TheRED ELEPHANT FOUNDATION A Civilian Peacebuilding Initiative

Image: Rhiti Bose (c)
A powerful change-maker, Rhiti Bose is the perfect example for how change comes from within. One can be moved to any extent by things that happen around them. But when it comes to taking action in a way as to make an impact, that happens only when change begins from within. Sharing her stories and anecdotes that edify these very truths, Rhiti shows us exactly why she is one of the Incredible Women of India, herself.

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I am your typical next door neighbour, who lives for her family and loves her children more than her own life.  I absolutely idolize my father; he is my faith, my religion, my God. Everything I try to do is from what I have learned from him. My biggest support systems are my family and friends. The time I manage to get for myself is when I write, blog and run an e-zine named Incredible Women of India. I could tell you about my work and education, but that doesn’t define who I am, it only defines what I do. I like to live a simple life and avoid all complications as much as possible. My basic principle is to spread kindness and love for others, rest everything falls in place. And yes, my love for coffee, chocolates and books are eternal.

You served as an Ethnic Minority Mentor while in the UK. What did your work there entail?
Let me first tell you how I landed at this job, I was in the UK and I finished my teacher’s training from Manchester Metropolitan University, and was desperately looking for a job. Anything was fine by me, as we were relocating to Sheffield from Liverpool. That’s when I gave an interview for being an Ethnic Minority Mentor, I had no clue what I was getting into to be honest, and all I wanted was just a job. Little did I know this ‘just a job’ would change me for my life. EMAS (Ethnic Minority Achievement Service) works for all the ethnic minorities in UK, who enter the UK as refugees from other countries, specially conflict ridden areas, post-war. I was assigned the group of children who came from Liberia, Africa after the Second Liberian Civil War. They couldn’t speak a word of English and my job was to teach those kids English and helping them towards getting into mainstream schools.  

It broke my heart listening to their stories, trying to comprehend what they wanted to say, without even saying a word of English. There was this one child, about eight years old, a boy. He was so traumatized that he hated any form of human interaction. The first time I met him he threw a chair at me, he thought I was also an enemy. The child had witnessed his mother being raped and killed right in front of his eyes, while he was hiding underneath their bed. I cannot tell you the number of times I cried at the inhuman aspects of war, and how much pain it brings to the children of war. Slowly, I made my way into their world, teaching them and helping them getting accustomed to their new life in UK. It is that part of me which will never let me forget what inhumane things people are capable of doing, and why bringing peace all around should be our priority.

You are also passionate about working for women's rights. Can you tell us about that?  
All motivation and inspiration comes from a personal level, I believe. I have had two major experiences in life which made me really feel strongly about women and their rights.
 I was sexually abused by a known person for a period of several months when I was only four years old, as I was really young and didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t report as I didn’t know what to say to my parents, that man is still roaming somewhere unpunished. That scar, that memory never left me. Another one is, I went through a harrowing phase in a previous relationship, where I was subjected to emotional and physical domestic violence for almost three years. I didn’t report it either as I was too scared for my safety. I guess I was really young back then and didn’t want to accept that it was happening to me. I regret on both instances for not taking action, for not standing up for myself.
Even now, when I am happy with my husband and children (touchwood!!), those two memories haunt me, and I want no woman or child to feel the same way like I did. That is the primary driving force for me to do, what I do.

Let's talk about Incredible Women of India. What is your project all about?
Yes! Incredible Women of India aims at bringing true life inspirational women and their stories/interviews forward to motivate others to achieve better in life. I realise the platform is limited right now, as it is web based and can reach only those people who have access to an internet connection. But we plan to expand it into a full-fledged support providing system for both women and children, especially in the areas of Education, Health and Safety.

What keeps you motivated, as a person, to do the work that you do?
My experiences as a woman keeps me motivated, I want to inspire others to break free of their shadows, to rise above.

As a mother of young children, what about their growing years worries you to take action?
I can’t tell you how much I obsess about their safety, both physical and emotional, and that is what worries me the most. My childhood experiences have made me sceptical about everything. I quit my job just to be with them, as I could not bring myself to leave them in somebody else’s care. I am in talks with their school to provide children with the ‘good touch-bad touch’ workshop.

What, as a mother, do you want them to know when they grow up?
Truth, and nothing but the truth.

