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Empowering Women in the Face of Conflict: Challenges and Responses in the Middle East

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By : Karen Koning AbuZayd

October 05, 2015

My greetings to all of you gathered here today for this opportunity to recognize women who bravely face the challenges of conflict around the world, and to the vital role Senses Cultural is playing to advocate for these women.

I am very pleased to be with you to honor and pay tribute to the work of Tata Manfared and Senses Cultural on behalf of women in conflict, particularly in the Middle East, and proud to be associated with the ‘Empowering Women’ exhibition, as it highlights the challenges Middle Eastern women, from all walks of life, face, and how they respond to them.

This occasion, to speak about women, particularly refugee women, who have been close to my hands, heart and mind for the past 35 years, is most welcome. I refer to women who in many ways have borne the brunt of crises in their countries, often left to care for their homes and families on their own, women who have stood up to the challenges, becoming role models for other women around the world facing similar devastating circumstances.

My own ‘refugee’ journey began in 1981 when I left teaching political science at the University of Juba in southern Sudan to join the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sudan. Thus began the first eight of 20 years working among those assisted and protected by the refugee agency. My first experiences were with emergency assistance programs for Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees in Eastern Sudan, Chadian Refugees in Western Sudan, Ugandan refugees and Sudanese returnees in Southern Sudan.

From Sudan I moved to Namibia, in 1989, to repatriate refugees as the country gained independence—a joyful event for those returning. In 1990, I traveled to Sierra Leone to ‘settle’ and assist 100,000 Liberian refugees in villages all along the eastern border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. From 1993-95, I headed the UNHCR Office in Sarajevo during the war, overseeing an airlift into the city, the delivery of supplies to locations all around the country, and the protection of those displaced from their homes by the ethnic conflict.

I later ran operations in South Africa, Kenya, Somalia and the Horn of Africa from Geneva Headquarters, and served as the Chef de Cabinet to High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. My final assignment with UNHCR, from 1998-2000, was as Regional Representative for the United States and the Caribbean, liaising with Congress, the State Department, the INS, other refugee-assisting agencies and the American public and Caribbean governments, appealing not only for funds, but also for support for refugees needing asylum, resettlement and at the very least, acknowledgement of their plight.

In 2000 I moved to Gaza first as the Deputy Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and from 2005 as UN Under Secretary General and Commissioner-General until 2010. The Agency is responsible for providing protection and basic social services, including education and health, for the five million plus Palestine Refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Since retirement from the UN, for the past four years I have been focusing on refugees and displaced persons in and from Syria as a Commissioner on the UN Human Rights Council’s mandated Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. The day before yesterday, I returned from Geneva where our commission presented its 10th report, detailing results from the last 400 of 4,500 interviews with refugees in countries neighboring Syria and with those displaced or in need inside Syria. In this, our latest report, we focused on groups of victims, the longest section under the label ‘Women.’ It is the women who have increasingly become a target and used as a ‘weapon’, particularly after the entry into the conflict of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has committed unspeakable crimes against girls and young women, among others.

At the same time, we repeated our unheeded, or at least un-acted upon, refrains from our reports since 2011, regarding ending the violence, ending the supply of arms and bringing the parties to the conflict, and those arming and bankrolling them, to the table to negotiate, in the first instance, to agree on transitional political arrangements. We hope one day our mandate for accountability will be realized through the use of our data bank, describing war crimes and crimes against humanity on all sides of the conflict, leading to indictments at the International Criminal Court or at a regional or ad-hoc tribunal.

This has been a long introduction, intending to give you an idea of the groups of refugees whom I shall describe—glimpses that will not always be pretty ones, given the horrors of war and occupation, but ones which may provide hope and strength and courage from recognizing and appreciating these same attributes exhibited by refugees, especially refugee women.

The women have no choice but to stand tall and to act determinedly in the face of repeated, longstanding adversities, rarely wishing, or being able, to escape what is happening to their families. First and foremost among refugees, it is the women who search for the positive and meaningful, as they confront their initial, usually overwhelming, circumstances in a foreign land. They realize that they must deal with the deficiencies of their immediate surroundings, but they must also think about the future for their families, for their children. Women are the ones who are often left to take, seriously and confidently, responsibilities for the family, their children, their homes, even their neighbors. One of the most telling indications of how well they understand their predicament, is to observe their obsession with education, the first of all priorities among refugees everywhere. Education they know is the best, often the only, way to ensure a better future for their children.

There are two adjectives used by many outsiders to describe refugees from every part of the world. I find myself repeating these words whenever I speak about any of the many refugee groups in the 13 countries where I lived and worked over my 30 years with UNHCR and UNRWA. They pertain to every type and location of refugee operation—emergency influxes and outflows, repatriation, persistent and multiple displacement, active war zones and asylum-seeking.

