Who is Chavia?
My name is Chavia, which means “fountain of willpower” in Kurdish. I am not sure what my parents were expecting, but I feel the name was not badly chosen.
I was born in Kobani, in the north of Syria. When I was 9 months old, a stranger came to visit, and has never left me since: the stranger that occupied my body was polio, a common illness in Syria at that time.
This event is something that has had a great influence on the person I have become, in a way this stranger has also become my friend. From the age of three to thirteen I spent most of my time in hospital in Madrid, so I grew up speaking Spanish, in a Catholic environment, and meeting other children from around the world who were there for treatment.
When I was fourteen, I moved back to Aleppo to reconnect with my family, and started school there, mostly home schooling. I had to learn my home language, Kurdish, as well as my language of studies, Arabic. At twenty, I started studying law at university, and realised how many obstacles people with disabilities face in accessing education.
This is when I started to work as an activist. At first this was to gain better conditions for students at the university, but soon the work extended to all aspects of rights for people with disabilities in Syria.
The Cultural Forum for People with Special Needs, which I founded in 2004, became a registered NGO in 2006. The reason the process took so long was that the forum dealt with culture, disability, and rights, which was an entirely new approach in Syria. At that time, all associations were organised as charities.
Over the years, the cultural forum was not only able to organise numerous activities, such as adapting accessibility in university facilities or collecting data on the number of students with disability and their needs, but was also implement changes in legislation and policy.
At the beginning of the war, I remained in Aleppo. But in 2012 the situation became so serious that I was endangering not only my own life, but the lives of relatives who had stayed with me. In 2012, as many other Syrians, I came to Sweden to escape the war. Here, I took a master's in international human rights law at Lund University, with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.
Being a human rights activist here in Sweden is different in some ways, but the issues are fundamentally not so different from those I experienced in Syria. To make any progress, the structures and values in our societies must change. To achieve this, I feel it is important to share our experience as human beings, to benefit from each other’s insights.
Currently, as well as working with my organisations, I am a committee member of the Syrian Constitution Committee established by the UN Special Envoy for Syria, in which I am advocating for human rights in the future of Syria.
In 2020, I began working with UNDP Headquarters in New York, as an international advisor and research assistant for the Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), helping to develop more inclusive and accessible policy and programming. Since September 2021, I became the Disability Focal Point for RBAS, based in Amman, focusing on embedding a human rights approach to disability in the region.
Working with human rights is an important part of who I am, but not everything. I love to enjoy life to the fullest, and I am passionate about making the world accessible for all to enjoy.
Welcome to my world!