You can reach Rhiti Bose online using the following platforms:

Youth calls for dialogue, seeks unity and People-to-People contact for Peace

Image from here
New Delhi / Islamabad, August 22, 2015: A week after both India and Pakistan celebrate their 69th Year of Independence, the civilians of India and Pakistan seek to resume dialogue closely on the heels of an impasse between the Governments of India and Pakistan in the NSA Talks. The collective conglomerate of Indian and Pakistani youth call for dialogue and recommend that individual civilians should take forward the task of uniting both nations.

Kirthi Jayakumar, the founder of the Red Elephant Foundation explained the idea behind the move in a nutshell. “Civilian peacebuilding is a route to sustainable peace. Our elected governments represent us. When they can’t or don’t – whatever be the case – do what it takes, we owe it to ourselves to find peace. Let’s light the candle. We can pass on the light to them when the time comes.” Chintan Girish Modi, the founder of Friendships across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, weighed in on the collaborative effort saying, “Sometimes, we feel only governments can make peace. Let’s drop the idea. Let’s step in, take charge. May our act of resistance against war-mongering governments be a warm offer of friendship.” 

In the words of Diamond and McDonald (1991)[1], Track II diplomacy refers to “non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes called 'non-state actors’”. Having achieved considerable success in building a state of peace and creating a culture of rapport, empathy and unity, the youth have come together through a private peace initiative called the Building Peace Project, run by The Red Elephant Foundation in 2014-2015. The program brought 9 pairs of youth, with each pair comprising one from India and one from Pakistan, in a dialogue based on a loose curriculum that touched upon issues centric to both nations. In a bid to take this further, and to create sustainable change in favour of building a climate of durable peace, the group of 18 participants and the team at The Red Elephant Foundation, in collaboration with Friendships Across Borders, has called for a civilian peace-building process in the region.

Speaking about the call, Aakash Chandran, a participant in the Building Peace Project from Delhi, India said, “The deadlock was over at Ufa and a sense of optimism prevailed. But it is disappointing that the government fails to realise that it is not just yet another talk, but hopes of thousands on both sides of the border that have been put to an end.” Adding to Aakash's words, Sheharyar Rizwan, a participant in the program from Lahore, Pakistan said, “The talks have yet again fallen victim to petty politics and blame game from both sides. Fact remains that a lot of people want peace even if the governments and armies don’t act on it.”

India and Pakistan share a history that bifurcated upon the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, respectively, in 1947. Since the partition, the two nations have followed different trajectories with respect to their national policies and developmental pursuits, while certain differences with respect to territory, militancy and ancillary issues kept both nations in a deadlock for 69 years. The political and diplomatic impasse between both nations has left many issues unresolved, making the state of regional peace fragile. In the interest of the future of the subcontinent, particularly with political stability being the need of the hour, the youth of both nations come together to seek routes to unity using the tools of Track II diplomacy.

The participating youth issuing the call hope for a route that would establish the foundation for peace between India and Pakistan. Salma Noureen, from Peshawar, Pakistan, also a participant in the Building Peace Project explained, “It always brings hope on both sides when we see our leaders meet on foreign lands, sharing smiles, shaking hands and making statements. But it never progresses beyond that. People on both sides working for peace and motivation need more than smiles and handshakes.” Adding to this, Nidhi Shendurnikar, from Vadodra, India, explains, “From my experiences of friendship with people in Pakistan, I can vouch for the fact that people do want to talk, meet and know each other. The governments cannot seal the fate of the people of this region. The call for peace this time, is by the people, for the people and of the people.”

To find out more about the Red Elephant Foundation:  
To find out more about the Building Peace Project:

To find out more about Friendships Across Borders:       

For more information and quotes:          

[1] Diamond and McDonald, Multi-track Diplomacy: A Systems Guide and Analysis, Iowa Institute
A poem by Ashay Abbhi

Image from Pixabay
What if,
we could start all over again?
forget all the mistakes,
forget all the pain

Maybe wake up another night,
Perhaps sleep another day..
If we could start the game again,
Fight a little less when we play

This time I won't want so much,
I will make do with little..
I will play with my old toys,
even the ones that are brittle

I don't like drinking milk, ma
I like it better when you eat something..
I know we don't have much,
But with each other we have everything

No, dad, don't spend too much time at work,
Your torn feet are peeking from your shoes..
If only you would play with me again,
I will wear my old clothes this year too

If only my sister could be with us again,
I would never let her be sad..
If only she could laugh once again,
If only we spent time with her when we had

This time is all we have,
this life all we can spend together..
if only you had let me be with you,
if only I was when there was no other

I wish I could erase the darkness in the sky,
I wish once again we could all play..
what if I listened to my heart this time,
What if I lived another day!

