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.
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.
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.
*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.