Mutual Aid Initiatives to Support Migrants, Refugees and Victims of Armed Conflict.
Maya Rostam, a Syrian child-refugee, was discovered in the photography workshops created by Iranian photojournalist Reza while he was visiting Kawergosk Refugee Camp. “I (have) always communicated through photographs and words, this mix helps us to better understand (the) values we have in common. For this exhibition, A Dream of Humanity (Paris, October 2015), I wanted to highlight seven words which are part of our Humanity’s values. Here is one.”
Refugee camps are, for the Iranian photographer, a “land” he knows well. It is suffering he has seen many times and has photographed extensively…
If Reza captures human suffering so accurately, it may be because he himself knows the wounds of exile. Since he was forced to leave Iran in 1981, Reza has been relentlessly photographing wars and the suffering they bring. For over thirty-five years, he who has become one of the most recognized photojournalists in the world has born witness to the refugee situation throughout the world. He has been awarded many distinctions for his photographic work and for his humanitarian commitment.
In a newly established camp, Reza arrived with an idea: initiate children to photography. As he surveyed the alleyways of the Kawergosk camp for his own portfolio, he set up a temporary photography workshop.
She stands there in front of the tent. It requires patience and a silent presence. She has heard the news. On the second day of the photography course, I notice her. It’s her first time there. She observes and listens to our small group of 10 young students from afar. For two days, Maya Rostam, 12-years-old, does not leave us. It is the end of the day when the cold night falls on the camp and everyone disperses to their semblance of a home, in a tent, huddled against one another.
At the end of the second day, I approached her and asked about her constant presence. She tells me about the sounds of war, the long, grueling road of exodus, the scolding sun that beats down upon the survivors and the fatigue of the flight.
And since then, her life in the camp, with its rows of tents, and the occasional lull that makes them believe there is still the possibility of a new life. The days pass, and then months. An immense feeling of boredom invades her every day, the feeling of not living a real life, but a life of survival. I ask her why she is present and her answer reminds me of a child in Tabriz whom I photographed. Maya Rostam said:
“I want to learn photography because I believe that with it, everyone can see what I feel and how we live.”
So, I went to buy other cameras to expand the class, since, like Maya, other children follow us with the same enthusiasm. By the evening, she left with a camera. Her mission? To photograph at night. I added that I would like to see these photographs and if they are good, she could join the course.
Maya clenched the camera like a treasure and ran into the night amid the rows of tents before even fully learning how to use it.
But the next morning, Maya is not there. I am concerned and inquire about her absence, but no one knows which tent is hers. I remain confident.
The course begins. Maya appears and advances timidly. She is embarrassed, terribly embarrassed. I asked her about the delay. She said nothing and lowered her head.
I am busy with other students, but I repeat the question: “Why are you late?”
Without a word, she extends her camera out towards me to show me this image. She adds in an almost inaudible voice: “My shoes were frozen; I had to wait to put them on.”
I have never been so deeply touched by the symbolic power of an image.
Today, Maya Rostam a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in the Kawergosk camp in Iraq is one of the best students. She is becoming a visual narrator of her own story.
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For further information:
Find out more about Reza’s creative process on “Œil pour Œil,” a program dedicated to his work (in French): http://info.arte.tv/fr/loeil-de-reza-photographe#sthash.35wZMwTv.dpuf
Reza’s photography workshops exist because of the story of Maya, 9 years old: https://fr-fr.facebook.com/Rezaphotojournalist/photos/a.340882925986904.76241.331978343544029/572817156126812/?typé/
Exile Voices: Images by the Children of Kawergosk Refugee Camp:
Children of Kawergosk Photography Workshop | ARTE Info (in French):
A Dream of Humanity, a photographic mosaic by Reza with Ali Bin Thalith and Syrian children refugees (in French): http://www.paris.fr/actualites/reza-expose-son-reve-d-humanite-sur-les-quais-de-seine-2827
Lieutenant Antonio Dovizio of the Italian Navy, just returned from a year at sea performing search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where his crew rescued more than 5000 people. With Tareke Brhane, a former Eritrean refugee, now a European citizen, who made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, he founded the organization, the 3rd of October Committee. Underlining our human connection, Dovizio said, “When you come across a shipwreck, you don’t ask about their nationality, race or status, if they are a refugee or a migrant. You ask if the people are alive or dead.”
On the evening of Tuesday, December 15, the recently created Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum (MMJF), held a Season of Twinning event at the historic Atwater Public Library in Westmount. The event, which was sponsored by the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) featured Rabbi Lisa Gruschcow of Temple Emanu-El Beth Shalom in Montreal and Shaheen Ashraf, Secretary of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Montreal Chapter on the subject of “Welcoming Syrian Refugees: Muslims and Jews -s Working Together.” Dr. Karen Mock brought greetings from the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims.
Rabbi -Grushcow, who wrote a ground-breaking article in the Montreal Gazette last September entitled “Why Our Congregation is Sponsoring At Least One Syrian Refugee Family”, gave an inspiring overview of how her congregation has moved forward with determination on the project in the months since then; including raising more than $60,000 and filing papers to bring at least two Syrian families to Montreal in coordination with relatives already here, and beginning the process of helping to find employment for members of the soon-to-arrive families.