Image (c) Sharmeen Obaid
Sharmeen Obaid has been a name associated with truth-telling, through credible and inspiring documentary films that have brought difficult truths to the fore. In her repertoire of work, Sharmeen has been involved in telling stories from communities that do not otherwise have a voice. In an interview with The Red Elephant Foundation, Sharmeen shared a little on her journey so far.

1. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? Your growing years, education and professional trajectory, perhaps? 
I grew up in Karachi and went on to do my undergraduate from Smith College and my masters from Stanford University. My interest in documentary filmmaking and narrative based story telling was sparked in 2011, when the tragic events of September 11th shifted the world’s focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was a print journalist at the time and felt as though I was someone who could successfully understand both worlds; I thought that I could play a constructive role in relaying information from the East to the West. Shortly thereafter, I made my first film, ‘Terror’s Children’, which was about Afghan refugee children living in Karachi. That experience taught me that there is always more to the story than what makes it to the evening news, or what graces our headlines the next day, and that those stories are the ones that need to be explored in order for us to understand conflict as a social and real thing, rather than an abstract idea. This sentiment has guided my career as a filmmaker, and has established a theme of sorts; I go after stories that give a voice to those that are not usually given the opportunity to speak for themselves.

Your first documentary project was Song of Lahore. What inspired that? 
‘Song of Lahore’ was my first feature length documentary.
I grew up listening to my grandfather's stories of our musical past. He would often talk about the orchestras that played at concerts and the musicians who played on Sunday evenings on street corners. By the time I grew up in the '80s, all of this was a thing of the past. I lived vicariously through his stories and often wondered what it would have felt to be part of his generation. In 2012, I came across the story of a group of musicians from Lahore who had come together against all odds to record music using Pakistan's traditional instruments, and I knew that was a story I wanted to tell. At that time, I had no idea what the group's journey would be; I just wanted to preserve their voices and their music. And what a journey it turned out to be. From Lahore to Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, these musicians found their inner calling. As our cameras filmed them performing a sold-out concert with Wynton Marsalis, I thought back to my grandfather's stories of our past and knew that I had managed to experience some of those moments that night.

You've made multiple award winning films in over 10 countries around the world. If you reflect on your journey so far, what would you say your most important and defining moments have been? 

Winning the Oscar was an indescribable moment in my career. It was the stuff that dreams are made of. It was a testament to my long-held belief that if you work hard and strive for excellence, the world will appreciate your product and your efforts will be recognized. The worldwide attention that it brought to the subject of Saving Face is even more of a reward; it solidified my drive.

What have your biggest challenges been? How have you dealt with them? 
Starting out as a documentary filmmaker was a challenge. I had no training in filmmaking when I came up with an idea for my first film and tried to pitch it. I wrote about 80 film proposals, mailed them out and waited. I received so many rejections that I lost count. But was determined to make my film and with each ‘no’, I knew there would be a ‘yes’ somewhere – there had to be a door that I had not yet knocked upon. And there was. One day, an email I wrote came back with a positive response.

As a documentary filmmaker, you are a storyteller who takes fact out into the world through an observer's lens. When you deal with difficult subjects, how do you retain your objectivity? 

While the aim of my documentaries is to facilitate change in the lives of those who are in the same circumstances as my subject, I ensure that I am a passive observer in the life of my subjects, and that I do not influence their decisions in any way and remain an objective observer.

Using film as a medium I am able to capture my subject in their natural surroundings and this usually accounts for context. I always try to capture adequate background information about my subjects as well as their environment so as to provide an accurate and all-encompassing picture.

What has your toughest project so far been? 
3 Bahadur was the project closest to my heart that was quite tough to make since we have never worked on an animated feature film before. It took me out of my comfort zone and was an uphill climb - putting together a team, learning how animation works from the initial sketch to the final shot, and diving into a medium that is both expensive and time consuming. But we found our pace a few months into the project and what surprised me was the ease with which we found exceptional illustrators, writers, animators and visual effect artists.

You've been the voice of those that are otherwise not heard. How does that feel? 
I feel extremely honored to be able to provide the silenced with a voice and make their stories heard by others throughout the world.

