Building Roads Together: Leading Walking Groups for Wellness

Building Roads Together: Leading Walking Groups for Wellness

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 looks at one of the first copies of 'A Sliver of Light' in awe.

Josh looks at one of the first copies of ‘A Sliver of Light’ in awe.

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.

I hold their words in my hand.

I hold their words in my hand.

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.

NOTE: A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran will be released on March 18, 2014. Preorder it here:

Well on My Way: Transforming a hike to captivity into a walk to freedom ~ Farah N. Mawani

“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

Image

Josh on our hike together in Gordon’s Bay, Western Cape, South Africa
Photo: Farah N. Mawani

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.

Image

Shadows of me walking on the beach with my brother and
nephew shortly after Josh’s release. Photo: Farah N. Mawani

NOTE: Shane, Josh, and Sarah’s book, A Sliver of Light, will be released on March 18, 2014. Preorder it here:

Freedom Season: The Time Is Right to Free Tarek Loubani and John Greyson

DAVE CHIDLEY / THE CANADIAN PRESS

DAVE CHIDLEY / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Re-posted from The Huffington Post

The time is always right to do what is right.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This time of year has become Freedom Season for me. On September 21, 2011, my precious friends Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, were freed after being held hostage by the Iranian regime for 2 years and 2 months. On September 14, 2010, my other friend Sarah Shourd, was freed after 410 days in solitary confinement in the same Iranian prison. I will never forget those days. Along with all their loved ones, I could not be free until they were free.

When Sarah was freed, the sky grew larger, and I imagined how immense it would grow, when Shane and Josh joined us in the free world. Now that Josh and Shane are free, I am able to feel the growth of the world around me, with news of every political prisoner freed. On September 14, 2012, Jason Puracal, the brother of my friend Janis, was freed from Nicaragua, on September 18, 2013, Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights defender extraordinaire, was freed from Evin Prison, Iran, and on September 23, 2013, Hamid-Ghassemi Shall, husband of my friend Antonella, was freed after more than 5 years imprisoned in Iran. The joy of those hard-won battles for freedom, by people around the world, is resounding. The sky expands, creating more air for my lungs, more space to fly.

Hearing the first words from Tarek Loubani, and John Greyson, two Canadians wrongfully detained in Egypt for 1.5 months, telling the story of their arrest, torture, and abuse, clouds that sky.

…we were: arrested, searched, caged, questioned, interrogated, videotaped with a ‘Syrian terrorist,’ slapped, beaten, ridiculed, hot-boxed, refused phone calls, stripped, shaved bald, accused of being foreign mercenaries…They screamed ‘Canadian’ as they kicked and hit us. John had a precisely etched bootprint bruise on his back for a week.

Imagine the horror and heartbreak of hearing that from your brother, son, friend? John’s sister Cecilia responded, in a statement, with “Given John and Tarek’s horrendous experiences from the day of their arrest until now, we have absolutely no faith that they will receive justice at the hands of the Egyptian legal system.”

Friends, colleagues, and supporters of theirs are flooding social media sites with their heartbroken and shocked responses, and the inboxes of Foreign Minister John Baird, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with calls for them to step up the pressure for Egyptian authorities to free Tarek and John.

Our shock deepened when rather than answering to their disturbing first account of their experience, and the shock expressed by people around the world, an Egyptian prosecutor ordered them detained for another 45 days, and Egypt’s Foreign Ministry confirmed charges of “participating in an illegal demonstration,” and suggested impending charges of espionage. With not even one phone call to their families to date. What reason do Egyptian authorities have for denying them and their families that basic humanity? Their basic human rights?

Cecilia Greyson spoke to CTV News on behalf of family members, “To have the detainment extended for another 45 days is truly awful for all of us.” I am sure that is an understatement of what their families are experiencing. I imagine that, like we had to, they’re checking their emotions in order to focus their energy on doing everything in their power, every moment of every day, to end their surreal nightmare.

Tarek and John are humanitarians, who have devoted their lives to improving the lives of people around the world. Tarek was “trying to save lives” in response to calls for a doctor at the protest, during their unplanned stay in Cairo. They were only there because they were unable to cross the border into Gaza, where they planned to work on a partnership project between Western University in London, Ontario, and al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Dr. Fahim Ali, a colleague of Tarek, feels compelled to share his experience with Tarek:

I travelled with Tarek and 15 other medical professionals to Gaza last year to help teach a course in cardiac resuscitation. Tarek has only been practicing medicine for about 6 years. In that time he has helped develop an emergency residency program in Gaza, helped overhaul their emergency system, and taken a variety of other specialists to and from Gaza to develop and help advance medical care for the 1.8 million residents of Gaza who are under siege there. Most of this work is funded by Tarek himself. Tarek is no ordinary person. The fact that he is in a prison on Egypt without reason is not only an injustice it is a travesty.”

