Farahway Global moves people to action at the nexus of human rights and mental health.
Moving people to free hostages and political prisoners.
Moving people to walk with peers for mental health.
We had a glorious Jane’s Walk on a beautiful day in Regent Park. Our peer leaders and program partners were joined by more than 40 people, from current and former Regent Park residents, to people from across the city. We led the group on a route that reflects our journey from developing the program, to training, to leading peer walking/rolling groups.
Peer leaders shared their personal experiences Staff from the Centre for Social Innovation, Regent Park Community Health Centre, Dixon Hall, and TD Centre of Learning, shared their involvement in Building Roads Together (BRT), and their broader roles in the Regent Park community. The TD Centre of Learning hosted the closing of our walk, complete with delicious refreshments made by a member of the Regent Park Catering Collective, who is also a Building Roads Together peer leader.
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. I think of journalists, writers,…all those wrongfully imprisoned around the world. I think of their trauma, and their loved ones’ trauma. And I think of their courage. This year, Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian award-winning journalist, released on bail after 412 days of wrongful imprisonment in Egypt, is leading a rally in Vancouver. He is not fully free himself – on prolonged retrial as court sessions are postponed time and again, and having to check in at a police station daily – but he is fighting to free others still imprisoned.
“This day last year, I was a desperate prisoner clinging on any ray of hope in my dingy cell. Knowing supporters were fighting for me on the outside was another reason to continue and not give up.” ~ Mohamed Fahmy
When you’ve experienced wrongful imprisonment, or the wrongful imprisonment of a loved one, you’re compelled to do whatever you can for others sharing that experience. Because you know how all consuming, haunting, and traumatizing it is. Because you know that every supportive action cuts through the trauma fog, making freedom possible.
My friend Josh Fattal was held hostage in Iran for two years and two months. I could not communicate with him during that time – his prison guards withheld my letters to him, and he often didn’t even have a pen to write with – but I could feel his captivity in my bones. And now we carry the captivity of others with us wherever we go.
“In prison, the world conspires to convince you that you are forgotten. The walls stare in silence. The guards look at you as if they’ve never seen you before—appalled that you’d ask for more toothpaste or another cup of tea. The place pretends to have no memory. When word from outside slipped through the cracks or when a hunger strike caused the authorities to hand me letters from home, the prison temporarily dissipated, wind was a message from mom, the sun a salutation from my brother. A guard’s face even reminded me of a childhood friend. The support from the outside kept the struggle going—the struggle to stay human, to be true to myself, to try to love even though my world was full of hate. Evin prison is tough. But Jason, we are with you. As protesters chanted outside of San Quentin Prison, we chant to you: “Inside, outside, we are all on the same side!” Iran’s foreign minister Zarif gave a speech at my university last week. Jason, there were people outside and inside talking about you.” ~ Josh Fattal
The Fahmy Foundation campaigns for Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, at its first Free Press Rally. Jason has been held in Evin Prison for 284 days, much of it in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer. His family tried to retain Masoud Shafii, the Iranian lawyer who represented Josh, but Iran’s Revolutionary Court continues to block him from doing his job. They’re punishing him for bravely fighting to free Josh, and his friends Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, and punishing Jason and his family and friends in the process.
I ask you to support Jason and his family and friends on May 3. I ask you to support the other Fahmy Foundation campaigns featured in the Free Press Rally: Shawkan Zeid, photojournalist detained without charge in Egypt for almost two years; and Mohammed al-Ajami, a poet held in solitary confinement in Doha, Qatar’s Central Prison for almost two and a half years. I ask you to do whatever you can to shine a light on press freedom.
“As I continue to battle for my own exoneration, I am proud to work with notable Canadian friends, lawyers, and volunteers to remind world leaders that a free press is a fundamental core of the true democracy they promote.” ~ Mohamed Fahmy
Mohamed Fahmy, Josh Fattal, and I, along with other political prisoners and their family and friends, know what a difference your support can make.
“I guarantee that the journalists fighting to survive in solitary confinement will hear the noise we make for them, just like I did during my imprisonment. Support their cause and mine—the right to report freely and safely.” ~ Mohamed Fahmy
Join us on May 3, 11am outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, and online around the world.