In the general discussion that followed the presentation by Rabbi Grushcow and Ms. Ashraf, members of the two communities agreed to explore ways to cooperate on facilitating the integration of Syrian and other refugees, making a contribution to the fight against obstacles to immigrant integration and standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. Follow-up plans are to convene the planning committee of the Montreal Muslim-Jewish Forum next month to develop a concrete agenda for ongoing Muslim-Jewish cooperation in Montreal in both the Anglophone and Francophone sectors.
Local Initiatives that Support Human Dignity
on a Daily Basis
United Invitations is about food, language and social interaction. It’s about making memorable meals and new dinner constellations happen.
The meal is a dinner, free of charge, and in someone’s home. The meal takes place with no strings attached, and signing up includes no obligations, apart from serving food at the agreed time.
Host and guests participate out of their own free will and with responsibility for themselves.
At least one of the participants should be a person who has moved to this country from a different country. The guest is always welcomed to bring one person along to the dinner.
The Union of Dutch Cities and the cities of Barcelona and Bogotá have initiated a new peace prize. The UCLG City of Bogotá Peace Prize is a triennial award for (a coalition of) local governments that have implemented innovative initiatives in conflict prevention, conflict resolution or peace building, that are proven to have had a significant positive impact.
Volunteers from both faiths will join to feed homeless people in New York City.
Zamir Hassan, founder of Muslims Against Hunger, was feeding homeless people in Boston’s central public park with a group of volunteers when he first learned of the attacks in Paris the previous night.
As the group made their rounds, a homeless man asked one of the volunteers what church she belonged to. Upon learning that she was Muslim, the man asked if she had poisoned the food. Five minutes later, Hassan told The Huffington Post, another man bit into a hummus sandwich handed to him by a volunteer and said, “This is delicious!”
The irony of those two very different exchanges, within minutes of one another, struck Hassan.
On Sunday, Muslims Against Hunger is partnering with the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and The Brotherhood Synagogue in New York City for a Muslim-Jewish rally and community service project. The event has taken place annually for five years, Hassan said, but this year’s gathering will take on new importance in the wake of Friday’s attacks.
Hummus is a signature dish of Middle Eastern cuisine — a delicious spread made from mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and seasonings.
On Thursday, hummus will become a symbol of peace as 15 Muslim and Jewish activists break bread together and participate in an all-day bus tour of Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia with a message of reconciliation. Bearing trays of homemade hummus and pita bread, the activists hope to spread the message that Muslims and Jews refuse to be enemies.
The activists will share hummus and pita with people they meet during the day and invite members of the public to sign a “Stand Up for the Other Pledge” created by Dr. Ali Chaudry, President of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
When violence broke out in the Galilee in October 2000, the ensuing destruction deepened tensions between the Jewish town of Karmiel and the neighboring Arab community of Majd Al Kurum. In the wake of the unrest, Osnat Aram-Daphna, principal of the Kalanit school in Karmiel, and Najeeba Sirhan, principal of Al Salaam school in Majd Al Kurum, decided to use their respective positions to reach out to each other.
Together, Osnat and Najeeba promoted open dialogue and understanding between their communities through education. They participated in a program organized by the mayor of Karmiel, leadership of the Arab villages in the Galilee, and the Ministry of Education to promote partnerships among Arab and Israeli educators.
The beginning was difficult and many people were skeptical. Osnat and Najeeba went from one educator to another, attempting to persuade them to become involved. Eventually, they each found 10 teachers who were willing to take the necessary risk, beginning a process of reconciliation for these two small towns.
After one year of meeting regularly, the group of 20 educators found that they had established a network of mutual understanding and trust. Osnat and Najeeba considered how to expand the process beyond the walls of their schools. Their vision was to create a forum for transforming patterns of prejudice and intolerance on a grander scale throughout their two communities.
Because of the transformative power of education, residents of Karmiel and Majd Al Kurum are able to interact as neighbors.
Much violent conflict takes place outside of war zones, often in urban areas. In Los Angeles, Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest, offers youth an alternative to the dangerous streets through job training and employment at his organization, Homeboy Industries. He said, “We have to stand against the idea that some lives are worth more than others.” In his Peace Talk, he described how youth learn to work alongside former enemies, a transformation many did not believe possible.
There was a time when Visitacion Valley middle school in San Francisco could have featured in a gritty US crime drama. Surrounded by drugs and gang violence, the kids were stressed out and agitated. One day children came in to find three dead bodies dumped in the schoolyard. “In 2006 there were 38 killings in our neighbourhood,” says Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s head of physical education (PE). He says the lives of students were infected by violence in the community, and several fights would break out every day.
In 2007 a meditation programme called Quiet Time was brought in to meet some of these challenges. “When I first heard about it I thought it probably wasn’t going to work,” says O’Driscoll. “We get thrown a new thing every couple of years so I didn’t put too much faith in it.” But in April, just a month after meditation began, teachers noticed changes in behaviour. “Students seemed happy,” says O’Driscoll. “They worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of fights fell dramatically.”
The programme, introduced to all ages, sees students sit for 15 minutes of meditation twice a day. Classes take place at students’ desks after the qualified TM teacher rings a bell. Students then repeat a personal mantra (a word from Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language) in their heads until they reach a deep feeling of relaxation. Sometimes the whole school meets to meditate in assemblies.
Before the students learn to meditate, the Quiet Time programme requires all staff to be trained in TM. O’Driscoll was sceptical at first about mediating himself, but since giving it a try he can concentrate better and feels less stressed.
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