Tara Kangarlou is an award-winning journalist, author and humanitarian. Tara has reported and produced for major news outlets such as CNN, CNN International, NBC Los Angeles, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post and Al Monitor. Additionally she is the Founder and President of Art of Hope, a non profit organisation that provides trauma relief for war-torn refugees through art therapy and vocational training
At The Legacy Globe, we are collectively working alongside each other to leave lasting legacies which will empower future generations. How do you feel that your upbringing has shaped you?
Be kind and always remember the health of your mind and soul,” my father used to say every so often when I was a teenager until his death when I was around 23 years old. I am quite fortunate to be born and raised in a family that put community service, kindness, philanthropy, altruism, and lifting of others among the many precious values in life. Ever since I was a child, both my parents instilled such values in my upbringing- values that to this day I try to carry in my personal, but also professional life.
As a journalist, you have reported for many major news outlets and have spent much of your time on the ground in conflict zones and in the Syrian border regions of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. What advice would you share to an aspiring journalist who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I pursued journalism because I truly believe it to be a form of public service. For me, journalism and storytelling is a craft - a tool to take people into far away places and shed light on the issues that shape, impact, and influence the lives of not just your immediate community, but others around the world. That for me is one of the most humbling opportunities one can have in life — the ability to have a front seat when history unfolds, to listen and capture some of the deepest and most profound events that impact people’s lives around the globe, and to be able to tell those stories to others thousands of miles away. The only advice I would have for any aspiring journalist — whether it is broadcast, digital, or print — is to be passionate about this craft, understand the huge responsibility of tackling each story with accuracy, fairness, and trust, and ultimately remembering that your success in the field should not come at the expense of another person’s failure.
n your book “The Heartbeat of Iran” you capture some of the most nuanced and complex realities of life in today’s Iran through intimate stories of everyday Iranians. Please can you tell us about your experience of writing the book and the inspiration behind it?
Unfortunately for much of the rest of the world, Iran is only seen through the prism of news headlines, politics and its current government - to an extent that so many westerners (especially in the US) think that Iran’s history begins in 1979.
Iran is a country of 80 Million human beings rather than 80 Million nuclear heads; and that is a distinction so many people fail to make. Iran is one of the oldest civilisations in the world with a culture and heritage that extends three millennia; therefore, it is only fair to look at this country and its people through a deep, nuanced and multifaceted lens, and focus on its real people in an effort to understand this complex nation and society. It is only then that we can have an accurate understanding of Iran and Iranians. For the past many decades the dominant narrative through which the world sees Iran has been a dark, militarised and inhumane agenda—focused on the country’s government and their rogue behavior instead of the many millions of ordinary Iranians whose homes and dreams, fears and aspirations mirror that of millions of others worldwide. The Heartbeat of Iran is not just a collection of personal profiles nor a rosy picture of the country; but rather, it is a multi-faceted narrative that exposes an Iran within Iran, within Iran, within Iran, through the realities of life of its ordinary citizens, which allows you to consequently separate them from their government. Every single chapter unpacks layers and layers of social, cultural, historical, artistic, religious, and at times political nuance that is not commonly known by western readers and more so, rarely talked about in the mainstream media. At a time when the world is grappling by so much bigotry, populism, and social/racial divides, I felt the need to bring out people’s “shared humanity” through storytelling — in this case the people of Iran. So in short, my own personal immigrant journey and constant battle with dismantling the dominant and often times negative stereotypes against Iranians entwined with my work as an American journalist, and witnessing the very narrow lens into Iran, were among the principal reasons as to why I decided to write this book.
You are also the founder and president of ‘Art of Hope’. Please tell us about the organisation and how important do you think it is to give back as part of our legacies?
For me, “public service” or “giving back” are not so much about leaving a legacy, as I see that to be a bit self-serving. Quite frankly, I do not care about “leaving a legacy” in a classic sense of the phrase; but rather I care about how much change and impact I can bring while being alive, and how much of that change could continue to support others after I am gone. I have spent many years - since 2014 to be exact - on the ground in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey covering the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and the MENA region at large. In doing so, I couldn’t help but to notice the repetitive resurgence of mental health challenges, and the trauma-relief support needed among war-torn refugees and vulnerable host communities. Witnessing the horrors of war and displacement firsthand was the catalyst that helped launch Art of Hope in 2016. Art of Hope is a 501(c)3, nonprofit charitable organisation that strictly supports the mental health, PTSD, and trauma-relief needs of Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in Lebanon — home to the largest number of refugees per capita. I sure hope we can grow our services to other war-torn communities and in-need host communities; but for now, our resources only allow us to work in Lebanon, which is an incredibly devastated nation in and of itself. As a reporter, I also got to witness the power and “know-how” of local grassroots and NGOs; and therefore, at AOH, we only team up with local groups and professionals in the field to deliver our programming to those in need. We focus on children, teens and adults by designing various psychosocial and trauma-relief programming through Art Therapy, CBT, group workshops, private therapy sessions, summer camps, family interventions and more, where 100 percent of the funding I help raise in the US and UK goes to our programming in the field. Myself, our volunteers, and board in the US/UK all operate on a pro bono basis and give back as much as we can to the cause. I fundamentally believe that neglecting the Mental Health needs of war-stricken and displaced individuals is not only to the detriment of that person, but that of the host community and broader society at large.
What does the word Legacy mean to you and what legacy do you want to leave?
It is worth remembering that people will most likely not recall what you looked like, said, or did; but they sure will always remember how you made them “feel”. I want to leave the world with the knowledge that I used all my power and energy to advance empathy, kindness, and global engagement for the better.