Isra Chaker inspires us to use our voice to make positive change in the world, and we are honored to have her as our next Game Changer. She serves as the Refugee, Migration and Protection Campaign Lead at one of the leading international NGOs in the world, Oxfam. There she advocates for vulnerable people such as refugees, asylum seekers; and opposes discriminatory policies such as the Muslim Bans.
In addition, Isra was recently chosen as an ICON for the "We The Future" campaign by Amplifier, recognizing her as a leader on social justice issues. Join us as we discuss owning the power of your voice, and stepping into your light.
We're also donating a portion of proceeds to Isra's campaign with Baitulmaal to help those most impacted by Covid-19.
How would you like to introduce yourself to the VELA community?
As an unapologetic Syrian-American Muslim woman, who is an activist for human and civil rights as well as an advocate for refugees, asylum seekers, and anyone who is impacted by discriminatory policies.
Tell us about your role at Oxfam.
I’m the Senior Campaign Lead of the Refugee, Migration and Protection campaign. I focus on advocating for the rights and protections for these vulnerable groups, as they seek safe havens, as well as addressing the root causes of why they are fleeing. We also use different kinds of digital and traditional media and communications tactics to break down the misconceptions people have of migrants, by amplifying their authentic narrative of courage and resilience.
What would you tell girls who feel like they don’t have a voice? Or that things seem so bad & their voice doesn’t matter enough?
First I would say that every single person has a voice. The only thing that makes us different, is the circumstances in which we were born into, and what we were told about our voice growing up. A lot of women have been conditioned to believe that they don’t have a voice, and it's a systemic problem that especially affects women of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds.
Your voice does exist, and you shouldn’t be waiting for someone to activate it. If you don’t assert yourself, if you don't own your power, then that’s an injustice to yourself. Your voice matters, you have a responsibility to combat the awful rhetoric and policies that are impacting so many of our loved ones in our community.
I encourage everyone, wherever you are in life and whatever you choose to be, to realize you are an advocate, which means you have a fundamental belief in the rights of others. To realize that everyday you have the opportunity to contribute, to make a difference in the world. Take it.You are such an inspiration to many, who and what inspire you?
The people that inspire me the most, that I get my strength from are my mom and the strong women figures in my life like my sisters, who have faced adversity head-on and have never wavered from their identity no matter what. They’re a reminder that I can handle anything as long as my faith is my anchor and guiding light.
Who keeps me going? The youth, offline and online, the energy on college campuses, the movements I see growing on social media. When I see how active youth are and the positive impact they are creating in our world, it's the best feeling. I know that our future is bright because of them.
You use the word unapologetic to describe yourself, just like our last Game Changer Layla Shaikley. Where did you get yours from and what would you say to someone who wants to cultivate being unapologetic?
For me, it stems from the fact that I have faced a lot of discrimination, and bullying growing up in a small, and not diverse town in the middle of America. I had to embody my faith to be able to overcome these challenges and find my voice and purpose in life.
I became unapologetic when I recognized the power of my voice and how I could break down the stereotypes people had about me by owning who I was without any exception or apology. Not because I’m someone special, but because my faith was my foundation. As long as I was stepping into my light, God was with me.
I also came to the realization that I didn’t want anyone else speaking on my behalf or representing me. When you recognize that there are so many people who want to own your voice, and manipulate it, and take your narrative - then you recognize the power of your voice and the value it has. Being unapologetic is when you embrace your identities and become secure in them, and not allowing others to diminish or cast doubt on them.
How does your VELA make you feel?
My VELA makes me feel powerful, confident and comfortable in my own skin. It helps me look the way I feel. It enables me to be bold and stand out with my identity on my terms.
I appreciate that VELA promotes inclusivity and representation. The company embodies that we own our space, we belong and we always have been here. No one can ever replicate that.
I also love the VELA collections that make a statement and take a stance, like the Safari Collection. I wore those with pride because companies who advocate for social justice stances are the key to my heart!
What does being a VELA girl mean to you?
Being a VELA Girl is being a woman who’s confident in herself, who believes in herself. She has all the strength, fire, passion and wisdom to take on the world. She is driven, has values, and wants to contribute to make the world a better place. A VELA Girl is a woman who’s not afraid to step outside the norms and stereotypes that are placed against her. VELA is redefining what it means to be a Muslim woman. VELA is just boss lady vibes all the way.
Thank you Isra for your courageous trailblazing. This interview has been edited for grammar, but are the thoughts and sentiments of Isra Chaker. Follow @israspeaks to keep up with her work and get inspired. Stay tuned for more features from our amazing community!