Who is Hussain? – an interview

Exactly 2 weeks ago me, Kinga Plata – author of this blog met with an inspiring person. She’s a spokesperson for Who is Hussain? – non-governmental organization, which does really good job not only here in London but around the globe. We talked about their various actions, current events in the world…

And here is our conversation.
WiH: Kinga? Hi!

KP: Yes! Hello! Thank you for coming.
WiH: Thank you for coming to White Chapel.
KP: I asked you for this meeting to talk about Who is Hussain? organization you are part of. Of course your website is full of information but there are some questions I could not find answers for and also I would like to broader discuss what your activity is all about.
So, how did it all started? Who’s idea was to start the organization? And why?
WiH: It was just over 5 years ago here in London that the idea for this organisation was developed. It was a group of friends who were reflecting on the current state of the world, and were moved to use the inspiration of Hussain to stand for social justice. The organisation grew organically, bringing people together, uniting them and providing a vehicle through which they could do small positive actions in their local communities that would benefit others.. We wanted to unite people under a revolutionary role model who they can easily recognize and associate with like Martin Luter King or Hussain ibn Ali. They were individuals who stood for justice, dignity, respect and equality – and these are the values which we try to exemplify through our work. Hussain’s legacy continues to inspire many around the world.


KP: You say on your website that you are apolitical, areligious organization. Who are your members and volunteers? Do you ask them about their believes at all? Let’s say for your own record?

WiH: Our volunteers are individuals from a range of background – Christians, Muslims, Jews as well as those of no faith. Whilst many of our global representatives are Muslim, we work with a diverse group of people and encourage everyone to get involved. 

 

KP: Let’s get to the core, which is your activity and campaigns. Which was the first one? Blood donations? Giving food to the homeless or something entirely different?
WiH: It was a combination. Around the world, Who is Hussain carries out a number of great charitable initiatives, with many being focussed around donating blood, helping the homeless and providing food and water to those in need. From practical side actions like that are quite easy to organize and find partners who are happy to cooperate, like NHS for example. Also we believe that it is important that representatives respond to local needs, as per their local community and so our activities are not restricted and our outcomes are far-reaching.

Where possible, we try to collaborate with charities and other organisations doing similar work, so we can support and strengthen each other, rather than duplicating services. 

 KP: You did also set up awareness campaign. I guess that this year is #ItStartsWithYou. What is it exactly about?
WiH: Each year we run a different campaign focussed on encouraging people around the world to get involved and give back. The 2016 Campaign we launched was #ItStartsWithYou – communicating the message that we can all effect change, no matter how big or small our action may be. Once again, using the example of Hussain who gave his life in a stand against tyranny and oppression, we hope individuals are inspired to undertake social action that promotes justice and equality. 

KP: Well, talking about those issues in here is quite safe, but there are some countries where being too vocal can cost life…

WiH: We are very conscious of this, and we do not encourage anybody to do anything that would endanger themselves or others.. All we ask from our supporters is to do whatever they can that is both locally appropriate and culturally sensitive. The safety of our volunteers is paramount.

 KP: Tell me something about your past campaigns. For me the hair cut for homeless was really original and an amazing idea.

WiH: Yes, this was particularly effective. For many, a haircut is a luxury and so for us this was about restoring dignity. Not only does this provide an opportunity for us to better engage with those we are working with, but it improved self-confidence and made people happier. Another action the London team did was a CV workshop to help individuals with finding employment.

Other campaigns include #HussainInspires, which raised greater awareness of who Hussain ibn Ali is and what impact he has had on the world. #TeamGiveBack from a few years ago again encourage people to be part of a larger movement promoting positive action. Projects have included raising money to pay for live saving surgeries for children in Iraq as well as working with Room to Read to educate impoverished children.

Local actions include the 40 Acts of Kindness, where for 40 consecutive days individuals would undertake to do something small that would help others. Some went to elderly homes to spend time with the residents, others organised a food drive or donated blood.

 KP: Coming back to the homeless and helping them to find an employment. Do you possibly know if any of them managed to change their lives?
WiH: It is difficult to give specific statistics as we do not have a record of those we have engaged with over the years. But anecdotally, we know of some who have since been successful – others we see regularly and so are aware of developments. It is always nice to hear good news or success stories. 
KP: To make it all happen you cooperate with different organizations across the globe. Who are they?
WiH: Our partners and activities varies depending on the country we are working in. At the height of public consciousness on the refugee crisis we were helping Save the Children to raise the funds for refugee children. Since then our team in Toronto (and other areas) have been involved in welcome and resettlement actions. India and Pakistan have led projects focussed on aid and disaster relief work, the UK team have worked with St Mungo’s and there are numerous other examples. One notable achievement was the Lebanon team breaking their country’s world record on blood donation towards the end of last year. 

