Alexandra Tohme

Founder & Director Azahir NGO
Alexandra Tohme

We started as volunteers going around to Syrian camps, in tented communities by the border — and it was just me and Tarek and Ghannam and Huda and Abo Milad — the guys from this camp [Nahr el Bared Palestinian Camp], just the four or five of us, and we spent like two years doing this, for me on the side of my full time job, before I decided to officially register us as a local NGO and open a community center here in Nahr el Bared Camp.

So when I opened this NGO, it was like one of those moments in life where you feel like you jump off a cliff. I had no idea what I was doing management wise, but I registered us and [then began] going through, or learning about all of these processes. [And] that was my way… but that’s also my personality as well. I’m kind of like, I just threw myself into it and took this big risk, not looking back. [But] I always like to give my youth team so much credit, it wouldn’t have been possible without them. 

By working with the community from the inside, and the fact that I got to know them really well by living with them before I founded the NGO, I think it built a foundation of trust, that is so important in being able to do good work and see results and impacts. Community trust and having it be grassroots from them, [I think is] one of the ways we’ve been able to do amazing hard work with minimal resources. We’re (officially from registration) a bit over one-year-old and have already almost 200 children coming to our center, that we built just 8 months ago. 

The network of youth (here) is amazing. This is their home, their community, so when you want to do any projects, maybe with different age groups of children, there’s this buzzing of life. It’s one of the things I love about the camp.

There’s much deprivation and struggle for families; it’s a really hardship place, but there’s such beauty in the community and the culture, and strength. 

I think for me, when I think about freedom, I think about dignity, living life with human dignity and living without fear of many things: being who you are, of being able to survive, of pursuing what you believe in, and having the courage to chase after that. What is your life meaning? What is your pride? What is it that you want to fight for? Being able to have the freedom to do that.

I think, unfortunately, we live in a time where freedom is repressed — all over — and so we should try everything we can to break those barriers of oppression. And there’s many ways to do that: I think the minds and the passion of individuals, to go back to my youth, unlocking their power, is to me, one of the most beautiful ways to fight for that.