The two words are ‘resilience’ and ‘steadfastness.’ I often wished the refugees would go beyond these honorable characteristics—to get mad, to show their anger, to make demands, to boycott, to strike. But I have come to understand that the women knew best—these ‘methods’ would have come to naught. They understood that they had to be patient, to take advantage of what was available and not yearn for what is impossible—to wait for the right time, the right moment to act, and to make that moment count.

These observations describe my understanding of the beliefs, the roles and attitudes of displaced and refugee women, sometimes displayed unconsciously, other times with awareness and tenacity. In multiple instances it is the women who are left to make decisions regarding their children, to ensure that the family’s health and well-being is provided for, even to be the ones to cross checkpoints or borders in search of food and safety. These vital tasks are performed with determination and bravery, in the interest of guaranteeing some semblance of a future for their children, and often beyond this, for their community.

Consider the Syrian woman today whose husband or sons are among the thousands who have been detained or killed during the ugly, ongoing civil war, in a country once among the favored destinations for visitors from the region and abroad. The mother—or grandmother—or sister–is the one who must brave the checkpoints to search for food or medicines for her family. Male relatives are likely to be abducted or abused when trying to pass through checkpoints, so this ‘trial’ is left to a female. She may have to negotiate a perilous route to another town or to flee the country to take her children to safety. Once there, depending upon conditions, she almost certainly will find herself fighting for provision of shelter, food and education. Worse, she may have to let her young sons go out to work instead of to school, or agree to an early marriage for a young daughter. I have met and talked with many of these mothers, listening to their grievous and heartbreaking stories, pained as they are about the decisions they have felt compelled to make. They lament these decisions and the consequences for their children, but they have no other recourse.

The appeals the humanitarian agencies have made for funds to meet even the minimal needs of the Syrian refugees and displaced persons, and the generous hosting countries, have been only 37% funded! Shamefully, not even HALF the funds requested have been pledged! Hence, the world is now witnessing, and scrambling to cope with, the results of this neglect and indifference, this lack of compassion and generosity, where until today, it is only the neighboring host countries who have demonstrated the willingness to offer asylum and services, to the best of their ability.

Every day we see in our newspapers, and watch on our television or computer screens, the chaotic, and many times fatal, last chance rush toward Europe of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants. Some are stranded, some fall ill, or are dying. Many too few are offered humanitarian assistance, even fewer granted temporary asylum and fewer still resettlement possibilities.

Results of political efforts have been equally abysmal. Over four years of meetings, conferences, Security Council Resolutions, journalists’ descriptions, UN and non-government agencies’ appeals and reports, such as those by our Commission of Inquiry, have had little impact on ending the conflict, or even stopping the violence and the consequences thereof. Instead, we have watched, angry and discouraged, as the conflict grows horrifyingly worse, involving the appearance of new and frighteningly vicious armed groups, and spreading into neighboring countries.

I have dwelt on Syria, not only because it is my current (pre)occupation, but because it is one of, if not the, worst of today’s refugee/displaced/female crises.

Moving on to other refugee situations, past and present, I hope to lift your spirits (as I do my own) with more inspiring examples of what women can do and have done when confronted with displacement.

Women I call to mind frequently, especially when feeling impatient with lack of results in one situation or another, are the Liberian females who were the majority among refugees who fled into Sierra Leone in 1990. We had ‘settled’ them, most unusually, thanks to the cooperation of local Sierra Leoneans, in 600 villages along the eastern border, as it was near impossible, given the country’s lack of infrastructure, to set up refugee camps for them (and just as well, given what occurred subsequently).

Hence, when the war in Liberia spilled over into Sierra Leone, we struggled to find a way to move the refugees closer to the capital, Freetown. Again, with little choice (no trucks, for a start), we moved thousands, mainly women and children, across the country, a distance of 200 miles–on foot. A few cars accompanied them with food and water, and transport when some simply couldn’t walk any further. However, most of them actively (Liberians are not known to be passive!) and with good-nature cooperated in the best interests of their children and the elderly among them. Such courage and generosity so often goes unnoticed and unacknowledged, despite attempts to tell the story.

In eastern Sudan, I keep a picture in my mind of Eritrean and Ethiopian women, children in their arms and at their sides, standing patiently for hours in long queues in the hot desert sun to ensure their children were vaccinated against measles when an outbreak began to ravage the refugee camps. No pushing, shoving, or complaining. Just stoicism and determination that their children would not fall ill. They accepted and made the best of living in refugee camps for many years, while their male ‘leaders’ negotiated the division of their country, and its spoils, so they could return to their homes.

Refugees returning to Namibia proceeded cheerfully to their former villages, with only a small amount of local currency, food supplies and materials to build a simple ‘tukul’ or hut. The women took charge, both of supervising the building and of doling out the food and the money, so that there were equal shares for all family members. Again, despite the meagerness of the assistance, complaints were few and the Namibians got to work, rebuilding not only a ‘new home,’ but also a new life, in their own country and their own village. These were refugees who had also waited, patiently, while the world, the United Nations and neighboring countries wrangled for years to agree on the conditions for Namibia’s independence, so that Namibians could return home.

