By Senaya Savir
On Nov. 17, human rights advocate Jacqueline Isaac visited Van Munching Hall to discuss a nonprofit organization she co-founded, as well as her input on the current refugee crisis and her own personal experiences visiting minority communities in the Middle East.
“What is happening today is a crisis that will be written in our history books and I hope we can talk about how people stood up to the evil and fought this injustice,” Isaac said.
Humanitarian, lawyer and motivational speaker are among the roles Isaac assumes. She is also the co-founder of Roads of Success, a nonprofit that works to advance human rights and improve the quality of life for victims of conflicts and poverty all over the world.
Isaac said she didn’t really know what being an American Egyptian entailed until she experienced a major culture shock at 13 years old, when her parents told her that they were moving to Egypt.
Isaac recalls getting to Cairo and giving one of her male relatives a big hug. She said she will never forget her dad pulling her aside and saying, “This is your family. It’s okay, but I want you to be careful now because you’re in a different world and, in this world, the odds are against you because you are a minority and because you are a woman, you need to be under the radar.”
During her speech, Isaac expressed her discomfort with the idea that, because she was born a certain way, she had to live her life ‘under the radar.’ It was in this moment that Isaac realized that, because she was born in America, she had certain freedoms that she may not have had if she were Egypt-born.
Isaac chose to take on this freedom as a responsibility to help people in similar situations understand their rights.
“In the midst of all this, I fell in love with the Middle Eastern people … and I realized we aren’t that different as the media may make it seem,” Isaac said.
After many years of constant questioning, Isaac realized that her unique experiences helped bridge the gap between two worlds and allowed her to ultimately make a difference.
“It’s not just about education. There is so much more to who you are and that background, that desire. It all came from somewhere and you need to combine all of that with your education and make a difference and be the difference,” Isaac said.
At 19, she graduated as a political science major and moved back to America to make a difference. She then started a project on female genital mutilation.
“I had a theory that the only way to deal with these human rights violations was to understand what was influencing the communities,” Isaac said and recalled that it was the religious leaders influencing the minority communities in the Middle East.
Isaac approached these religious leaders to see where they stood on issues like female genital mutilation and child marriage.
“You had to quickly start to learn how do you sit down with a person you may be in disagreement with and try to get them on the right side,” Isaac said.
According to Isaac, all of these experiences played a huge role in her involvement now with the refugee crisis.
In 2014, Isaac and her family started a non-profit organization to help the refugees that came from Syria into Jordan. Similarly to her experiences in Egypt, she found that innocent, ‘beautiful’ people were being taught the wrong things by corrupt leaders.
After speaking to the secretary general at a press conference, Isaac learned that, while these people were being given shelter and food in Jordan, the trauma they had experienced would be a much more difficult problem to solve.
Soon after, Isaac helped to start a new program called Tech over Trauma, a program that uses technology to talk to girls who were raped and tortured by ISIS.
Isaac learned that these girls couldn’t see a future for themselves because they were too focused on the trauma of their past.
When Isaac asked one of the girls via Skype—who became the first student in the program— if she would be a voice for her people, she responded saying, “Whether I live or I die, I will do anything I can to help my sisters in captivity.”
Isaac presented that video to the U.S. Congress and it quickly went live across the world.
“Because this little girl believed that she could make an impact, because people that were called ‘the others’ came in and said, ‘we’re all in this together,’ she came to a point where she believed her voice mattered,” Isaac said.
This affected the U.S. Congress determination that genocide is taking place against minorities.
“It is one of the first times in our history that we call a genocide what it is while it is happening. That gives us the opportunity to stop the continuation of it,” Isaac said.
Moving forward, Isaac went with the girl and her mother to testify in the U.K. Parliament, and they too unanimously declared what is happening as a genocide. Isaac said her next target will be the United Nations Security Council.
“We’re hoping for Muslim countries to rise up and say ISIS is our enemy. Whether we’re Muslim or Christian, it doesn’t matter where we come, we are all on the same side here,” Isaac said. “They need to be punished for their actions and we’re hoping that will cause a deterrence from that kind of recruitment.