Tara Kangarlou helps alleviate trauma and PTSD among Syrian refugees through her nonprofit ‘Art of Hope’

Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 17:50:12-04

HELL'S KITCHEN, Manhattan- “When you meet these children and you sit down with these women you realize the only difference between them and you, is that you were born in a different country," Tara Kangarlou said. This is the difficult truth for Tara Kangarlou when talking about the Syrian Crisis. “The issue of psychological trauma and PTSD challenges among the refugees is not being addressed," she explained. "One of my missions is to bring awareness to this challenge, what many people are calling invisible wounds.”

As a journalist for CNN and Al Jazeera America, she covered these stories for years. But in 2016, she decided it was time to stop reporting and start acting. “Seeing the same stories coming up again and again and having seen no solution to it made me angry,” she said. So, Kangarlou launched "Art of Hope," a nonprofit that partners with local NGOs to provide programming for refugee women and children. In November, she opened her first center in a Beirut slum. “We have around 80 beneficiaries," she described. "[We offer] vocational training, art therapy, and doll making classes for the women.”

Her goal is to help them rediscover a sense of self worth, dignity and normalcy. Along the way, she’s formed lasting bonds. “There was a little 12-year-old boy, his name is Ahmad, [and he] ran to me and said Tara I don’t want live here anymore, I don’t want to be like my friend," she recalled. "I asked him, 'what do you mean you don’t want to be like your friend?' He said he stabbed another 12-year-old boy and that was a very, very telling moment that described how these children are living.”

One of the other driving forces for Kangarlou is her personal connection. "It’s the Persian New Year, Nowruz, and this is a traditional spread," she described while showing me around her apartment. She was born and raised in Iran and after to coming to America as a teen, she recognized how many misconceptions countries have about each other. “We have the same dreams, passions and ambitions. We just want to live life," she said. "I think people need to realize that they have so much more in common with one another than what they’re being told.”

So she tries to bridge those cultural gaps through community fundraising events, like this one, where she served traditional Middle Eastern dishes. “What I decided to do is to bring awareness on the importance of unity and tolerance,” she said. And while she knows there’s much left to be done, Kangarlous feels a real difference is already being made. "Absolutely, [I've seen changes] that’s what really keeps us going,” she smiled. "I remember one of these ladies came to me and said I want to be beautiful but I was not able to and today I felt like I can. These moments are truly pivotal.”

Tara Kangarlous hopes to expand these pivotal programs to other Syrian refugees across the Middle East. For more information about Art of Hope visit