Walk the Talk is a weekly walking advisory group of service providers involved in growing Building Roads Together. It emerged from Farahway Global’s project Building Roads Together that trains people to lead walking peer support groups to promote mental health.
It is a group of project partners, collaborators, and organizations and individuals who want to build the project together. Organizations involved include Houselink, Regent Park Community Health Centre, Daniels Centre of Learning, 416 Community Support for Women, Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario, Homegrown National Park Project/David Suzuki Foundation, and our Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park home. Supporters include Jane’s Walk and Toronto Public Health.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 16, 2015
250 notable Canadians, including comedian Rick Mercer, diplomat Stephen Lewis & author Michael Ondaatje, voiced their support today for Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy in an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Harper.
“We are writing to urge you to intervene personally and immediately [in Fahmy’s case],” states the letter, signed by 250 supporters, including Academy Award-nominated filmmaker & actor Sarah Polley, Academy Award-nominated director Atom Egoyan and author Naomi Klein.
After 411 days of incarceration in Egypt, Fahmy has been unsuccessful in his attempts to return home to Canada. His legal counsel, Amal Clooney, has stated that there is no legalimpediment to Fahmy’s immediate transfer to Canada.
Currently released on bail and facing a retrial starting February 23, Fahmy and his family are concerned that the Canadian government has not advocated on his behalf at the highest levels of the Egyptian government.
In response, Fahmy’s family and supporters organized the #HarperCallEgypt campaign last week to bring attention to their cause. Last week, the #HarperCallEgypt hashtag was trending on Twitter in Canada, with Margaret Atwood, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and MP Marc Garneau tweeting their support for his case. This support joins the 50,000 Canadians who have signed an online petition calling for Fahmy’s return to Canada.
Cecilia Greyson, sister of filmmaker John Greyson who was detained in Egypt in 2013 and a coordinator of the #HarperCallEgypt campaign, said that the support has been “overwhelming.”
“It’s been absolutely incredible to see support come in from across Canada,” Greyson said. “And it’s not stopping – more and more emails are coming from people asking how they can help.”
With statements of support from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau issued last week, campaigners for Fahmy’s cause are planning to keep up the pressure until they hear from Prime Minister Harper directly.
“So far, Mr. Harper has not spoken in support of Mohamed Fahmy, and we want to know why,” said Cecilia Greyson. “It’s time to hear from our Prime Minister.”
Contact: Cecilia Greyson (902) 401-0158
Feb. 11, 2015
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
I write to you as a Canadian, and as a survivor of having a loved one wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. I write to you knowing what it feels like every moment of every day a loved is held captive for political reasons alone. It is haunting. It is impossible to feel free. It is impossible to focus on anything other than setting them free. With your own two hands. Even when the power to do so is not in your hands.
The power is in your hands to call the Egyptian President and seek Mohamed Fahmy’s immediate release. He has been imprisoned in one of the worst prisons in the world for 411 days. 411 days! When every moment of every one of those days is torturous for him and all of his loved ones. His family has had to put their lives on hold and fight for his freedom with everything in them. For 411 days. Surely you can make one phone call to prevent them all from suffering one more unnecessary moment.
When my American friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd were wrongfully imprisoned in Iran, President Obama made a powerful public statement at the one year mark. He spoke to their families, publicly assuring them “that the U.S. government would continue to do all that it could to secure their release,” and closing his statement with “All Americans stand together in support of our citizens who are suffering through unjust detention abroad, and we will not rest until they are home. “
Don’t you stand with all Canadians in support of our citizens suffering through unjust detention abroad? Don’t you have the responsibility on behalf of all Canadians to intervene and end Mohamed Fahmy’s suffering through unjust detention abroad?
I am doing everything in my power to end the suffering of Mohamed Fahmy and his loved ones. I am asking you to do the same. Please call President Sisi and prevent Mohamed Fahmy’s unacceptable nightmare from continuing for one more moment.
Farah N. Mawani
Do you live and/or work in Regent Park? Do you want to improve your mental and physical health at the same time? And lead your peers in doing the same? Please join us for this workshop series at Daniels Centre of Learning.
“These words will be windows, not walls!” Josh pronounced as he started writing A Sliver of Light with Shane and Sarah.