These examples describe the state of many current refugee situations—a plurality of women and children languishing in camps while others ploddingly negotiate their future.

Under very different circumstances, while attempting not to exacerbate the conditions in crowded Somali refugee camps in Kenya, UNHCR acted against its mandated principle of insisting upon asylum in neighboring countries. We initiated an unusual approach of providing aid to border villages inside Somalia to allow Somalis to stay at home. Many were more than willing, avoiding the conflict elsewhere in the country, and relieved not to have to cross that border to the somewhat lawless territory where the refugee camps had been created in Kenya. It took some courage to make this decision, and the women were among the most supportive in what they viewed as a better solution than becoming a refugee.

From my time in Sarajevo. I have nothing but admiration for the women who stayed the course, queued up, under threat of bombing and snipers, for the rations, flown into the besieged city. Impressive, as well, were those who continued to live their lives as ‘normally’ as possible, using underground locations for concerts and lectures and places to gather for meals. Their intent was to ensure their children would grow up aware of their culture and be ready and able to rebuild their country once the war ended.

In the Caribbean, my task was mainly to encourage countries to sign up to the 1951 Refugee Convention. It was not so easy, as the refugees were few and far between, a Nigerian in one island, a Somali in another. But there was a family that stood out, from Macedonia. They had been searching for ‘the most peaceful place in the world’ where they, as a couple with different religions, could be confident their children could grow up successfully, without discrimination and prejudice. They chose Barbados, as a place they could reach more easily than New Zealand, which had been their other choice. They arrived on ‘holiday’ and claimed asylum for themselves and their two children. They succeeded, found jobs, and, as far as I know, happiness in a new home.

While my story telling could be multiplied many times, I have tried to illustrate the many situations in which refugees find themselves and the many different ways they take their lives into their own hands—positively and usually successfully. I hope I have been convincing about the crucial role of women in some of the most difficult circumstances families encounter—being forced to leave behind one’s home, one’s country, one’s belongings, and even, in some respects, one’s language and culture.

Nowhere do the refugees face as longstanding a problem and uncertain future as those of the Palestinians. They live under occupation with no prospect of achieving a state of their own. I cannot even begin to describe or represent their anger, their frustration or their anxieties about their future. Those who continue to confront the oppressive conditions, particularly in the Palestinian Territory of West Bank and Gaza are heroes in every respect, men, women and children alike. All of us have much to learn from the resilience and steadfastness of the Palestinians in the Middle East.

There are 20 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced persons in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, parts of Europe and elsewhere, many, if not most of whom are struggling, some of them dying in their attempts to change their circumstances, and others whose lives have been shattered and will not easily be rebuilt, as a result of conflicts, whose origins were NOT of their own making.

It is up to us, we who have comfortable lives, in safe places, to give thought to what we can do to help those less fortunate, to advocate for them, to press our elected officials to take heed and make the right political decisions and exert the right pressures on parties to the conflicts, and our business leaders to share some of their wealth, not only for the poor and oppressed abroad, but also for those who, so to speak, are in our own backyards.

These are some of the reasons I heartily welcome the work of Senses Cultural. I salute its efforts on empowering women affected by war in the Middle East and the outreach it achieves in universities and other institutions. It takes courage, in many communities in the United States, to take a stand on issues related to this region. We should appreciate and be grateful for the work of Tata and her organization. I encourage all of you to support the efforts of Senses Cultural and help to spread the word about its important and crucial work for Middle Eastern women.

I would be very happy now to take any questions, before we move to view the exhibition, the real purpose of our being together here this afternoon. I thank you for your attention.

