Lama has actively worked in various organizations and platforms that seek social interface in sustainable development; her work reflects her strong belief of integrating education and other tools to bring a sustainability aspect within social transformation. Lama is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a background in Business Management and Marketing. Throughout her experience, she has been able to blend her academic preparation with human rights advocacy; while in Boston she participated in organizations such as: Students for Justice in Palestine, Grassroots International, and Boston Palestine Film Festival.
Since moving back to the Middle East (Kuwait), she has actively participated in several organizations including: Hikma, BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions Kuwait), and Project 189 – where her contribution has been essential in creating, developing, and opening up the possibility of active engagement of the community in all Project 189’s initiatives. Professionally, since her graduation, Lama worked at INJAZ, an organization aimed at empowering youth, and was later hired as a researcher to provide consultation to the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs on developing Kuwait’s first National Youth Policy.
You are involved with an organization – Project 189, what are its’ aims and the root of the name? 189 is the convention number of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 [No. 189]. Since Kuwait did not sign the convention when it passed, Project 189 was created to promote the articles of 189 locally and within the Middle East region. Whilst Kuwait has still not signed; it has made major improvements, such as: Kuwait’s own local domestic worker law was passed in the summer of 2016, becoming the first GCC to do so. Although there is now a law, there is substantial work which needs to be done with regards to the implementation and education, which is where Project 189 tries to assist. We do so by promoting domestic worker’s rights, the law that has been put in place, awareness, creating an inclusive society and working directly with both the employees and employers.
What instigated your desire to become involved with human rights in general, not specifically Project 189? I was naively in shock when I first moved back to Kuwait after being away at university in the United States for four years. Hearing a variety of stories of mistreatment towards migrant/domestic workers here in Kuwait is one thing; hearing a victim’s story first-hand, and witnessing injustice happening in front of you is an arresting and an eye-opening experience.
I could not perceive the notion of walking away without becoming involved in some way; I could not remain naïve to such malpractice that happens on a daily basis.
Whilst this was not the start of my involvement in human rights, it was the start of my involvement with this specific cause.
What are some of the challenges you face within our society by being involved in human rights? There is still somewhat of a taboo when working in the field of human rights within our society; or, at least this “type” of human rights work. I would say, simply that people do not understand the concept of why we would want to promote the rights of a domestic or migrant worker. Some see it as a threat, thinking “more rights for them means less rights for me”, “higher costs on me”, etc., which is why the biggest challenge that I personally face is that of battling social mindset. There are people dedicating their lives to human rights in Kuwait, and there are others to whom this is a completely foreign concept. It’s a long process, but lately a great amount of change has been happening in Kuwait that I have had the privilege to witness up-close.
What would you say are the three things that you think are important for people to know?
1. For anyone who cannot afford a lawyer, in any situation, there is a local organization called the ‘Humanitarian Foundation for Legal Aid’ that will provide you a lawyer and their services free of charge.
2. If you are a domestic worker, or know of one that needs help there is a ‘domestic workers office’ that receives all your complaints and will take action, located in Dhajeej.
3. If you mistreat anyone that works for you in any way, put yourself in his or her position, always. If you see anyone mistreating a worker, in your own home or in public, always speak up. Always!
Words by Nadia al Sayed