Though Tarek knew he faced risks going to a region in conflict, his colleague Dr. Gary Joubert highlights, “It’s always been important for Palestinian-born Loubani to give back to his homeland.”

As someone who takes risks to give back to my homeland, Kenya, I can relate to that. As Tarek’s father, Dr. Mahmoud Loubani asserts, rather than punish them, “If the Egyptian authorities…know about their mission, they should reward them and be proud of them.”

Both Tarek and John are cherished by their families, friends, colleagues, and continue to inspire them while held captive in deplorable conditions, silenced, and denied due process. Every supportive action you take contributes to FREEDOM for Tarek and John, buoys their spirits, and keeps their loved ones going. Just as every action supporters took for Josh, Shane, and Sarah were beacons of hope for them, myself, and all their loved ones. So please go to tarekandjohn.com for a list of actions you can take to reach out, hug them, and pull them home.

Bullets to Butterflies – An Interactive Art Exhibit

*UPDATE: The show has been such a success, Artscape has extended it to June 10, 2013!*

We are excited to announce that Farahway Global will be hosting Bullets to Butterflies, a collaborative exhibition and interactive art installation by Canadian artists Unaiza Karim, Saba Syed and Huma Durrani, focused on 15 year old education activist Malala Yousafzai. Like so many around the world, we are greatly inspired by Malala’s remarkable resilience in surviving an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen, and her fearlessness in fighting for girls’ right to education. She has now become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee in history.


We need events such as Bullets to Butterflies to mark such horrific tragedies around the world and in our backyards, and transform them into hope and action for change for our communities, and especially for our children, and youth.  At the very least, they deserve the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I hope you will join us in supporting, promoting, and participating in Bullets to Butterflies. RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook. Follow Bullets to Butterflies and Farahway Global on Twitter for updates and live tweeting. Tweet along with us using #B2Butterflies.


poster - daniel spectrum extended

Peer Support Workshops

group3Have you ever wondered how a peer support group could help you, your community, your clients/members, or organization cope with transitions, health/mental health issues, or other shared challenges? Or are you already planning or engaged in a peer support group?

Join our Founder, Farah Mawani, and the Self-Help Resource Centre at our upcoming interactive workshops at the Centre for Social Innovation – Regent Park, 585 Dundas St. E.! We have designed them for you to take individually or as a series. Register for both workshops and get a discount! Individual workshop rates are $50/person, and a package of two workshops costs $80/person.

Peer Support 101: March 22, 2013, 1-4pm.Learn about peer support groups, their principles, and distinction from professionally-led groups; the impact of peer support on health and well-being; the process of starting a peer support group; the common stages peer support groups go through; and the benefits and challenges faced by peer support groups. $50/person

Peer Support Groups: Challenges and Opportunities: April 26, 2013, 1-4pm. We will share tools to help you address common challenges faced by peer support groups, and make the most of opportunities offered by peer support groups. We will cover setting boundaries and guidelines, listening, non-violent communication, and conflict resolution. $50/person

Please contact Farah Mawani, for more information and to register.

Let us know if you are interested in attending our other peer support workshops, co-hosted by the Self-Help Resource Centre or having workshops tailored to the needs of your peer support group, colleagues, or organization.

FORUM: Canada’s Recent Immigration Policy Changes: Implications for Mental Health

Credit: Rights of Non-Status Women's Network

Credit: Rights of Non-Status Women’s Network

Our Founder, Farah N. Mawani, will be speaking on ‘Systemic Discrimination and Mental Health’ at this forum hosted by the Rights of Non-Status Women’s Network.

This open forum is a place for VAW workers, shelter workers, community health workers, students, activists, academics, and community members to discuss recent changes to Canada’s immigration system, including Bill C-31 and cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFH), and the implications of this for service providers working in the areas of immigration, gender, and non-status rights.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
12:30 p.m. Registration & Refreshments
1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Open Forum

**Location: Galbraith Building, University of Toronto, 35 St. George Street, Toronto**

Please RSVP by sending an email confirmation to Rights of Non-Status Women Network by Mon Jan 28.

Please also RSVP and invite your friends and colleagues on our Facebook event listing.