Info
Date: October 5, 2025
Duration: 1 Day
Farideh Niroomand
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community. Through Senses Cultural, she offers training to ensure support and a continually better quality of life to families and individuals dealing with autism. She is skilled in improving communications with autistic people, and offering guidance for self-care. This in turn helps moderate low frustration tolerance, and possible acting out or aggressive behavior. Her work concentrates on offering support, advocacy, referrals, treatment plans, and awareness. At Senses Cultural, she also offers educational webinars.
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Senses Cultural is a nonprofit organization and has received its 501c3 nonprofit approval, which allowing to receive tax-deductable donations, among other benefits. Please make out your tax-deductible contributions to Cultural Media/Senses Cultural or make your donation through our website and Facebook page. We want to hear about your thoughts on what we are presenting to you. Tell us about innovative ideas for promoting our rich Iranian culture. We want to share these ideas and spark conversation about how to create opportunity and prosperity for everyone. Contact Us Subscribe to our newsletter by completing the form below. We’ll send periodic updates about our work, events and relevant news. We would also love for you to be a part of us by donating, volunteering and partnering with us. You can also connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.
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WAYS YOU CAN HELP
MAKE A DONATION
Senses Cultural is a nonprofit organization and has received its 501c3 nonprofit approval, which allowing to receive tax-deductable donations, among other benefits. Please make out your tax-deductible contributions to Cultural Media/Senses Cultural or make your donation through our website and Facebook page. WAYS YOU CAN HELP We want to hear about your thoughts on what we are presenting to you. Tell us about innovative ideas for promoting our rich Iranian culture. We want to share these ideas and spark conversation about how to create opportunity and prosperity for everyone.
Donate
Marzieh Forghani
Dr. Marzieh Forghani is a clinical psychologist at Kaiser Permanente in the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Center at San Jose. She has experience working in community mental health facilities, in early intervention with children on the autism spectrum, and in general outpatient therapy with individual children and families conducting psychological assessments and providing individual psychotherapy. Her specialties include conducting psychological and cognitive assessment, evidence-based individual psychotherapy, as well as group therapy. She believes in early intervention of family and community education. Her practice originates from a strong drive to implement empirically based diagnostics, effective familial support, and tailored recommendations for treatment. She believes that collaborating with caregivers and a specialized team, children on the spectrum can receive an accurate diagnosis, which serves as the first step in establishing treatment for the individual and support for his/her family. Dr. Forghani is passionate about providing psychological services to culturally diverse populations, including refugee and immigrant children. She speaks English, Farsi, Dari, Arabic and French.
Honorary Board Members
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Mesbah Ansari Dogaheh
Senses Cultural is pleased to announce that Dr. Mesbah Ansari Dogaheh is joining the Senses Cultural and Shokraneh MavadatJahani (SHOMA) advisory boards. Dr. Ansari has been a strong advocate for the inclusion persons with disabilities as a counselor in the Iranian Mission in cooperation with CRPD Secretariat and the International Disability Alliance in New York. His main focus has been the inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities. He has also been active with the United Nations Social Development Department. His expertise includes treatment of persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders. He currently is a PhD candidate in International Relations. More importantly, he is the father of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2015 Dr. Ansari was invited to serve as a panelist at the World’s Autism Awareness Day event at the UN in New York. In addition, he was also Iran’s representative at the Parent Skills Training Meetings organized by World Health Organization in Geneva. With more than 10 years of experience in advocacy for the rights of persons with pervasive developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities, he has contributed to the startup of a number of national NGOs and charity foundations. He has also run workshops on the empowerment of families of children living with mental and intellectual disorders. Along with his wife,he has run social networks including a website for empowering families living with disabilities, and the website: includes photos and information about his own son and his son’s treatment. Senses Cultural and Shokraneh MavadatJahani (SHOMA) are honored to have Dr. Ansari as part of our organization and we look forward to his guidance and help with our mission.
Board of Advisors
Mesbah Ansari Dogaheh
Senses Cultural is pleased to announce that Dr. Mesbah Ansari Dogaheh is joining the Senses Cultural and Shokraneh MavadatJahani (SHOMA) advisory boards. Dr. Ansari has been a strong advocate for the inclusion persons with disabilities as a counselor in the Iranian Mission in cooperation with CRPD Secretariat and the International Disability Alliance in New York. His main focus has been the inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities. He has also been active with the United Nations Social Development Department. His expertise includes treatment of persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders. He currently is a PhD candidate in International Relations. More importantly, he is the father of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2015 Dr. Ansari was invited to serve as a panelist at the World’s Autism Awareness Day event at the UN in New York. In addition, he was also Iran’s representative at the Parent Skills Training Meetings organized by World Health Organization in Geneva. With more than 10 years of experience in advocacy for the rights of persons with pervasive developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities, he has contributed to the startup of a number of national NGOs and charity foundations. He has also run workshops on the empowerment of families of children living with mental and intellectual disorders. Along with his wife,he has run social networks including a website for empowering families living with disabilities, and the website: includes photos and information about his own son and his son’s treatment. Senses Cultural and Shokraneh MavadatJahani (SHOMA) are honored to have Dr. Ansari as part of our organization and we look forward to his guidance and help with our mission.
