An Interview with an Inspirational Humanitarian
I am honoured that Nizar, an activist; humanitarian, motivator, rapper and poet had accepted to do an interview for my blog. He has taken the time out of his demanding schedule to answer some questions for me and to allow you, my readers to see what the world is actually like outside of our ‘bubble’. It is time we opened our eyes to todays world and start having empathy, love and understanding for others that are not as fortunate as ourselves. The media does not give us a real sense of clarity and understanding to what is ACTUALLY happening in the world, so I hope Nizar can inspire and motivate us all by his lessons and experiences.
I saw Nizar at the demonstration in London on the 1st of July, he was beyond mesmerising, – somebody that truly has a passion and I could tell immediately that he had been put on this planet to aid others. I managed to message Nizar just before his trip to the Syrian border, which he left for today, taking a deployment of the 27 volunteers and providing food packs and emergency medical equipment for the refugee camps. It just happens, he has been answering my questions whilst on his journey, I am feeling pretty blessed right now. Nizar called me earlier from the airport, I could hear people in the background sounding excited, it was a real buzz to be speaking to him knowing what journey he was about to embark on. I asked when he will arrive, 7am tomorrow morning he replied, I almost fell off my chair. I know of people that go to Australia on holiday or America and complain about the amount of time it takes to travel, if you want to meet a passionate, selfless guy- let me introduce one.
(I think we won’t be friends for long after this photo, but I simply had to.)
I wanted to interview him as he could be a huge influence to those who want to help others but don’t really know what it involves or what to do, or for those of us that do not really know what is going on in the world, knowledge is power. Nizar’s videos ooze strength and determination, I can feel his power and love as I click through his videos on his page. When I heard his voice, it motivated me to want to spread the world, I think the world is so full of sadness, but when people come together to help the less fortunate they must be recognised and praised for their actions.
In his videos, he asks for help, for these people; for the children whose whole families have been bombed, for the women that live in fear and don’t know what to do to protect the ones they love, for the men that want to protect their communities but are getting shot at.
Nizar, speaks of innocents that are in war zones, here in the UK, it is covered briefly which I think is appalling. I have confidence that his voice will be heard enough, so that people understand what the world is really like. I myself studied Human Rights: The Rights of Refugees online with Amnesty International and would say to anybody who was unsure about what is going on in the world to do the same. It is something which really opens your eyes and from that second on, you realise how grateful you are for your own life.
I explained to Nizar who I am and what I do with my blog, I stated that I am a one-man band hoping to change negative vibes into positive ones, I help young women that face mental health issues amongst many other problems in todays society. People visit my blog to feel inspired and I explore and share coping methods which in turn can turn their lives around in a positive manner. I look for different options and have been open enough to say that volunteering had changed my outlook on life and helped me stop thinking that the world was against me, I could finally see I was actually very privileged. I am a white, female with a steady income, having the privilege to travel freely, entitled to an education, I have a roof over my head, clean water to drink, food on my table and I am never judged for my skin colour or beliefs. I have it easy in comparison to others.
With Nizar’s role being a humanitarian, Muslim man I wanted to share his experiences with you all and think it would be refreshing for people to see what it is actually like for the refugees and also the Muslim community away from the medias opinion.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am the founder of Swansea Humanitarian Aid Response Project (S.H.A.R.P.) and I work for an International charity, Human Relief Foundation. I am also a political rapper in my spare time and I use music to highlight social issues and campaign against hate/radicalisation and injustice.
Where have you visited?
Well, in the last two year’s I have travelled out to the following countries: Greece (October 2015 until July 2016) set up a social kitchen on Samos where we cooked 1500 meals a day for the refugees. We then took it mobile to Athens and served the squats and homeless refugees. Jordan, helping Syrian refugees and seven times working with Syrian refugees on sustainability projects. I also helped with building medical facilities in the Zaatari camp, as well as extensive work with orphans and widows with education and medical sponsorship. To name a few…
What made you want to do it?