What goes into making your creative process what it is? How do you identify your topics of choice and how do you put the documentary together?
As an investigative journalist, I feel that it is my duty to address issues that people do not want to discuss. I’ve always been interested in topics about human rights and women’s issues that many people find controversial. I choose to film subjects that spark difficult conversations and make people uncomfortable. Change only comes about when people are forced to discuss an issue, and that’s what I hope my films do by highlighting the issue.

Inspired? Read more about Sharmeen's work here.

Zak Ibrahim | Image (c) Sharon Mattson
When it comes down to the basics, life is really just about choice and consequence. And that can define the route your life takes: whether on the side of peace, or otherwise. Zak Ebrahim embodies the pragmatism in making that very choice in life, and his story is a beautiful reminder that we are inherently capable of being peaceful, and powerful in the manifestation of that choice. We had the honour of interviewing Zak following a very tearful and moving experience of watching his TEDTalk. Excerpts follow.

Could you start by telling us your story? Of course, it is there in the talk, but this is just for the benefit of our readers.
I was born in the US, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. My father was from Egypt and was a Muslim, and an engineer by profession. My mother was a Catholic and a grade school teacher. We were a normal family, and there was nothing about us that you'd say wouldn't fall in line with the usual, average American family. We were a devout Muslim family when it came to faith. When I was around six years old, my father came to be involved with the group of men who were responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Centre. On November 5, 1990,  my father walked into a hotel in Manhattan and assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, the leader of the Jewish Defense League. The government had classified the Jewish Defence League as a terrorist organisation in the US, and many saw this act of my father's as one extremist killing another. The New York City Police concluded that my father was acting alone, and found him guilty not of murder initially, but for the possession of weapons - and later, murder. He was sentenced to between 7 and 22 years in prison, and a large part of my childhood went into visiting him in prison with the hope that he would come out soon and we would be a happy family again. My father maintained his innocence throughout, but, while still in jail, he plotted with a few other men, to put together what was known as the "Day of Terror". Their idea was to attack a dozen landmarks across New York City, including tunnels, synagogues and the headquarters of the United Nations. However, those plans were foiled by an FBI informant who was part of the plot. But, ultimately, my father went on to being convicted for his involvement during the trial for the bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993.

How did the transition happen for you personally? Children are impressionable and tend to imbibe perceptions from adults around them - how did you keep yourself grounded in your beliefs of peace?
Telling my story is not something new to me. Before I began speaking publicly, I faced a lot of reactions around  me to the things that happened. There were a few people within and outside the Muslim community saw the assassination of the Rabbi as a good thing for Muslims. He was responsible for the murder of many Muslims, and as a young child, there was a way for me to justify the violent choice my father made. There was a portion of the Muslim community that believed that Meir Kahane’s assassination was justifiable because he was an extremist, while many others believed that the violence was wrong, and simply didn't want to have anything to do with us. We were ostracised and had to hide our identity. After the World Trade Centre was bombed in 1993, there was no justification for my father's violence and his radical ideology. It took me many years to see that the assassination of the Rabbi was inexcusable, too. Violence begets violence, and that's how it is. The assassination of the Rabbi did nothing for the Israel-Palestine conflict, which at that time was cited as one of the reasons for the assassination. In Israel itself, his son and wife were killed, and a lot of other lives were lost. The circle of violence just continued.

What made you make that choice to be peaceful, to abandon violence?
While growing up, we lived a very unstable life. My father was the breadwinner. My mother started off with training to be a teacher, but dropped out to take care of the family, and then became a single mother - but not just that, a single mother with a notorious and infamous husband. We moved a lot, about 30 times in my life so far, just to deal with my father's imprisonment. We were met with a lot of hatred, and a lot of people wanted to take revenge on us for what my father did, so there were a lot of death threats, too. Since I moved so much, I had to change schools as much. I was always the new kid, incredibly quiet, and had this strange sounding name. I was bullied very badly. I didn't realise it at the time, but the bullying actually gave me a very beautiful lesson - the value of empathy. When it came to my perpetuation of stereotypes, I decided not to treat people in any way that was different from how I wanted to be treated. To indoctrinate someone, it is important to isolate them from the community you want to demonise. Stereotypes are always broken with interaction. In 2000, during the presidential elections, through a college prep program, I took part in the National Youth Convention in Philadelphia. My group's focus was on youth violence, and since I was a victim of bullying for most of my life, this was a subject I was very passionate about. The members of our group came from different walks of life, and towards the end, I found that one of the kids I had made friends with was Jewish. It took me this interaction to realise that there is no difference - we are all the same. I had never had a Jewish friend before, and frankly I felt a sense of pride in having been able to overcome a barrier that I believed to be simply insurmountable. Religion, race, sexual orientation - none of these things take away from who people are deep down. I moved away from the ideology I was familiar with, and that made me make the choice.