Board of Advisors
Leila Nafarieh
Dr. Leila Nafarieh believes autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. They see, hear & feel the world differently to other people. All of them share certain difficulties, some of them have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions. It means they need different levels of support. As physician, Dr. Nafarieh thinks that with the right sort of support people can live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing. It is her pleasure to join Senses Cultural and Shokraneh Mavedat Jahani as a physician who can help such kind of patients. As an Advisory Board Member, she will participate in team work to help people with this disability. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder need multilateral support, in terms of diagnosis, treatment, education and parental awareness. Dr. Nafarieh is pleased to share her 13 years of experience in multinational pharmaceutical companies, like work with new & high-tech products, positioning the new products for disease, patient educations, physicians awareness about new products. Based on her education and experience, Dr. Nafarieh can be a part of team for medical support, raising awareness of community, help physicians, patients and families.
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Nasser Moeini
Nasser Moeini is a former international civil servant who joined the United Nation Transition Assistance Group to Namibia in 1989. In 1990, he was posted to Afghanistan by the United Nations Children’s Fund as an emergency officer. For the next 22 years he continued to work for Unicef in different capacities and managed program development and implementation for various Unicef field offices. He retired from his UN job in 2012. He joined the advisory board of Senses Cultural after in 2012.
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Mohammad Nami
Mohammad Nami (born in October 30th 1978, Tehran) is an Iranian medical doctor and applied neuroscientist. His medical specialty is on neuroscience and he holds a clinical fellowship in sleep disorders. He is currently the Head of the Department of Neuroscience at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences. He is among the university’s top-ranked scholars due to his numerous scientific articles and speeches in international congresses and he has been recognized as a top-rated contributor to numerous international neuroscience events. He is the chief-editor of two international and interdisciplinary journals (JAMSAT, Neuroscience Research Letters) and currently, he is the president of the Iranian Neuroscience Society, Fars Chapter. The Neuroscience Lab (NSL/SUMS) is now a fine place for interdisciplinary studies of brain, thanks to his team and his efforts. Dr. Nami has always been active and interested in traditional Iranian country music, especially in singing. For the past several years, Mohammad gained experience as corporate trainer in the field of professional development skills at Behphar holding in Iran. He has been a Dale Carnegie’s alumnus since 2014 and yearns to gain further expertise in the field of organizational and leadership training. He is also passionate about the concept of “Neuro-leadership” and how our brain potentials drive our behavior as leaders to inspire others. He has led Brain Awareness and Autism Multidisciplinary works as well as Sleep Medicine/Sleep Neuroscience workshop across the country and the region over the past several years.
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Marsha Chinichian
Dr. Chinichian’s passion for clinical psychology and social justice work was reignited in the place she least expected – a corporate banking start-up. As Vice President of Training and Development, she developed one of the first formal national training programs for retail/wholesale and operation channels to span across over 2,000 associates in the retirement planning industry. She spent many days putting out “fires,” managing associates, working long hours, and coping with constant pressure. She was fueled by the excitement of the work and by the primary goal of helping seniors. Although it was gratifying, it also led to taking on positions of leadership that removed her from direct client work that she both craved and enjoyed. After 9 years in the banking and finance arena, she made a career change to reflect the altruistic values she was raised with. Dr. Chinichian is a cognitive-behavioral therapist whose primary areas of interest are child/adolescent development, complex trauma, and minority mental health. Her clinical training and experience have involved working in multiple therapeutic contexts, the use of multidisciplinary resources and efforts, and the management of a diversity of mental health concerns. She has worked with children/adolescents and their families in the contexts of schools, day-treatment programs, hospitals, probation programs, foster care, social and protective services, home-based services, outpatient clinics, and private practice. Dr. Chinichian spent six years of her training working with vulnerable and at-risk youth. This eventually culminated in her dissertation project, “Formative Program Evaluation of a Graduate Training Program Advocating for Youth with Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Extended Foster Care.”
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Karen Koning Abuzayd
Karen Koning AbuZayd has been a champion for humanitarian and development causes for over 30 years, serving with the United Nations following a decade of teaching in universities in Uganda and Sudan. She worked for UNHCR for 19 years in Sudan, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, the United States and in Geneva, where she headed the South Africa, Kenya and Somali programmes and was Chef de Cabinet to High Commissioner Ogata. She served Palestine refugees for the first decade of the new millennium from UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza , first as assistant secretary general and deputy commissioner general from 2000-2005 and then as 2005-2010 as under secretary general and commissioner general through 2010. Since 2011, she has been a commissioner on the United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Syria. AbuZayd holds an M.A. degree in Islamic studies from McGill University and was awarded an honorary doctorate and medal for public service from DePauw University, her undergraduate alma mater, which friends and observers have noted translates to a perfect name for her: “nourishing mother.