I have always been involved in small charity projects since I was young, but in 2015 after seeing the picture of Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shore of Turkey, I decided I had to take a more active and managerial approach using the skills I learned whilst studying my MBA and applying them to humanitarian aid logistics. I felt that merely donating clothes or money wasn’t enough, I wanted to physically and mentally dedicate my self to helping others in need, so together with Renee Cullen, we founded S.H.A.R.P. and started collecting and sending aid out to where it was needed most.
What made you start S.H.A.R.P.?
S.H.A.R.P. stands for; Swansea, Humanitarian, Aid, Response Project. (Click on the link to like their Facebook page)
I was in Hungary, Budapest in August 2015 and we came back on the 2nd October. On the day we was leaving Budapest, we saw so many people, Syrians, sleeping on the streets, I obviously knew about the Syrian crisis before because I am from Libya and we had experienced a very similar thing. I had also been over to Tunisia and Benghazi delivering aid and food to the victims and people affected by the war, by the revolution in Libya. I was always aware with what was going on in Syria but I never really knew the full extent to the European refugee crisis. So when we returned from Budapest, we looked on Facebook and found a lady who had made a group asking people to bring donations of clothes and money. Her original idea was to load up a van with aid and a couple of hundred pounds and drive to Calais hoping to make a difference- what an amazing woman. So on the 4th, after the picture of Aylan Kurdi came out, thats what prompted everyone to become more active. I turned up to the YMCA, where the donations were being delivered and asked the lady how I could get involved, she told me she had six rooms full of clothes and donations and didn’t know what to do with it, she didn’t have any connections with charities and needed help. As I had done work previously with many charities, I got in contact with them and set up a weekly collection by four different charities, where the donations were then getting sent to Turkey; Croatia, Germany, Greece, France, Syria and Libya.
As I have a managerial background, I thought we needed structure, hence coming up with the name S.H.A.R.P. We then designed the logo, changed the Facebook page name and did work locally to the refugee families that had resettled in Swansea. From then until now, we have sent over 180 tonnes of aid out internationality, helped over 60 asylum seeker families locally and helped numerous amounts of homeless projects as well as helping local welsh families with furniture and necessities that cannot get help from council or local organisations. We have also done a lot of integration programmes, where we link local families up with Syrian families, to mix with local people- nobody wants to feel alone.
When we get back to Swansea, after my trip to Syria, we have a new project which involves ‘buddying’ called ‘Family Visits’ where we have a local welsh family which buddies which a local refugee family, it involves doing fortnightly events such as taking the families to things such as theme parks, taking children out; I do a lot of youth work now, so singing and dancing is very much central to what we do. I work alongside the YMCA and have spoken to numerous schools, teaching them about the refugee crisis and the reality of what is going on, along with steering people away from hate and radicalisation. I love campaigning and standing up for families which need support, that are having issues regarding deportation or housing and deal with the home office. It is very hectic and very busy but it is what I am passionate about.
You left your old career and job to become a full time activist and humanitarian, you must love what you do. What do you love the most?
Yes I did and it was the best decision of my life. When I saw the difference my involvement made to the people I met across the world, I thought to myself I am just one man, but if more people understood the reality and the seriousness of the situation then we certainly can bring about change and improve the future for the generations to come. I believe that helping others is very important, if we are able to do it, we should.
What do your friends and family think about what you do?
My family have been so supportive of my work and have always encouraged me to keep going. At times of course they worry as we do enter into war zones and have come under drone attack, when delivering emergency aid in Mosul, which obviously would be worrying for any parent. My friends have been motivated to contribute and have helped me with so much locally in Swansea as well as financial contributions for my international work. One of my friends has actually just gone out to Turkey to set up a medical clinic for Syrian refugees which he was motivated to do by seeing my videos and work abroad. (Link here)
Who inspires you?
The prophet Mohammed (pbuh- peace be upon him) for his shining example of how to be compassionate, caring, fair and honest.
My father for raising me to know right from wrong and that money and material do not define you or make you better than anyone else.
