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Arab American Women Making an Impact: Lily Karam

posted on: Oct 20, 2020

By: Ivey Noojin/ Arab America Contributing Writer 

Lily Karam is an activist living in California who has dedicated all of her life, and over 90 percent of her time after retirement, to helping Palestinians. Even with a career and children, she made time to support organizations relating to the Arab world. Even retirement can’t stop her.

“I was always involved on one level or another with an organization,” Karam said.

After her involvement for decades, just last year she created her own organization to help fellow Palestinians, proving that it is never too late to make a difference.

Immigration To The U.S.

Lily Karam moved from Haifa, Palestine to California in 1975 at the age of 25. She followed her husband, who lived there.

“I had the desire to come to the United States before I even became married,” Karam said.

She felt very restricted in Palestine, especially in a political sense. Instead, in the U.S., Karam felt more at home. Within a year and a half of moving to the other side of the world, she started working in Realestate. She hardly knew her surroundings, and yet she was still able to sell specific locations to buyers. Karam made around a million dollars in her first two years.

“I was doing the right thing, obviously,” Karam said.

Forty years later, she retired from her career as a realtor. Even with this decision to stop full time, she continues to carry an active license and often does referrals for other realtors and buyers. However, her retirement has not stopped her from making an impact on her community. Instead, she was able to focus even more on her activism, which had begun well into her childhood.

Lily Karam’s Activism

“I always had that desire to organize things and do humanitarian work,” Karam said.

Even in high school in Palestine, she organized events for her peers. Even though she was not allowed to engage in politics, she still was able to get a political message through her events with art.

When she moved to the United States, it felt natural to Lily Karam to continue her activism, especially since her husband also cared about making an impact on the community. For example, during one massacre in Palestine, she went to several media outlets, trying to get them to air videos of the horrific incident. They told her the videos were too controversial and therefore never showed them on their program. However, Karam then learned of the necessity for more activism for Palestinian rights in the United States.

She then started volunteering at her children’s school, organizing events, just like she did in high school. Karam also joined several organizations within her community in California relating to the Arab world. She became known for doing the research and putting the time in to make the best proposals for change. Within this activism group, she made several meaningful connections that would ultimately lead to a job.

Lily Karam became president of the Southern California chapter of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund in 2005 after getting to know the co-founders.

“They knew I was a do-er,” Karam said.

During her 20 years as president for this chapter, she helped other chapters start and managed activities and fundraisers. It was at this organization where she came up with the idea of her next project.

Current Project

Lily Karam, along with several colleagues from Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, created Palestine Foundation in January 2017, whose motto is “helping people help themselves.” She did not want to just provide medical supplies; she wanted to give Palestinians the tools to grow themselves. With this foundation, Karam helps start sustainable projects related to habitat, education, medicine and the arts and ultimately empower those who request their services. She also works with Community Based Organizations, instead of Non-Governmental Organizations. Karam believes in the power and resolve of Palestinians to do what they need on their own with only some assistance.

Within two months of its creation, Palestine Foundation had received almost 15 applications for grants. The need for this organization’s assistance has only grown since then. In the past year and a half, Karam has raised money for music schools in refugee camps, funded a film about agricultural sustainability and partnered with other organizations to help Palestinians with their water consumption.

“It is like another child of mine I love and want to see grow,” Karam said.

Lily Karam has seen first hand the impact of activism and encourages everyone to do the same. She believes no one should be afraid to join an organization. It could even lead to a job one day. She also recognizes the power of encouraging volunteers.

“A thank you can never go far enough,” Karam said.

We thank you, Lily Karam, for all of the hard work you have done for the Arab American community and Palestinians.

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