Hanna Barakat is a 22 year-old American Palestinian Olympic runner and also our newest brand ambassador! She joins us in this month’s Sips with Sitti episode where she talks about some of the personal challenges she’s faced as a Palestinian woman, her biggest inspiration and her journey into athletics.
Q: How did the people and cultural influences around you impact your direction as an athlete?
“Growing up as a kid, athletics was always something that was valued in our household, and it was never you know some pressure that was put on my brother and I, but it was always sort of something that allowed us to express ourselves, allowed to face adversity, overcome challenges and it was really a holistic approach to athletics, it was more about what does it mean to challenge yourself, set goals, maybe fall short of those goals…and on top of that, hearing the stories of my dad’s Olympic ventures and travelling to different countries and meeting new people was just something that I personally grew up valuing, and so my dad is my biggest inspiration in my athletic journey, he’s been sort of like the rock throughout all of my athletic achievements and struggles”.
Q: As a Palestinian, being kind of looked at through this public lens, what has your experience been in terms of how your cultural background and upbringing has maybe posed either particular challenges for you as you’ve been competing or has been something of real strength for you or anywhere in between?
“Growing up in the diaspora, I think with a lot of Palestinians who grow up in the diaspora, you know there’s unique set of challenges such as being disconnected from family, walking various lines of fractured identities, maybe not fully being accustomed to the language or the culture an di think athletics has been a really wonderful way to begin to understand my own identify and make those relationships….but with that same token comes various other comments about specific notions of Palestinian-ness and who is allowed in these spaces and who is qualified to represent Palestine…I was all of sudden faced like a lot of questions of I speak Fusha, but I don’t speak the traditional dialect and so people were asking me how I could be Palestinian if I don’t speak the dialect…me not speaking my language is a product of the occupation, and that in of itself is an experience that so many Palestinians face across the world and I’m not alone in that feeling, that doesn’t make me less Palestinian and so coming to terms with some of those deep-seeded identity questions were definitely challenging.”
Noora explains the challenges of trying to connect and unify with Palestinians from the Palestinian diaspora
“I love that so much because I feel like that’s something that as a Palestinian, whenever you meet a Palestinian outside like you automatically have this sense, right like this comingness of home outside of home right, and it’s kind of finding ourselves in the little places that we grew up in, but also finding this identity that we can connect with and this love for a Palestine for many of us that have never lived in it, right we create this romanticism around who we are and what we represent from the stories we hear…but I love what you talked about this unity of coming together and who does really represent, what qualifies you to represent Palestine.”
Q: What are your hopes for the future in your particular position and what you might be able to achieve?
In terms of the future, I would really love to see a young generation of Palestinian female athletes specifically in athletics, I think athletics is one of the most empowering ways to come to terms with identify but also surprise yourself in really unique and empowering ways. You know you set goals and you think that’s what your capable of and you surprises yourself and it’s such a beautiful life skill that translates off the track…I think it’s so important to build connections between the diaspora and Palestinians in Palestine, also in the refugee community I think there’s a huge responsibility as well to, and there’s huge opportunity to connect home…I think that really inspires to know that just my existence on this team as somebody from the United States representing Palestine has inspired other people to pursue dreams that they didn’t know they could means the world to me.”
Q: What keeps you motivated?
“I keep a journal that I meticulously write in every day about what I did that day for practice or what I didn’t do and my trajectory in the past year and a half has been everything but consistent, dealing with health stuff, dealing with Covid, taking a gap year from university, moving different locations, finding out I was going to the Olympics three weeks before the event, it’s been a roller coaster and throughout this journal I write down pieces of information that has kept me going…in that journal I have bits and pieces from all elements of my life, from memories of swimming in the Tunisian ocean with friends from refugee camps who have never seen the ocean, to comments of people stopping me on the street while I’m wearing my jersey and the tear-eyed emotion that comes after it...I’m reminded that life can surprise you and just my existence is inspiring people and that in itself is enough.”
Hanna explains why she wanted to join forces with Sitti to become our newest brand ambassador
“It means a lot to be a part of this team, I’ve found so much inspiration from you all and thinking about my own future and what my life looks like outside of athletics, you guys are doing the work that I absolutely love and feel so connected to despite being in a very different place in my life, and so I feel so honoured to be a part of this team and potentially bring you know a different audience to Sitti and have that audience to learn about what Sitti is and hopefully make some more connections through that.”
Noora adding on that Sitti is more than just a business, but has given refugee women the ability to be independent and providers for their families
“And I always say this is more than just a bar of soap I mean yeah you can walk into any store and grab it, but this literally is a labour of love, this is an, it’s a representation of these women’s resilience to really make something out of themselves, to get up every morning, to serve their families, to really have that authenticity at its core and it’s something we always think about, it’s something we think about whenever we launch something new at Sitti.”
Jackie discussing the influential role of being a brand ambassador and the impact it has on the refugee community
“And I think also it’s not so much about us making a change as much as it is you as the brand ambassador or you as a purchaser, you are creating a set of tools by which the refugee community gets to make their own change right, and gets to impact their own community in a way that they’ve always wanted to and tried so hard to do but due to the systemic marginalization that’s in place in so many situations for them, it makes it very difficult. So kind of working together to remove those barriers, to be able to build wealth, and to be able to participate in a global economy is really something that you’re doing in your role but also being to encourage other people to do so we really thank you for that.”
Watch full episode here.