Martin Luther King
These revolutionary speakers and musicians all stood up at times of need to speak out, for the vulnerable and oppressed innocent people. They have also taught me how to utilise multiple platforms to reach a wider audience with real stories and testimonials by the survivors or tg3 atrocities
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt?
I have learnt not to take anything for granted and to appreciate and be grateful for everything that I have. Everything from quality time with loved ones, to the food and drink we regularly waste, to the simple things like clean tap water. Alhamdulillah (thank God) that we are in a position to not worry about our safety or survival, but also that we are in a position to actually do something about it and make a difference. All we have to do is take that first step, then it becomes second nature.
When we think of poverty, we have an image of what it looks like- could you tell us what poverty really looks like?
I have worked In the most remote villages all around Ghana where live stock and people drink from the same insect infected green stagnant water hole. I have delivered aid to Rohingya refugees from Burma who have not eaten in 5 days and you can see how malnourished they really are. We had also taken chicken, meat and rice to the children of Rohingya it was the first time they had seen meat in months, the way the children jumped in on the food, they savaged the food- was heartbreaking, we are talking about five year old children. I had also worked with families in Iraq, they had been eating cats, boiling water and grass to feed this young whilst under siege from isis. No products were coming into the country so they were and are starving, I have seen real poverty and it is very different to the charity videos and TV. They show sad faces, but to see the desperation on the children’s and women’s faces in real life- it keeps me going as heartbreaking as it is, seeing it from a perspective even from me, a humanitarian- still does not do it justice. I encourage people to research and look into the footage; look at the interviews and peoples face whilst they are interviewed to get a feel how desperate they are. I have seen real poverty, I cannot explain how the people live, poverty means different things to each of us, but this is the unimaginable to you and I.
What is the most memorable thing you have seen/done?
Opening a school and community centre in Ghana and seeing how happy the children were. We went for the opening ceremony, and saw the children studying and learning, as a result of the donors and the amazing hard work that people who took part put in. It was amazing, truly amazing and to think it was just one project, this is one of the biggest motivations for me, we now have four projects planned in Ghana, as education is very important and lacking over there.
What is the worst thing you have encountered so far?
In January 2016 I was in Greece, my mother had to have an operation whilst I was there, so I flew back to the UK. At the end of January, I flew back to Greece and had to take back 60 body bags with me from the UK for the dead bodies that were there. At the beginning of March, I was told there was still a body that had not been buried and they was trying to send it back to the family, but they couldn’t, so myself and another man from Syria had to prepare the body- a group of women flew over from Swansea to prepare the body ‘islamically’ and we then had to bury a 22 year old pregnant Syrian refugee who had drowned. That was the most real situation that I have ever faced. Another awful situation was when we was in Mosul, February time, we came under a drone attack, it was not the worst thing but was something I will never forget.
How do you help? What does being an activist mean to you?
An activist to me means, getting up and doing something about it; we are all annoyed and frustrated about certain things we see in the media and what is going on in the world. It means to me actually physically doing something, I know we can’t change the world over night, but we can change the world for one person or one family. If enough of us get together and do that, I think it will be very effective and worthwhile to those that are in need. Helping depends on the project, the country or where we are going, some places we go to is due to an emergency situation, so we deal with emergency support and response- Iraq, Mosul and the Burmese refugee crisis in Bangladesh being examples. We also deal with sustainability, dealing with education; projects for employment and empowering women. We are too, involved in helping out with emergency operations and emergency procedures as well as regular distributions of food packs, medical aid and medical checks.
You are also a poet, rapper and motivator- your videos demonstrate these skills get you heard. Have you always been creative in how you get your point across?
I have been rapping and free-styling for about 15/16 years now, but I took a break in 2011 and left that life behind, until recent times when I realised that music and videos are powerful and a great tool to get your message across to as many people as possible. As music and videos are ways people will engage and listen, then I think this platform is very important. I have always been creative; I have always been outspoken, had a big mouth and never known when to ‘shut up’, so I think these things combined help me to get my point across to the right people in the right way, (and trust me, during our interview, he did not stop speaking- it was lovely to meet somebody else that doesn’t come up for air when speaking from their heart)
As a child/teenager, what were you like?