 KP: And how it all works from the financial side? I mean, how do you distribute money you get from your donors? How much goes for those in need and how much to run the organization? Is it anyhow regulated by the law?

WiH: We are a not-for-profit organisation. Whilst we do accept donations, our main focus has been to encourage people to donate their time rather than money. Our donors are mostly individuals and small businesses, which allows us to focus our energies on mobilising people. We follow standard good practise when it comes to accounting, and are transparent with our donors.

 
KP: Apart from your activity what also brought me here was Ashura procession I saw on the streets of London on 12 of October and thanks to which I found out about your organization. Do you know how many people attended?
WiH: This wasn’t organized by Who is Hussain, but many Shia Muslims attend this annually as part of the traditional processions marking the death anniversary of Hussain. Using his stand against tyranny and oppression as inspiration, this year there was an effort to make this into a a demonstration against ISIS and other perpetrators of terror acts. It is of course important to note that the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving individuals who contribute and give back to society, and that part of the message those in the procession were communicating. I’d recommend you contacting the organisers for more details.

KP: Do you think that your actions help some to avoid radicalization? 

WiH: The organisation is focussed on meeting local needs and helping where we can. The target audience is quite broad, and not focused on any specific faith, race or any other grouping. 

KP: Some time ago next to the article about battle to retake Mosul from ISIS I found this picture of a tank with a flag on it. It was the same one which I saw on Ashura procession in London. Is there anybody form your organization fighting in Iraq? Or does Who is Hussain? supports Shia militia?

WiH: Hussain is a very prominent personality for many Shia Muslims, and his shrine is located in Iraq. Many people around the world carry flags with his name on it, particularly those in Iraq. There is no specific correlation with our organisation or any other, and so it would be incorrect to assume any affiliation with Shia militia or any other group. Most Shia also see Ayatullah Ali Al-Sistani as the leading authority. He issued guidance discouraging Muslims around the world from leaving their homes in order to join forces in Iraq attempting to oppose ISIS, which is adhered to. There are different rulings for those living in Iraq. 

KP: What do you think personally? Is it going to be worse? 

WiH: Terrorism is a scourge on society and as there are always those who will peddle messages of hate and division. As long as there is disparity and inequality there are opportunities to broaden these divides.

KP: What do you think is a remedy for all this mess?

WiH: I am a strong advocate that dialogue can help overcome ignorance and develop tolerance. There needs to be a multi-pronged approach to targeting xenophobia, intolerance and hate. There is a shared responsibility for us all. Yes, world leaders and the media can influence with their rhetoric, but we also have a role to play in speaking out against injustice and assisting where we can. We have far more that unites us than that which divides us, and this is what needs to be developed. 

KP: Since I moved here, London’s multi-cultural society is what I like the most about this city. We can all live next to each other.

WiH: Definitely, in London we celebrate diversity.. Unfortunately, at times just because someone looks different, or believes a different faith they are seen as the other. We often find that negativity and intolerance are fuelled by people’s fear of the other, and this can be overcome by seeing each other as humans, who have the same concerns, hopes and aspirations. It is also important to note that those preaching messages of hate are a very small but vocal minority. The vast majority are those who respect difference and are willing to stand in solidarity with different communities. 

KP: It seems that they will keep us busy for the next few years… Thank you for your time and this conversation. 

 
For more information about Who is Hussain? visit:
https://whoishussain.org

And highly recommended article about one of WiH actions:
https://www.buzzfeed.com/aishagani/muslim-and-jewish-barbers-cutting-hair?utm_term=.vsYJpVaeY#.aby1LxpAz

 
 
 
 

Today is the day. Istagram

Because writing about anything it’s not enough. To give you better picture of what is for me the Middle East I finally decided to share also my experience from my own travels through this blog and Instagram. My very first visit to the region was quite bold one and those are my memories:
Travelling? Just don’t do it my way