Spending every day for more than two years engaging the world in their plight,
I was acutely aware of the physical and political walls that prevented them from sharing their words with the world. I felt them every time I posted on Facebook and Twitter, every time I sent a message, every time I told someone about them, every time I asked for help to free them. Without being able to communicate with them at all, I felt grossly inadequate at guessing what words they would want to share with the world. I found words grossly inadequate at capturing our collective horror. But I had to give every bit of energy I had to trying my best. The stakes were high. The stakes were their lives. Their freedom. Our lives. Our freedom.
Even now, after more than 2 years of freedom, I find their freedom to communicate overwhelming. And powerful beyond words. Their book is a manifestation of that power. In words. Every word I read, I feel everyone who fought for their freedom alongside me, with me. Free the Hikers core campaign team members who were with me every day, in person, via phone, Skype, gchat, email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Organizing, creating, collaborating, sharing, engaging, supporting. I remember those of you who followed their story so closely you asked me for updates if there was a gap of less than an hour in our social media posting. I will never forget.
Now you can all finally read their story in their own words. Better yet, you can attend one of their author events, and hear their stories in their own voices. We will be posting news about the events and media coverage on the Free the Hikers Facebook and Twitter accounts. Join us there! And we would love to see and hear your responses. Tag them #SliverofLight on Facebook, Twitter, G+, tumblr, Instagram, etc.
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” ~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Step by step. Bit by bit. Mantras to move through difficult times. Mantras I’ve turned to during a prolonged trauma, and my ongoing recovery. Mantras I manifest by literally putting one foot in front of the other, taking one step at a time. By walking. Walking to manifest movement forward. Even if only one step at a time.
When my precious friend Josh Fattal was taken hostage by Iranian regime forces, while on a hiking vacation in beautiful Iraqi Kurdistan, my heart stopped. I needed movement to keep it beating. Movement in music, movement in action. During his captivity from 2009-2011, it felt impossible to move forward. We were captive with him, in a state of suspended animation, holding our collective breath, until he was freed. Movement was the only way out of our entrapment. Literally and figuratively. We moved our campaign forward with constant action – fingers typing, letter writing, phone call dialing, vigil planning, strategizing, Facebook posting, YouTube filming, call to action tweeting. Josh, Shane, and Sarah moved as much as possible in their cells, exercising for hours a day. Josh told me once, after he was freed, that one of the lessons he had learned from his hostage experience was, “Exercise is the key to life.”
While he was limited to running on the spot inside his dark cell, I walked outside for Josh, because he couldn’t. I felt him with me, remembering our walks together, around the world, just before he was captured. In Switzerland, we walked in between Geneva trams, with our 33 students, rushing from WHO headquarters to our classroom, to UNAIDs, and back to our hotel. In Bangalore, India, we walked through the vibrant city that never sleeps, and ducked into Cubbon park, reveling in the natural enclave, and the chaiwallah and samosawallah. In Changsha, China, we walked across Central South University campus, wound our way through street food vendors just outside, and across city streets to get to much-needed massages. He took my hand to walk across a busy street to catch a show. In Cape Town, South Africa, we walked through streets and parks to our classroom, and through Kirstenbosch Garden, and a Western Cape hiking trail, sharing our dreams for our futures.
Josh’s hike in Iraqi Kurdistan with his old friends Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, eerily echoed our Western Cape hike, with one other friend/colleague. Three friends hiking through dry, mountainous terrain, in search of a stunning waterfall, and some peace and respite. I could imagine their hike so vividly. So vividly that I couldn’t shake the thought, “It could have been me. It could have happened to me.”
I visualized walking with him again when he returned – along rivers and in expansive, open fields. I walked along the Ottawa river, just behind my home, breathing in the sunsets and vistas, trying to dissolve my feelings of entrapment. I took photos of every step to share with Josh in freedom, hoping they could somehow replace a tiny fraction of the many moments he missed. Though I knew that nothing could. Even while thinking of him, seeking beautiful flora and fauna, connected me with where I was in those moments. Those moments that were mine.