Do you really want to know this answer? Ha, ha! Let’s say, I wasn’t a good boy, I regret a lot of my decisions but I also made many good decisions. I was a troubled, Muslim rapper and got involved with many things I maybe shouldn’t have, but I have always been involved in politics; protesting, demonstrating and speaking out- this is part of me and will be until the day I die. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time fighting against racism, my biggest weakness was when people said something to my mother or sister, I would rise to peoples words and immediately retaliate. I reacted the way people wanted, they wanted me to fight back and I took a lot of verbal abuse for many years, I would end up ‘loosing it’ and fighting. They wanted us to react in a physical and violent way, it was not easy growing up and was difficult but to us it was ‘normal’. I now, after growing up have realised that I will not stoop to their level- I laugh at them and use my intelligence to rise above it- 90% of the time it works but there are still people that want a reaction.
Being a Muslim man, could you define your own experiences of racism and what it did to you?
Being a Muslim, living in the UK, especially being a Muslim man in Swansea, South Wales, where there is not really a high Muslim population- racism was very real. It was something we grew up with all throughout school, we just had to get used to it- as a muslim community, we learnt to take it on the chin. Swansea is a very mans man, city and the people are very macho, so we took it as ‘banter’ and gave it back as much as we got it. We got into many physical confrontations, because of people attacking us due to our religion, our colour.
How has your community been affected from the perception the media has on Muslims in general and how do you stand up to these people?
The community have been negatively affected, especially the Muslim women, as they are scared to go out in public alone now, they fear walking through the park or going shopping in fear of their hijab being ripped off or being abused. I also think Muslim men are going through identity crisis, they are shying away from being a Muslim now, because of the negative perceptions and what the media says about muslims. A lot of youngsters are shying away from confessing their religion- which is very scary and extremely sad. People have been programmed to believe that anybody that anybody that follows Islam could potentially be a terrorist, potentially be a threat and potentially could be a murderer. So it has had a negative affect on the Muslim community in general, it has even made the Muslims community scared of themselves- of each other. Now Muslims are looking at other muslims and be cynical; if a man has grown his beard a little longer, if he has cut his hair or if he is wearing three quarters for example they become ‘suspects’- it is truly awful.
How important is your religion to you?
My religion is very, very important to me and I think to anyone who says they are a Muslim, Islam is a good lifestyle to live by. I am not criticising any other lifestyle or any other religion, but for me, personally, looking into Islam and understanding the values of Islam and what it teaches, the examples that are to be taken out of the stories given in the Quran, whether historical things that have happened before or as guidelines as how to be and how to act, I think it has made me change my ways a lot. The more that I look into Islam and what Islam teaches, such as its core values; patience, compassion, understanding and tolerance, these things are really important and as Muslims we like to say that we are that. In my earlier years, I was just a Muslim by name, not by practise- it was difficult to understand and grasp things like; patience, mercy, accepting peoples apologies and removing ego and pride. Now, the more I look into Islam, the more I realise why these virtues are very important and what the benefits of them are.
In the past, I used to get stressed about the most ridiculous of things such as; the cushions on the sofa not being fluffed up the way I expected them to be, falling out with ‘friends’ or opinions people had about me in which I could not alter. Now, I pray that my new friends make it back from war zones and manage to help as many people as possible on their journey, I turn my negative thoughts into sending out positive vibes into the universe to protect those that may not make it another night. I will pray to Allah, even though he is not my god, for the safety of these heroes.
I hope that this blog has managed to change a perception you maybe had, or has allowed you to feel more privileged than when you began to read it. I hope and pray we all do our little bits to help, no matter how small.
I told Nizar earlier that I am his biggest fan, replied: “I don’t want fans Jade, I want revolutionaries and you as my friend”.
So, thank you Nizar, for being you- thank you to all that risk their lives to help others, ‘Jazāk Allāhu Khayran’.
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