Maybe travelling alone across the World with $100 in your pocket and no hotel booked is not really a good idea, but it’s definitely the greatest adventure you can experience.
I’m standing by the University gate trying to call the guy who was supposed to pick me up from the airport last night. No avail. Passing by students are looking at me with curiosity and even distrust. Some girls next to me are chatting and giggling in lower voices. They are coming into my direction. I know that they are smiling. I can see it in their eyes. I cannot see their faces. They are wearing veils. It’s Wednesday, October 27th 2010 my first day in Sana – capital city of Yemen.
Five minutes later four of us: me, Bushra, Amal and Iqlim are carrying my heavy luggage to the students’ house reception. My new friends are studying English Language and Translation and should be in their classroom right now, but they are still with me going from one building to another, marching along the Sun parched land and leaving in dozen of offices my photos and copies of my passport. In the last place we are trying to find out where I’m going to live and why it’s impossible to contact the person who should take care of foreign students. I asked the question and I got the answer. Without taking his eyes off the computer screen one gentlemen says that I could apply for a place in the students house, but not today. On Saturday. And as for the men I was trying to call, he was kidnapped two days ago and probably that is why he didn’t pick up the phone. I cannot believe this, I start to laugh.
We are going out. Girls have to go back to their homes and me, I don’t know. All the students are slowly leaving University Campus and when I look at them I see one very tall blond boy. He’s looking at me with “where have you been?” expression on his face. As I found later he’s name is Michael and he’s renting a single room in the Old City. So we are driving to his home right now, which is also going to be mine, for the next few months.
During my very first month in Yemen I have no classes at the University. Nevertheless I’m not bored at all. Never before in my life I’ve experienced such an enormous bureaucracy and laziness of clerks. But finally after struggling to get the resident visa in different offices, police station and hospital (in Yemen problem of HIV “doesn’t” exist so each single person who wishes to stay here longer needs to do blood test) my classes starts. Apart from me and Michael, students of Arabic Course for foreigners consists of one Korean, two Australians and group of Chinese – the most visible and audible students. Our ustad (professor in Arabic) is good, he’s even excellent I would say. Even though we have only one handbook to study from lessons are never boring. Somehow without any effort he can change any topic in something amazing and absorbing. But he has one disadvantage. He’s always late. Our ustad is late for each single class, from 10 to 45 minutes. It can happen that he doesn’t show up at all. However he’s not the only one. Some girls are late too so probably there’s nothing impolite in it and probably it just us – the rest of the students who are too sensitive. Picking up the phone during the lesson is fine as well, but I don’t do it. I still didn’t get rid of my weird European habits. At least somehow I managed to get used to the local habits and I’m not surprised any more when something like this takes place. But I was so painfully wrong when I thought that nothing would astonish me. The day has come. Today for some reason we cannot have classes in our schoolroom so we are waiting for ustad to let us in to the new one. Finally we are come in, so far nothing unusual, chairs, desk, blackboard – normal classroom. When everybody is inside and ustad finishes talking on his mobile and it’s time to close the door he actually does it, but because the lock is broken… he rolls quite big stone so the door remains closed and not wide open. After this normal classes starts. Therefore five minutes later one student has to answer his phone. Because he doesn’t want to disturb us he’s going outside, he rolls the stone on the side, closes the door behind him. So now ustad has to roll the stone back on its place and after about another five minutes, when the student finishes the conversation he has to push the door and the stone so he can get in and ustad back again rolls the stone to close the door. And like this two or three times per lesson.
This is how the University looks like, but it’s only part of my life in here. The Old City, this is the place where I spend majority of my time. It’s hard to describe it in words. Sana is one of the oldest cities in the world, situated high in the mountains and its old part is on UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s amazing, beautiful, mysterious, almost magic, full of live and energy. Some time ago, when I was already living here about one week and I thought than I know my neighbourhood good enough I decided to have a walk from my home in Hara Talha to Bab al Yemen – the main, ancient gate to the city. And because Old Sana is like enormous maze I got lost straight away. And while I was straying between picturesque buildings I could feel somebody watching me. It was a group of children, at the beginning shy but when they noticed that I had a camera they started to ask and shout to take picture of them, one, two……..five………eleven, all of them together, in small groups, each one separately. They were one of the best and my favourite pictures I took in Yemen. Nevertheless I still was lost and somehow I had to get back home. While I was circling around getting thirsty and tired I met him, my rescuer. It was middle-aged gentlemen wearing traditional Yemeni clothes and belt with Jambijja (curved knife, which is part of the traditional outfit). When he saw me – foreign girl walking around he just came and asked if I was lost and where is my home. I couldn’t even tell him my address. I just remembered the name of the nearest hotel and how lucky I was, he knew the place. On our way home my rescuer asked where I was from and the thing he said in reply left me almost speechless. It doesn’t happen very often when foreigners don’t link my country with vodka and communism. Not only he didn’t even mention those two things but started to talk about polish football and how our national team used to be good back in the days. He knew even the names of the players. We get home chatting about sport’s victories of Polish in late 60s and early 70s.
This is how passed my two first months in Sana. I’m going to spend here five more, during which I will experience more and more each single day, living intense life I had never before. I will learn Yemen, its culture and diversity. I will see for myself that it’s a country of many extremes, where nothing is black and white, from relations between people, through religiousness, hospitality, economic stratification within society, even weather and finally demonstrations and revolution.
So, as I said. My Instagram IG account: kinga_plata