At 100 years of age, Anissa Najjar is one of the first female activists in Lebanon. Henrietta Holms, a friend and volunteer of WILPF Lebanon, interviewed Mrs. Najjar to capture her story. Read this inspiring account of how education, nationalism, and the belief in women’s capacity to create change can transform communities.
The Formative Years
Since the beginning, Anissa Najjar approached her social work at the community and local level. She believed that a successful community arose from its people empowering each other by learning, sharing, and passing down their skills and experience to future generations. While this tactic is now widely prevalent in contemporary development discourses, Anissa Najjar’s approach was revolutionary for her time.
Anissa Najjar’s upbringing in a supportive community helped mold her current perspective on activism. She recounts that her school created “a beautiful atmosphere” by separating politics from religion. There, teachers cultivated a young collective, united by their mutual love for their country. The school’s philosophy fostered individuals to live and to work together for not only their country, but for each other.
Furthermore, her community’s belief in the value of educators helped propel her. “Success breeds success” Anissa Najjar advises, recounting how she left home for Iraq as a young girl and became a teacher. After just one year, she assumed the role as the school’s principal. In total, she has created three sustainable schools in her lifetime by championing a symbiotic relationship between the community and students.
Women’s Education and their Communities
In her social work, Anissa Najjar imparts and instills her home village’s belief in the importance of education. She urges that women must be productive individuals as well as mothers in order to realize their full potential as citizens. According to her, “literacy of the mind” by schooling, education, and general “up-skilling,” ensures women gain economic independence. She firmly advocates that women will only feel emancipated once they are educated.
For Anissa Najjar, the literacy of the mind is dynamic – a dialogue between a cultural relativism and universalistic approach. She believes that by integrating the school systems of various villages, women can achieve true literacy of the mind by learning the skills needed in their respective area and village. It is these skills, Najjar contends, that will help women earn money to support themselves and their community.
Najjar further defends that women can only manage households by first learning to read and write. Recent microcredit programmes support her argument, demonstrating that literacy improves household production. Likewise, the notion that educating and teaching women practical skills – a foundational tenet of her social work – has become widely accepted and employed in ensuring the success and independence of women, and in turn, their communities.
Birthday Wishes from WILPF Sections
“What a joy to see this wonderful picture…how proud we can be about such great WILPF-sisters! And thank you for the enlightening interview…Best wishes also from WILPF Switzerland and many Happy Returns! Our thoughts are with the Middle East in these times…”
-Helena Nyberg, IB Member, WILPF Switzerland.
“Thank you for informing us about Anissa Najjar turning 100. I first met Anissa at an IB meeting in 1984 in Cartigny SCH. She is one of many reasons for me to get involved in the international WILPF work…I like and admire her very much. Please send her all the best wishes from WILPF Denmark and from me personally. She is really an example of, that joining WILPF gives you a long and fruitful life. In peace.”
– Ida Harsløf, IB Member, WILPF Denmark.
“On behalf of WILPF Palestine I extend to Mrs. Anissa all the greetings…Happy birthday to Anissa, she is a very distinguished lady that I myself and WILPF Palestine admire very much. We worked together in our beginning, she always was the mother, the teacher and the friend. I hope God offers her more strength, she is the example of a WILPF determined lady. All the kisses and hugs.”
– Hannan Awwad, IB Member, WILPF Palestine.
“On behalf of WILPF Italy I extend to Mrs. Anissa all the greetings. Happy birthday to Anissa, the founder WILPF in Lebanon.100 years ago!! Best wishes again to Anissa from WILPF Italy.”
– Antonia Sani, President of WILPF Italy.
“Thank you for this uplifting information. Pease extend congratulations to Mrs. Anissa Najjar from myself and the UK Section. I am thinking of all the precious WILPF women around the globe. I hope we are collecting their memoirs for our commemorations in 2015.”
-Lorraine Mirham IB Member, WILPF United Kingdom.
“Warm greetings. Please extend our warmest regards and good wishes for a happy and memorable 100th birthday to Mrs. Anissa Najjar on the part of the entire WILPF Nigeria section. Regards.”
– Joy Onyesoh, President of WILPF Nigeria.
“Please extend the greetings and good wishes for a happy 100th birthday to Mrs. Anissa Najjar on the part of the entire WILPF US Section! Best.”
– Catia Confortini, IB Member, WILPF United States.
“Congratulations on behalf of the PeaceWomen team! Best wishes from all of us. Very warm regards”
– Abigail E. Ruane, PeaceWomen Program Consultant
“WILPF Norway is happy to send our congratulations to your centennial celebration and hope you are well. Those of us who have had the privilege to meet you personally recall those encounters with pleasure. The cooperation between our two WILPF national sections brought us closer together and many personal friendships were made. Good wishes for WILPF Lebanon and for you personally.”
-Kirsten Margrethe Tingstad, President of WILPF Norway
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To see a video in Arabic detailing Anissa Najjar’s life and work, click on the picture. To send Anissa Najjar birthday wishes, comment above or visit her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SittAnissa.