I added words to my photos, in a blog post, to capture one special walk I went on for him on a Gulf island off the BC coast. I hoped it would somehow get to him in spirit, because the Iranian regime wasn’t giving any of my letters to him. Josh’s mother took a chance and without telling me, in case she wasn’t successful, sent it to him with one of her letters. It starts with:
“Josh, I keep trying to honour your request to appreciate my freedom. To notice and relish everything I sense – so that I can share it with you while you’re kept imprisoned, locked away from the world, unable to see your loved ones, feel the breeze, hear the birds, taste the rain. It’s hard to be fully present anywhere I am when my heart is with you. But these few days on Bowen Island I try to drink everything in with all my senses.” ~ Farah Mawani, Day 330: Bowen Island Hike ‘with’ Josh
The first time I saw Josh, after he was freed, he surprised me by recalling my post to me in vivid detail, as if he had walked the path with me. But during his captivity, and for a long time after he was freed, the prolonged and increasing threat to his life and well-being, took a greater and greater toll on me. Despite the solace I found in walking, I was often unable to get out the door – I struggled with utter exhaustion combined with anxiety about what could be just outside the door. As I write that, I have a flash of insight – Josh was captured while simply hiking with friends in a beautiful setting. And even after he was freed, the Iranian regime tried to instill fear in me by communicating that they were watching my every move. So it’s no wonder that even something as simple and necessary as walking could overwhelm me with fear.
For quite some time, one of the only things I could get to was the weekly psycho-educational group I was referred to. I felt compelled to honour my commitment to the group, despite the distance I had to travel, and found great relief and support in our shared struggles. One of our shared struggles was our difficulty exercising, even when we knew and experienced how beneficial it was. We searched for strategies to overcome our barriers to getting out the door.
As my recovery progressed I began to walk almost daily, seeking glimpses of nature in my Toronto urban environment. I searched for and photographed trees and gardens against urban backdrops. I sought new discoveries – new routes, new places and spaces – each new discovery, no matter how seemingly small, gave me hope for the future, gave me a desire for a future with positive possibilities around every corner. I went on a series of hikes with an old friend, in an old hometown, searching for multiple waterfalls all in one day.
I conceived an idea based on my experience of gaps in services/supports, and research evidence on the benefits of exercise and social support for mental health: walking peer support groups that would offer a combination of a commitment to groups, the benefits of emotional support, and the ease of walking, to reduce barriers to exercise. I designed Walking Peer Support Groups for Mental Health, a project, to train people living with mental health challenges and issues to start and lead walking peer support groups. The City of Toronto funded it tentatively for two years. The first year is under way.
When the City of Toronto funded it, and the Manager, Social Development there expressed great enthusiasm for the project, I was honoured by their recognition of the project’s contribution to city programs, and more importantly to the mental health of it’s residents. When my Self-Help Resource Centre (SHRC) colleagues at the time congratulated me, I replied: “The proposal is close to my heart, and took a lot of work. The work ahead to make it happen is the most exciting part.” It has been even more exciting and rewarding than I imagined. The enthusiasm of project partners is infectious and reinforces my vision and commitment. Houselink members, who I interviewed for a needs assessment, are passionate and articulate about the powerful, life-transforming benefits of their walking groups, and exercise as a whole. Houselink staff consistently contribute beyond their project commitments because they see the dramatic impact of exercise on their members. Members and staff are driven to spread those benefits to even more members.
The Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative (RPNI) is eager to offer the benefits of walking peer support groups to residents of Regent Park going through the upheaval and transformation inherent in community revitalization. I envision them maintaining connection to their constantly changing home, by walking through their evolving neighbourhood together, and supporting each other. I’m a founding member of the Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park, which I can see from my apartment window, so I am committed to building on my community’s strengths.
Walking Peer Support Groups for Mental Health has provided me with a remarkable opportunity to weave my past into my future. Walking group founders, leaders, and participants I interviewed for the project needs assessment embody key principles of peer support and manifest them as they walk. They shift leadership, give each other space, walk at their own pace, and support each other on and off their walking paths. They enable each other to carve their own paths within the context of their experiences and relationships.
“In an ideal situation, it’s not about showing people the path and then them following you. It’s walking along the path with them. Sometimes you will follow them, other times they will follow you. It’s building roads together.” ~ Key Informant, Needs Assessment
I look forward to continuing our steps towards building roads together. For me, it is part of my road to freedom.