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Franklin D. Lewis
Franklin D. Lewis grew up in Southern California and attended U.C. Berkeley and the University of Chicago. He previously taught in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. Currently, he serves as associate professor of Persian in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and as deputy director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. He also served for a decade as president of the American Institute of Iranian Studies. Lewis’s research focuses on Persian and Arabic literature and philology, comparative literature and translation theory, Islamic studies, Sufism, and Baha’i studies. In addition to numerous articles in academic journals and encyclopedias, including the Encyclopaedia Iranica, Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān, and Encyclopedia of Religion, Lewis has published translations of fiction by Iranian writers, including In a Voice of their Own: Stories Written by Iranian Women Since the Revolution of 1979; Zoya Pirzad’s novel, Things We Left Unsaid (2012); and Jamalzadeh’s Masumeh of Shiraz. He has also written on the poet Sanâ’i (1995), and the popular 12th-century Sufi saint, Shaykh Ahmad-e Jâm, The Colossal Elephant and His Spiritual Feats: Shaykh Ahmad-e Jām (co-authored with Heshmat Moayyad; Mazda, 2004). In 2000, Lewis’s Rumi: Past and Present, East and West (Oxford: Oneworld) received the BRISMES British-Kuwaiti Friendship award. The book has thus far been translated into Persian, Turkish and Danish. His translations of Rumi’s poetry appeared in 2008 as Rumi: Swallowing the Sun. Working with Iranian scholar Hassan Lahouti, he has edited and translated the Spiritual Lessons of Borhân al-Din Mohaqqeq of Termez.
Board of Advisors
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Joanna Durkin
Joanna Durkin’s career in education began in her hometown of Taipei, Taiwan in 1980. After moving to the U.S. in 1992, she continued her passionate involvement in education and the health consultation industry. In 1997, she created the American Study Program (ASP), an organization that helped teenage students from Asia study in the U.S., and promoted natural healing with Chinese herbal medicine. Durkin is a member of Kiwanis East Midtown Sacramento, a licensed Life Coach, a DTM in Toastmaster International, president of the American Study Program, and the international education director of Durkin & Chen in Shanghai, China.
Board of directors
Joanna Durkin
Joanna Durkin’s career in education began in her hometown of Taipei, Taiwan in 1980. After moving to the U.S. in 1992, she continued her passionate involvement in education and the health consultation industry. In 1997, she created the American Study Program (ASP), an organization that helped teenage students from Asia study in the U.S., and promoted natural healing with Chinese herbal medicine. Durkin is a member of Kiwanis East Midtown Sacramento, a licensed Life Coach, a DTM in Toastmaster International, president of the American Study Program, and the international education director of Durkin & Chen in Shanghai, China.
Board of directors
Alessandro Prigione
Dr. Alessandro Prigione is a professor of general pediatrics at the Heinrich-Heine-University (HHU) in Germany. Previously at the Max Delbruck Center in Berlin, Dr. Prigione is an expert on various forms of intellectual disability. His team at HHU bridges two different research areas: i) human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)-based neuronal disease modeling, and, ii) mitochondrial metabolism.
Board of directors
Alessandro Prigione
Dr. Alessandro Prigione is a professor of general pediatrics at the Heinrich-Heine-University (HHU) in Germany. Previously at the Max Delbruck Center in Berlin, Dr. Prigione is an expert on various forms of intellectual disability. His team at HHU bridges two different research areas: i) human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)-based neuronal disease modeling, and, ii) mitochondrial metabolism.
Board of directors
Tata Monfared
Tata Monfared is the founder and president of Senses Cultural, a non-profit organization based in Sacramento, CA, dedicated to promoting the science and treatment of autism in the United States, in Middle Eastern communities, and internationally. She leads Senses Cultural research, education, travel and arts programs designed to promote the science and treatment of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. Her vision has led to collaborations with a host of countries, universities, and research institutes, and she has personally funded programs to bring together educators in the field of autism. Through her leadership, Senses Cultural has obtained an exemption by the U.S. Department of Treasury to work in sanctioned countries. As a result, Ms. Monfared was able to take a high-ranking U.S. delegation of scientists to Iran, a country where she has held regular workshops, seminars and art exhibits to promote the science of autism and help local communities. In 2018, Senses Cultural signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UC Davis MIND Institute, a research center committed to the awareness, understanding, prevention, care, and cures of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.The MoU facilitates the exchange of academic faculty, students and information with Senses Cultural to promote joint educational, scientific and cultural programs. Together, the two organizations successfully planned the launch of an international stem cell conference in 2021. Ms. Monfared has simultaneously worked with the MIND Institute and with Dr. Alessandro Prigione at the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine based in Berlin and now at the Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf, Germany, to develop a proposal that provides funding for two research positions to carry out genetic studies on autism. The proposal will lead to a larger research grant.
Board of directors, Founder & President of Senses Cultural
Tata Monfared
