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In Conversation with the fabulous women at Chayn: Part 2

On day#4 of my 30 Day Blogging Challenge, I share with you the second episode of the conversation I had with three phenomenal women a few months ago.

Amy Johnson, Dina Ariss and Maryam Amstrad. In addition to their busy full time jobs, they all volunteer with the high impact social enterprise called Chayn.

I speak to each of these women and get to know them, and understand their journeys…

Some background information on Chayn

Chayn is a volunteer-run social enterprise led by the phenomenal Hera Hussein with a massive international footprint. It has a presence in over 11 countries and has 70+ people working with them.

Chayn leverages open-source technology to fight (domestic) violence against women. It empowers these women and help them lead healthier and happier lives. Hera, the Chief, is quite an impressive 25-year old woman with a sunny personality. She brings together many many inspiring women such as Dina Ariss, Amy Johnson and Maryam Amstrad to create massive impact through projects.

One of the exciting things Chayn does is- They regularly conduct focused marathon tech events called “Hackathons” which last a couple of days. Applicants are invited to the event and rigorously processed. The selected participants team up and create technology solutions to social problems, especially those affecting women. The hackathons are usually very exciting and competitive and they source sponsored and value-packed services as prizes for the winners.

The participant teams then go on to implement these ideas in the world with much support and mentoring from Chayn and their partners. It is pretty cool!

In the Part 1 of this series, we spoke to then fully pregnant Amy Johnson, the Scottish, Irish, English lass (all rolled into one).

We have news for you. She has since delivered this beautiful and healthy baby boy Rowan on Jesus’s birthday.

The wee Rowan. Amy Johnson's little treasure.
The wee Rowan. Amy Johnson’s little treasure.


And today we are speaking with Dina.

Dina Ariss

Dina is a gorgeous woman with a gushing and gurgling personality.

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                                                                           Dina Ariss wearing our Linen and Ikat Waistcoat

Dina is from the city called Aleppo, in the north of Syria. At the age of 22, she fulfilled a lifelong dream when she moved to the UK.

Dina jokes:

“I just loved the whole idea of the King and Queen. I used to dream of marrying Prince William. But now I am thinking Harry is way more fun!”

She had a degree in Banking and Finance, and had personal connections who could get her a job in private banks in Syria. But she says:

I didn’t like the idea of getting into a job because I knew someone. I wanted to get it for myself. I always wanted to get out of Aleppo, go out, see more people, discover new things. So I came up with the idea of doing a Masters degree in Damascus, the capital.

My dad was like Masters in Damascus? No no way. No way you can go to the capital.

My mom was much more encouraging and ambitious- She wanted us to be involved in everything and do everything.

So she had a chat with him for 5 minutes. She told my dad: “If she wants to do Master’s degree, let her go and do a Master’s degree. “ My Dad was like, “No way- Not Damascus. If she wants to go somewhere, she can go to Lebanon. She can study in Lebanon, and we can rent a house in Lebanon and visit her every 15 days.”

That definitely was not what I was thinking about. My mom said- “If you want to send her to Lebanon, we will still pay all this money for her to attend the American University even if the University is not in America. How about we pay this money and send her to England? She wants to go to England. “

My Dad was like- “What? That’s preposterous. She doesn’t even know how to fry eggs. Or how to make tea. How do you expect her to go all the way there and live alone?”

Amy quips: I was going to say- How can she go to England if she cant fry an egg- because they don’t let you in if you cant fry eggs…

Dina continues: Mom was like “Yeah, she has to learn how to be independent.” And in 5 minutes, everything happens, and in the next month I was in England studying English.

Amy: I love your mom.

Dina: So I came here, studied English, and struggled to go to university. It was really a struggle. Everything was so different. I didn’t know anyone. So I had to find out on my own how things worked and how to go to university, what they accepted and what they didn’t. And all the while I was studying English.

I came here to study Investment Banking but I also needed to study English because I wasn’t quite adept with it. My second language was French. So I had to learn English first before I did the Masters in Finance and Economics.”

How old were you when you learnt English?

