Sarah’s activism focuses on factors that influence the lives of underprivileged women – particularly Muslim women – from faith, feminism, ethnicity, and immigration to intra-family violence. Through theater and music workshops, Sarah empowers participants with diverse experiences and backgrounds to explore their own life stories and to form supportive communities. As a participant in the IVLP KARAMAH Leadership Exchange Course through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, she received focused training to support her activism.
In her unique approach to social work, Sarah often uses improvisational theater to create meaningful experiences with a lasting impact. In playback theater, audience members tell stories from their lives while simultaneously watching them acted out. This technique is part of the mission of her grassroots Palhik Mana. Sarah encourages people to overcome “restrictions we have in our daily life, in society, at work, sometimes in your own family… I work with people who never get the chance to focus on themselves. I want to open a small window of opportunity for them to find their own path and spread their wings like a butterfly.”
Sarah can personally relate to workshop participants who are often refugees or immigrants. She too has roots in another country as she grew up in Ghent with a Turkish heritage.
What’s more, most of the women are Muslim like her. She has learned much from them. “You can read about Islam and about the position of women in Islam, but to see it on the ground was an eye-opener,” she says. “The way you practice your faith – what you believe in – is so diverse, but this doesn’t seem to matter.
People on the outside think: ‘You’re Muslim so you’re all the same!’ So this is my task, in a way, through all kinds of activities, to show the outside world: “Be aware, we are not all the same.”
Experiences outside Belgium have also supported Sarah’s ongoing work. An internship focused on women’s rights took her to India. In 2007, she travelled to the U.S. for the IVLP KARAMAH Leadership Exchange Course, an experience she found life-changing. In the Law and Leadership program, Muslim women receive training to support their activism. They study challenges Muslim women face today, and also perspectives on Islamic law, leadership, and conflict resolution.
Meeting fellow program participants in the U.S. had a lasting impact on Sarah. “It was amazing to meet all those Muslim women – Muslim feminists – from all over the world. There was a large diversity of women: Muslim women with or without a headscarf, from all kinds of nationalities, so that was very interesting for me to see.” Sarah returned to her work in Belgium with new ideas and experiences.“So my dream is that one day we can all overcome. We can all make a change!”