Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from originally, and how did you end up in the LA area?
My parents are both Armenian. My mom grew up in Istanbul, Turkey and my dad is from the London area. They met when my dad accompanied his mom and his aunt to Istanbul to look for their long-lost sister. Through some personal connections, they knew my mom’s family and since my mom was the only person in the large extended Armenian family that spoke English, they said to her, “Go he’s from England, he only speaks English, go talk to him.” And so that’s how they met. They were married in Istanbul 50 years ago this year and settled in England, which is where I was born.
We came to the United States when I was a baby and I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. I moved to the South Bay when I got married, so I’m basically an LA girl.
What song can always make you dance?
Oh, that’s a good question! I could go two ways with this one. I could go with “Bamboléo” by the Gypsy Kings, which I heard throughout my childhood. It’s a multi-generational crowd pleaser at family events! Or the song that always makes me want to get up and dance is an Armenian song by the Armenian Navy Band. It’s called, “Let Factories Open.”
Did you have a favorite teacher in school?
I think my first grade teacher was my favorite.
Why were they your favorite?
She was a good, solid teacher. You really learned something, but she was nurturing at the same time. You know, so she had a loving but firm presence, wanting to really see her students grow.
How were you first introduced to iACT?
I reflect on a lot of things with iACT as just being these little coincidences that continue to happen. That’s how I always feel that I’m really landing in the right place. I went to my children’s old preschool one day to volunteer, and (iACT Board Member) Merri Weir was on a tour of the preschool because it was a play-based preschool which she was viewing for Little Ripples. The preschool director knew me well and knew iACT’s work and said, “Oh, you have to meet each other,” and so that’s the first connection.
The other interesting thing was that I connected to iACT right before COVID. A large part of my relationship with Gabriel and Katie-Jay was during the pandemic, which is a little odd way of entering. But at the same time, because they couldn’t travel, their schedule was not what it usually was. It meant that there were many Zoom calls happening. I had concentrated time with them. We had trainings, strategic planning sessions, and more. I feel like I got to know them really well because we had so much time connecting in meetings and trainings. When they started traveling again, I was like where did all my calls go? And I was thought, oh, that’s what they usually do!
What about iACT gets you most fired up? What about it sparks your passion?
I think it’s that even though you are working in really challenging circumstances, you are also leaning into the parts of humanity that are joyful; the concept that it is not just a choice or a privilege of any kind, but it's actually a necessity as a human being. Gabriel and Katie-Jay demonstrated in their lives and in their work that to embrace our full humanity, we experience the duality of joy and sorrow throughout our journey.
What has been one of the most memorable experiences for you as you have volunteered with iACT?
Simple things like just helping Katie-Jay pack. She had so much fun energy that even packing for a trip was exciting. One of the best examples, such a pure example of “the iACT way,” was that we needed to buy socks. I was at the store and on the phone with Katie-Jay, looking at two different pairs and she said, “what is the quality of those socks?” I described the quality, the brand, the material, etc. And then she would say, “Buy the one with the really good quality. That’s the one we want.” And that always struck me because that came from her heart. She wanted everybody to have the best of what we could provide, and she wanted the children of iACT to have what her own children had.
What kept you coming back once you started getting involved with iACT?
Well, I always felt better after I spent time with anybody related to iACT. I always felt like things would be okay. That you could participate as much as you wanted or were able to and then return. Being able to participate in something where you are chipping away at one area to help, and that really solid understanding that you cannot possibly fix all the world’s problems, but let’s just work on one together. Everybody was really positive and at the same time able to take the time for things that were difficult. So you’d have a call that started off sad but it ended happy or vice versa and again that full humanity concept makes you feel connected as a human being and as a volunteer.
What do you think are the words you use most to describe iACT?
Trust. Trusting in each other, trusting in ourselves, trusting in joy to help heal, trusting in the power of play, trusting that our connections will yield progress.
I use the words joy and dignity, too. With iACT, you’re demonstrating a model, a way of thinking and acting, where refugees are the partners in creating a solution, and that power shift is what makes iACT unique and effective.
You are coming on as a board member in the midst of Mother’s Day. So, I’m curious what it means to you as a mother to be a board member at iACT.
As a mother, I feel a strong solidarity with mothers around the world. We are all hoping to give our children lives filled with love, hope, joy, and a bright future.
This interview also happens to be taking place on my late grandmother’s birthday; she was a genocide survivor. Her father had been killed and her mother sent my grandmother to an orphanage hoping to keep her daughter safe. They lost touch for many years but reconnected when she was a teenager. My grandmother was helped by people and organizations along the way, so it’s very full circle for me to be able to help communities that are in a position that she was in. I am here today because of the compassion and generosity of others. It’s an honor for me to be able to do that for other families and help the next generation of children.
What is your hope for the future of iACT?
I would love to see iACT be the gold standard for how refugee and conflict-affected people are partnered with. I really believe in the concept that love, care and nurturing, combined with research-based approaches will help to shift power and that this the most dignified way in which you can deliver humanitarian work. iACT does that. We have tremendous experience to offer the world and guide other organizations to shift.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the iACT community?
This role is a way in which I honor my family history, I honor Katie-Jay and Gabriel, and I demonstrate to my children one way to care for people around the world. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. It’s amazing that in my backyard an organization like this exists. iACT is innovative, compassionate and joyful, and I’m thrilled to be a part of its growth and impact.