Listen up on IDPD 2015!

AEHR Award Recipients 2015 cropped

Access, Equity, and Human Rights Award Recipients  Photo: City of Toronto

On December 2nd 2015, I was honoured to be presented with the City of Toronto’s 2015 Access Award for Disability Issues for my work creating and leading Building Roads Together. It was an extra special honour to receive it on the eve of The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), and just days before International Human Rights Day, when the UN will launch the “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always”campaign. My life’s work emerges from the nexus of rights, freedom, and mental health.

The theme for IDPD 2015, “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities,” resonates strongly with the core principle and goal of Building Roads Together to increase inclusion of people living at the intersections of exclusion.

If you want to join us in increasing inclusion, listen to those of us who live at the intersections of exclusions. I mean really listen – without dismissing, diminishing, debating, defending. Hear our words and pause to consider them. Try to understand how our words express our unique contexts and experiences – our unique lives. Give our words space to live and breathe in a world where we are so often silenced, where our words are so often erased. Value the insight we have gained from our daily experiences. If you are committed to inclusion, start by including our words. That is the first step to including our lived experience, and including our lives.

These are the words I shared at the Access, Equity, and Human Rights Awards Ceremony:

“This award means so much to me, I’m speechless. Well, almost speechless. I do have a speech for you. The Access Award means so much to me for three key reasons.

First, Building Roads Together, the community-based peer walking and rolling group program I designed to promote inclusion and reduce mental health inequities, comes from my lived experience of trauma and recovery.

On July 31, 2009, my cherished friend and colleague Josh Fattal was taken hostage by the Iranian regime. My heart stopped. I needed movement to keep it beating, yet it felt impossible to move forward. We were captive with him, in a state of suspended animation, holding our breath, until he was freed. Movement was the only way out of our entrapment.

Josh told me, after he was freed, that one of the lessons he had learned from his hostage experience was, “Exercise is the key to life.” Yet I struggled even to walk during my recovery, because of my PTSD symptoms. This experience grew into Building Roads Together.

The second reason I so value this award is that building something valued by my peers, who share my lived experience of exclusion, loss of freedom, and mental health issues, means the world to me. I’ve now trained more than 40 people living in community housing in Regent Park, with City of Toronto Community Recreation grant funding. Thank you for that. Multiple groups and inspiring leaders have emerged from that training. These words of wisdom from a peer walking group leader express the essence of the program and inspired our name:

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, and other times they will follow you. It’s building roads together.”

I’m beyond moved that a growing number of people and organizations across the city and country want to be part of Building Roads. A team of professors in Japan even wants to collaborate to bring it to community housing there that is being revitalized.

Finally, recognition from the City of Toronto is more than I ever imagined possible. Of course I didn’t get here alone. I want to thank the following people and organizations for building this road with me:

 

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Intergenerational inspiration. My mother, nephew, and I. Photo: Ausma Malik, TDSB Trustee

 

 

 

 

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PRESS RELEASE: Rick Mercer, Stephen Lewis & Michael Ondaatje join 1000s of Canadians supporting Mohamed Fahmy’s return to Canada

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.”

CLICK HERE to view Open Letter & signatories

Contact: Cecilia Greyson (902) 401-0158

Open Letter to Prime Minister Harper re. Mohamed Fahmy

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.

Thank you,

Farah N. Mawani

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.

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.

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

Really Really FREE Market – TO

Mark ONE YEAR of FREEDOM for Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and the global community who fought to FREE them from 2 years and 2 months held hostage in Evin Prison, Iran.

Celebrate by joining the Toronto sister event to one initiated and hosted by Josh in New York City.

In Josh’s words:

“Stuff — Free

Haircuts — Free
Bike Maintenance — Free
Food — Free
You name it — Free
You bring it — Free


We celebrate freedom by sharing what we have to offer. It could be an extra this or an extra that. Bring stuff. Take stuff. No exchange, just gifts. It could be a potted plant, an new T-shirt, old suitcases, a massage, a drawing, or a story in the storytelling booth, a song on your guitar, a book or two, gleaned apples, reiki, .mp3s , quirky refrigerator magnets, sewing severed seams, poems or palm reading, there is no period at the end of this sentence”

Ask and ye shall receive” my Christian friends say.
“The Universe Responds” my New Age friends say.
“Undermine Capitalism!” the 99% says.
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution” a long-dead revolutionary supposedly said.
Don’t read Marcel Mauss, just give!

Come Celebrate Freedom! It’ll be precisely one year since Shane, Sarah, and I are out of Iranian prison. Free from being hostages and hikers. Let’s walk together! A step closer to the concept every day.”

***TORONTO peeps, PLEASE also bring your response to “FREEDOM is…” in words, quotes, photos, poetry or art, to create a collaborative mixed-media collage.***

RSVP and spread the word on Facebook and Twitter!

HOT OFF THE PRESS!

I Can See Clearly Now: Recovering from PTSD ~ Farah N. Mawani | Intent Blog

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars”

~ Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, June 26, was the United Nations International Day In Support of Victims of Torture.  I spent the days leading up to it reflecting on psychological torture, and particularly the impact of psychological torture on me.  Although it is difficult to delve into, I want to share some of that experience. I hope it will increase global understanding of the devastating impact of psychological torture, the remarkable courage of those who face it, and the support people need on their journeys of recovery…Read more.

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3 Lessons Learned From Freeing 3 American Hikers: From Integrity to Engagement to Relationship-based Fundraising ~ Farah N. Mawani | Philanthropy Front and Center | The Foundation Center

Since our Free the Hikers social media campaign achieved its primary, seemingly impossible, objective of freeing my dear friends Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, I have received numerous requests to share our secret. Political prisoner campaigns, human rights organizations, mental health organizations, and even businesses, want to know how we built the global movement that it took to free them…Read more.

DONATE to Farahway Global

Check out our brand new Rally page!

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How cows figured in a Kenyan woman’s Toronto education | Toronto Star

Ryerson University graduate Teriano Lesancha, centre, with her father, Saidimu, left, Ryerson President Sheldon Levy, World Vision Canada President Dave Toycen and her mother, Mama Teriano. CARLOS OSORIO/TORONTO STAR

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy will be getting a cow from a student who graduates next week.

In the bold journey Teriano Lesancha has taken to get an education, cows were sometimes a sore point between a struggling farmer and his ambitious daughter who wanted the income from selling cows to pay her tuition. They became a point of pride when that debt was repaid, with interest. Interest on four hoofs.

But her outspoken mother, known simply as Mama Teriano, also played a key role. Though she never went past Grade 3, she had a fierce belief in education for her daughter….

University of Toronto doctoral student Farah Mawani worked one year as a tutor at the village school, and her tales of university here planted an idea that Teriano never forgot.

Years later Mawani was surprised when the former student emailed her for advice. She has remained a mentor and friend who helped Teriano get into Ryerson and gave her somewhere to live when her sponsorship fell through…Read More