Tata Monfared is the founder and president of Senses Cultural, a non-profit organization based in Sacramento, CA, dedicated to promoting the science and treatment of autism in the United States, in Middle Eastern communities, and internationally. She leads Senses Cultural research, education, travel and arts programs designed to promote the science and treatment of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. Her vision has led to collaborations with a host of countries, universities, and research institutes, and she has personally funded programs to bring together educators in the field of autism. Through her leadership, Senses Cultural has obtained an exemption by the U.S. Department of Treasury to work in sanctioned countries. As a result, Ms. Monfared was able to take a high-ranking U.S. delegation of scientists to Iran, a country where she has held regular workshops, seminars and art exhibits to promote the science of autism and help local communities. In 2018, Senses Cultural signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UC Davis MIND Institute, a research center committed to the awareness, understanding, prevention, care, and cures of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.The MoU facilitates the exchange of academic faculty, students and information with Senses Cultural to promote joint educational, scientific and cultural programs. Together, the two organizations successfully planned the launch of an international stem cell conference in 2021. Ms. Monfared has simultaneously worked with the MIND Institute and with Dr. Alessandro Prigione at the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine based in Berlin and now at the Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf, Germany, to develop a proposal that provides funding for two research positions to carry out genetic studies on autism. The proposal will lead to a larger research grant.
Board of directors, Founder & President of Senses Cultural
Randi J.Hagerman
Dr. Hagerman is medical director of the UC Davis MIND Institute and director of the Fragile X Research and Treatment Center. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders and is an internationally respected leader in Fragile X research including fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that is the leading cause of inherited intellectual disشability and the leading single-gene cause of autism.
Board of directors
Randi J.Hagerman
Dr. Hagerman is medical director of the UC Davis MIND Institute and director of the Fragile X Research and Treatment Center. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders and is an internationally respected leader in Fragile X research including fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that is the leading cause of inherited intellectual disشability and the leading single-gene cause of autism.
Board of directors
Setayesh Ganji
Setayesh is a Rome_based visual and multimedia designer who currently got her master in design from Sapienza University. her passion of traveling the world, observing cultures and history, she amalgamated her creativity, passion, and unwavering commitment to excellence which made her a perfect match for senses cultural to communicate messages not only visually striking but also functional.
Visual Designer
Setayesh Ganji
Setayesh is a Rome_based visual and multimedia designer who currently got her master in design from Sapienza University. her passion of traveling the world, observing cultures and history, she amalgamated her creativity, passion, and unwavering commitment to excellence which made her a perfect match for senses cultural to communicate messages not only visually striking but also functional.
Visual Designer
Homeira Azimi
Homeira Azimi, a filmmaker and director, joined the Senses Cultural Foundation and Shokraneh Mavadat Jahani as our Art Ambassador of Autism. Senses Cultural Foundation congratulates this outstanding cinematographer for her achievements to help us attract artists who are passionate about promoting understanding about autism. The presence of artists in our community, and their support for our humanitarian projects, can significantly help reduce the challenges associated with raising a child with autism. Ms. Azimi was born in Tehran. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Literature. She helped produce films such as “Metropolis” and collaborated in the production of “When We All Sleep” produced by the renowned Persian film director Bahram Beyzai. She also worked with Varouzh Karim Masihi in the movie “Doubt” and the exhibition of Nasser Daghahi’s photographs. The movie “Dear Lady and Summer” is about Homeira Azimi’s experiences working on feature films. Ms. Azimi has also played in the movie “In the Mirror” which is a production of the Young Cinema Association.
Filmmaker
Homeira Azimi
Homeira Azimi, a filmmaker and director, joined the Senses Cultural Foundation and Shokraneh Mavadat Jahani as our Art Ambassador of Autism. Senses Cultural Foundation congratulates this outstanding cinematographer for her achievements to help us attract artists who are passionate about promoting understanding about autism. The presence of artists in our community, and their support for our humanitarian projects, can significantly help reduce the challenges associated with raising a child with autism. Ms. Azimi was born in Tehran. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Literature. She helped produce films such as “Metropolis” and collaborated in the production of “When We All Sleep” produced by the renowned Persian film director Bahram Beyzai. She also worked with Varouzh Karim Masihi in the movie “Doubt” and the exhibition of Nasser Daghahi’s photographs. The movie “Dear Lady and Summer” is about Homeira Azimi’s experiences working on feature films. Ms. Azimi has also played in the movie “In the Mirror” which is a production of the Young Cinema Association.
Filmmaker
Shuka Kalantari
Shuka Kalantari was our temporary Director of Communications from April-July 2018. She spearheaded initiatives to further the goals of Senses Cultural and the Academy of Health. Her background is in media strategy, journalism and podcast production. Her work focused on health issues and culture of immigrant communities. Shuka has reported from Turkey, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Thailand, Canada and across the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @skalantari and find out more about her work at shukakalantari.com.
Communications
Shuka Kalantari
Shuka Kalantari was our temporary Director of Communications from April-July 2018. She spearheaded initiatives to further the goals of Senses Cultural and the Academy of Health. Her background is in media strategy, journalism and podcast production. Her work focused on health issues and culture of immigrant communities. Shuka has reported from Turkey, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Thailand, Canada and across the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @skalantari and find out more about her work at shukakalantari.com.