22 -23.

How old are you now?


Dina: I came here to do Investment Banking. That was the deal with my Dad.

Amy: I am sorry but what’s the deal with Investment Banking.

Dina: When I came here, I figured it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I went with the other degree.

Me: You could be really rich if you did Investment Banking.

Dina: Yeah possibly. But you wont have any social life. It is too much capitalism and I was against it and more inclined to communism.

Me: It was against your values then?

Dina: Yeah I guess. I didn’t know it then. You just discover yourself when you come to a new country and when you are living alone. You rediscover your values. You meet new people and so things just change. Later on I got a visa to stay here and look for a job.

Apparently my mom wasn’t too happy about it at that point. My parents had different expectations- They thought right after Masters, I’d immediately land a job. I could work for 2 years and then come back.

Reality was different and I needed to struggle for 6 months after Masters before I found the job. I didn’t know about having to do internships while studying. I found out only later and then it was quite late to start with the job applications. Because of the cultural differences, it was hard to explain to my parents how things worked.

My sister found a job as financial manager in an Oil company in Aleppo. She it was like- I got a job. So come back here and find one too.

And I felt like- No, I don’t think I’m done here yet. And that was when the conflict started in Syria. So it was difficult to go back. The safest option to stay in England. I finally got a job.

My parents decided to travel to Stockholm. It was difficult for me to relocate to Stockholm or go back to Aleppo. I had already started a job here, had friends here. So I stayed here.

My aunts still live in Aleppo.

How are you dealing with whats going on in Syria?

I think when my parents were in Aleppo, it was a lot more difficult and stressful. All my friends are still in Aleppo, still in Syria.

You don’t know when the next bombing will happen. You see a lot of stuff on the news and you don’t know if it is true or not. Sometimes when the internet is not working, you don’t know whats going on. The hardest thing is when your parents don’t tell you everything. Once I was talking to my aunt and just out of nowhere she said: “Your dad’s now fine.” And I asked: “What do you mean he is fine?” She said:  “You don’t know?” I said: “No I don’t.” She said: “I’m not going to say anything. Just call your dad. “

Then I called my dad and I was so horrible to my mom on Skype. I told her to switch on the camera and show dad to me. When she did that, I saw my father’s face full of marks- purple bruises. That was quite hard. You don’t know what happened but accidently you find out. You just feel like your parents don’t tell you anything whatever the reason maybe. You feel like things are hidden and you don’t know if they are okay. They care about you and want you to focus on yourself and so they don’t tell you things.

I used to read a lot of the news and get emotional about it. Nowadays, I try not to read that much. I want to now try to help somehow because I believe you can’t help that much when you are outside and I don’t think it is the right time to go back. But I always have known that I am going back. I don’t see myself here forever.

UK opened more doors for me. But I have to go back. There are a lot of things to be done there. I am learning so many things here in Europe. Developing myself and my skillsets. I would like to transfer that- bring all these tools back to Syria.

We are the people. We are the future. And we should go there and build again. If we don’t go back, we don’t have the right to go there and complain.

I am trying to find a way to go back and help.

Civil war still goes on in Aleppo. One of the ways to help would be to find find people and organizations to collaborate with and work on solutions.

Ways in Which Dina has already begun this work here in UK:

With Chayn, we ran an intense 2-day Hackathon in the UK in November called #EmpowerHack which focused on creating solutions for refugee women in the UK.
She says: We had 50 participants selected from a pool of 100 applicants. Prior to the hackathon, we spoke to the refugees to understand the real challenges they faced. Also, we engaged the NGOs. At the hackathon, our participants worked with each other and built solutions. It was a very successful event – much more of a collaborative process than a regular hack and participant teams helped one another.

Three viable projects came out of it which are still carrying on the work and receiving support:

  1. A platform that helped pregnant women access health services
  2. Her Story: A platform that shared stories of refugees, not only in English but other languages too, expanding the reach of the stories.
  3. Coding for Refugees- Which teaches refugee women how to code in Arabic, enabling them to be suitable for IT jobs and support their families.


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