bridged my interest in law with work in the field. We conducted human rights and advocacy workshops with youth in the region, including refugee children, dissecting important concepts and skills to equip them in their advocacy and conflict resolution. Whilst doing so we saw first-hand how these youth were the experts in bringing advocacy to life – they understood the role of their local and religious authorities and the different advocacy entry points to break down the behavioural barriers in their communities. This is when the penny dropped for me! Sometimes you can lose sense of your ‘bigger picture’. That trip is my personal and professional anchor to my ‘bigger picture’.
Q: To date, what have been some of your hardest moments in your work?
A: I think coming back from that same trip was also my most difficult moment.
Being in the Bidi bidi refugee settlement for 4 days, followed by the trip to WPDI learning facilities in Gulu – it was a reality check that I believe everyone really needs. Leaving a refugee settlement puts everything in perspective. It’s not just a matter of being grateful for being in safety and comfort, but a matter of our collective need to hold ourselves accountable for what we do (or don’t do) when it comes to our responsibilities to one another. And it affirmed my commitment, it reaffirmed my passions. My inability to detach was no longer a weakness but my personal strength and motivation coming into work every day. This field mission inspired PEIC to scale up its advocacy strategy to focus on grassroots advocacy, empowerment, and mobilisation.
Q: Is there a professional you admire who drives and inspires you in your field of work?
A: Different individuals drive/inspire different aspects of my work. My work ethic comes by way of my father. He serves his community and country in a manner and dedication that I believe are rare nowadays.
The women in my family drive my belief. Resilient and gracious in the path they embark.
The women in EAA motivate my commitment. Relentlessly driven by the impact they can make in every project or task they undertake.
The leadership of EAA push the boundaries of our collective ambition. There is no such thing as being too ambitious, too creative or too innovative.
Q: If there was one thing you wish everyone just naturally knew – what would it be?
”Riches are not from an abundance of worldly good but from a contented mind.” Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Seek that – always.
To seek a contented mind is to question the world as it is today. Is this enough? Are we just enough, equal enough, inclusive enough? These are principles I say we tackle intrinsically in our field of work. These are the end goals.
Q: If there was a behaviour or action you wished everyone could automatically adopt – what would it be?
A: Use your energy and your time constructively, not passively. Be guided by genuine, holistic intent.
You have a role to play in making this world more just, more peaceful, more equitable. Play that role regardless of how minuscule you think it might be.
Q: What does your sector of work most need to achieve the changes you wish to see in the world?
A: Share. All hands-on deck, on every feasible deck. Humanitarian development, in all its angles (education, health, climate) requires all hands-on deck, for every possible intervention or solution needed. Everyone should be pushing full force for feasible solutions that achieve the changes we need to see in the world.
All efforts need to substantially and meaningfully include the voices of those marginalised, affected by insecurity or inequality, those of vulnerable groups. The people who directly experience war or injustice are the ones who are best equipped with meaningful solutions for change. Real representation and real participation.