Communications
Ludovic Robert
Ludovic is a London-based documentary photographer who is represented by Wostok Press. He works on environmental and social issues focusing on women and children’s rights. He is currently working on local projects, and supporting Senses Cultural advance the wellbeing of women, children and families suffering from neurological disorders.
Photographer
Ludovic Robert
Ludovic is a London-based documentary photographer who is represented by Wostok Press. He works on environmental and social issues focusing on women and children’s rights. He is currently working on local projects, and supporting Senses Cultural advance the wellbeing of women, children and families suffering from neurological disorders.
Photographer
Azade Mozhdefahbakhsh​
Azadeh is a scholar from Shiraz University and working under the supervision of Dr. Mohamad Nami the brilliant brain specialist from Iran- Shiraz University and Dana Brain Institute.
Scholar
FARIDEH NIROOMAND
Dr. Niroomand believes that autism and the autism spectrum are opportunities to turn individuals into successful members of our community.
Negar Yazdanpanah
Negar is a graphic designer based in Toronto, Canada. She has been working with Senses Cultural since 2017.
Graphic designer
Negar Yazdanpanah
Negar is a graphic designer based in Toronto, Canada. She has been working with Senses Cultural since 2017.
Graphic designer
Sina Araghi
Sina Araghi is a commercial and documentary photographer based in Los Angeles. Born in Tehran and raised in California, Sina has been photographing everything around him since the age of thirteen. In 2006, Sina completed his studies in Print & Multimedia Journalism from Emerson College in Boston, MA. Sina’s clients have included Giorgio Armani Corp, Elle Décor, Time Inc., La PrensaGrafica, WGSN,SoCiArtsProductions, Vision& Hope, and ChicPeek.com. His work has been exhibited in “Souvenirs From Iran” at Farmani Gallery, the “Flying with the Cage” at Phantom Galleries in LA, and the “heART of Iran” exhibition at the California State Capitol. Sina’s photographs can be found published in the book “Urban Iran” by Mark Batty Publishing and online at www.photobysina.com. Sina supports Senses Cultural mission to advance a peaceful and healthy world through the arts.
Photographer
Sina Araghi
Sina Araghi is a commercial and documentary photographer based in Los Angeles. Born in Tehran and raised in California, Sina has been photographing everything around him since the age of thirteen. In 2006, Sina completed his studies in Print & Multimedia Journalism from Emerson College in Boston, MA. Sina’s clients have included Giorgio Armani Corp, Elle Décor, Time Inc., La PrensaGrafica, WGSN,SoCiArtsProductions, Vision& Hope, and ChicPeek.com. His work has been exhibited in “Souvenirs From Iran” at Farmani Gallery, the “Flying with the Cage” at Phantom Galleries in LA, and the “heART of Iran” exhibition at the California State Capitol. Sina’s photographs can be found published in the book “Urban Iran” by Mark Batty Publishing and online at www.photobysina.com. Sina supports Senses Cultural mission to advance a peaceful and healthy world through the arts.
Photographer
Behrooz Badie
As a young teenage amateur photographer, Behrooz landed the role of shooting and capturing his uncle’s wedding with an old-school Canon in 1984. Nearly three decades later, Behrooz continues to capture people’s powerful moments as a favorite hobby. With two sons away in college, photography has become his life’s focus and that of his wife’s. The couple is often in the midst of chaos on wedding days, though they love every second of it. As a very friendly cast, they share nothing but the utmost respect and love for Senses Cultural’s mission which they help advance through photography.
Photographer
Behrooz Badie
As a young teenage amateur photographer, Behrooz landed the role of shooting and capturing his uncle’s wedding with an old-school Canon in 1984. Nearly three decades later, Behrooz continues to capture people’s powerful moments as a favorite hobby. With two sons away in college, photography has become his life’s focus and that of his wife’s. The couple is often in the midst of chaos on wedding days, though they love every second of it. As a very friendly cast, they share nothing but the utmost respect and love for Senses Cultural’s mission which they help advance through photography.
Photographer
Robert Miller
Robert Miller has over four decades of experience working with families of children with a wide variety of disabilities throughout the world. From 1999 through 2013, he served as Executive Director of the National Fragile X Foundation in the United States. Robert advises the Senses Cultural Academy of Health on matters related to serving families who have children with special needs. He helps organize and coordinate responses to families in need. Robert holds a Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood Special Education – Services for Families, from San Francisco State University.
Human Service Consulting
Robert Miller
Robert Miller has over four decades of experience working with families of children with a wide variety of disabilities throughout the world. From 1999 through 2013, he served as Executive Director of the National Fragile X Foundation in the United States. Robert advises the Senses Cultural Academy of Health on matters related to serving families who have children with special needs. He helps organize and coordinate responses to families in need. Robert holds a Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood Special Education – Services for Families, from San Francisco State University.
Human Service Consulting
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Derek Wilson
Derek Wilson is a writer and researcher based in Pennsylvania. He received a BS in Biology from Susquehanna University in 2016 and went on to work as a researcher in the biological sciences. During this time, he developed his skills in writing and raising funds for his lab/research. Always passionate about helping others, he now leverages his writing and research skills to raise money for non-profits and other worthy causes.
Content Author
Derek Wilson
Derek Wilson is a writer and researcher based in Pennsylvania. He received a BS in Biology from Susquehanna University in 2016 and went on to work as a researcher in the biological sciences. During this time, he developed his skills in writing and raising funds for his lab/research. Always passionate about helping others, he now leverages his writing and research skills to raise money for non-profits and other worthy causes.
Content Author