FEATURED SPEAKERS
Julie Lassonde ~ Implications of Bill C-31
Vanessa Wright ~ Implications of cuts to IFH program
Manavi Handa, RM ~ Impact of changes for pregnant refugee women
Farah N. Mawani ~ Systemic Discrimination and Mental Health
Raelene Prieto ~ Gender and Mental Health
Tanisha Sri Bhaggiyadatta ~ Community Needs Assessment & Next Steps

Registration Fee (for operational costs) to be paid in cash at the door. A receipt can be provided.
· All people: $5.00
· Students are free. Please bring your student I.D.

~
Space is fully wheelchair accessible.
Please let us know of any accessibility needs so that we can do our best to accommodate them.
Light lunch and snacks will be served.

Please bring materials from your agency to display on our resource table!
~
The Rights of Non-Status Women Network would like to thank our event sponsors for their generous donations:
The South Asian Community Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO)
Forced Marriage Project – Agincourt Community Services Association
The Sweet Potato Natural Foods Grocery Store
Agora Cafe

SPARKS TALKS WEBINAR: Inspire Action for Change: Social Media for Social Good

SPARKS TALKS WEBINAR

Please join our webinar hosted by the Girls Action Foundation, part of their Sparks Talks Webinar Series.

Register here and RSVP and invite your friends on Facebook.

Follow @_GirlsAction, @FarahwayGlobal, and @farah_way on Twitter for the latest webinar buzz.

During this webinar, Farah will share advice for inspiring action for social change based on her intensive experience with global human rights and mental health campaigns. Farah has applied her commitment to community engagement and social justice to a wide range of issues, from political prisoner campaigns, to mental health equity, to promoting and building capacity among peer support groups

Whether you are taking action in your local community or want to create change in the wider world, this webinar will inspire you to set your goals high and take practical steps to make them happen. Farah will share strategies for building the scope and level of engagement of supporters, within complex and sensitive sociopolitical contexts. She will highlight the importance of peaceful communication, and demonstrate the potential for amplifying impact by integrating social media with media, and community-based events.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Farah N. Mawani is a Visiting Scholar, Massey College. She has global teaching, research, and policy experience in social determinants of health, mental health, inequalities in health, and community-based research. She has national experience in roles including Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Mental Health Strategy, Mental Health Commission of Canada; Multicultural Mental Health Resource Centre Steering Committee member; Mental Health Reform and Policy research team, Centre for the Study of Gender, Social Inequities, and Mental Health; and National Coordinator for numerous national health research projects.

Farah recently founded Farahway Global, a non-profit organization, based at the Centre for Social Innovation, that engages the global public in action for human rights and mental health via social media integrated with community-based events. It builds on Farah’s experience co-founding and directing the social media and global public engagement components of Free the Hikers, which freed Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, held hostage in Iran for 2 years and 2 months.

ABOUT THE GIRLS ACTION FOUNDATION SPARKS TALKS WEBINAR SERIES

The SPARK TALKS webinar series features inspirational stories, advice and tools from ground-breaking women. Presentations are always followed by an interactive Question & Answer session. Direct from your computer, participate in FREE webinars on topics such as safe cosmetics; women in the arts; social, environmental and political activism; building communities and organizations; the law; and arts as a medium for social change.

ABOUT THE GIRLS ACTION FOUNDATION

Girls Action Foundation is a national charitable organization. We lead and seed girls’ programs across Canada. We build girls’ and young women’s skills and confidence and inspire action to change the world.

Through our innovative programs, research, and support to a network of over 300 partnering organizations and projects, Girls Action reaches over 60,000 girls and young women. We reach remote, marginalized and urban communities, including those in the North.

Register here

RSVP on Facebook

Tuned in 2012: Benefit Concert for the Self-Help Resource Centre

Tuned In 2012 - 21.11.2012

Please join us TOMORROW (Sat Dec 1) at a benefit concert for the Self Help Resource Centre (SHRC), and help us spread the word.

We have been working with SHRC to strengthen communities across Toronto, Ontario, and Canada, by promoting and building capacity among peer support groups. Peer support groups facilitate positive outcomes for people facing diverse life transitions and challenges, that affect their physical, mental, and/or social health. SHRC serves a very wide range of organizations, including Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, CAMH, The 519, Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Sjogren’s Society of Canada, and many more.

We would greatly appreciate any support you can provide, and hope to see you there. If you’re unable to attend, please consider donating.

RSVP and invite your friends here: http://www.facebook.com/events/192466827556221/

Tickets available online until midnight Fri Nov 30, and at the door on Sat Dec 1

Join SHRC on Facebook and Twitter for the latest event buzz!

Fight for Freedom – The Ismaili Canada

Our founder, Farah Mawani, was featured in The Ismaili Canada, the publication of the Ismaili Council for Canada, representing Shia Ismaili Muslims in Canada.

Download PDF: Fight for Freedom | The Ismaili Canada, July 2012