Zak Ebrahim | Image (c) Sharon Mattson
What made you tell your story? Was there a conscious choice behind it?
I did it for many reasons. After 9/11, I saw the many different ways in which Muslims were being portrayed and stereotyped. I am an atheist, but I work with many different organisations that promote work on inter-faith dialogue, and have mutual respect for each other's beliefs and live together without violence. Just because I am an atheist and don't subscribe to a religion does not mean that I close myself off to those who believe in a given religion or faith. I am moved and motivated by people who work hard to make the world a better place. I always tell people that it is important to get involved in these efforts, and that motivates me.

Thank you for sharing your story so candidly. Talking about it isn't easy, we understand.
It is not easy to talk or write about your worst experiences. When I was working on the book for TED, it was emotionally tough to confront these experiences, but it was a therapeutic process. It was amazing to see the support I had - about 99.97% people were positive, and I was given things I never thought I'd get. Bullying causes low self-esteem, and I was never, ever aware that I would get what I got later in life.

What were your challenges like? Did telling your story come with a price?
The main concern of speaking publicly was the exposure to the potential of danger. My family has received death threats and people wanted to take revenge. Safety was a concern. But, there have been no regrets. I believe I've been incredibly lucky. As a 14-15 year old kid growing up in the ghetto, I never thought I'd have the opportunities I have today, but I am very lucky to have had all the positive and the negative experiences and influences in my life.

What are your goals for the future? You are a peace-worker, and what do you see for the world around you, through your actions?
My path seems to be changing every year. Because of the book and the public speaking experiences, I've interacted with many people. I spoke about faith, sharing the stage with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in London. I represented the forum as an atheist there. I want to start a non-profit which will help and attend to youth who are vulnerable and susceptible to indoctrination. I know what it is to grow up in poverty and deprivation of opportunity, and lack. I want to reach out to young people in these sections of society, and tell them that their choices matter, and that they have every shot at a bright future as everyone else.

To see Zak's TED Talk, click here
To read the transcript of Zak's TED Talk, click here

To know more about Zak, check out his website here and buy a copy of his book "The Terrorist's Son" here. You can also read our review of the book on our PeaceReads initiative site. 
Image  from Maija Liuhto
To Maija Liuhto, the India-Pakistan campaigns manager at Beyond Violence, peace is not negotiable. It is an absolute sine qua non for a sustainable and happy future, and she is one of the agents in bringing that reality about. Maija talks about her work at Beyond Violence, and her dreams for the future of the two nations that she works closely with.

What got you into working in the field of peace and development?       
I have long had an interest in these issues, especially since I started my studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. After graduation I knew I wanted to put the knowledge I had gained into use and ended up moving to Pakistan. It's hard to explain what it is exactly that draws me to work in this field, but I cannot really imagine doing anything else.             

Can you tell us about your role and association with Beyond Violence?            
I work as campaign manager for India and Pakistan.In my role I have been closely involved in campaign design, working with volunteers from all over the world and communicating with partner organizations. I joined Beyond Violence over a year ago and I feel a strong commitment to the organization's values and goals. I believe ICTs, especially social media, give a unique opportunity for  people living in conflict regions to get their voices heard.

You handle India and Pakistan. Can you tell us about your choice of region? As someone who is not a native to both countries, how easy or difficult was it, to begin working on peace between both these nations?        
I studied South Asian Studies as my minor at the University, including Hindi-Urdu, so the choice was quite natural. I feel like I have a very good understanding of the history and politics of both countries, so working on peace in this region was not such a challenge for me from that point of view. The topic was not new to me. On the other hand, I have of course never been directly affected by the conflict in any way . Luckily, however, I have some Indians and Pakistanis working in my team which allows me to always get feedback from them on various issues. I’ve also spent quite a lot of time working and traveling in Pakistan and India, so I have gotten to know a lot of people from both countries. As a result of this, I have a relatively good sense of how they view their neighbours. It has always been very interesting to tell my Indian friends about my experiences in Pakistan and vice versa and to see their reactions. It is a shame how little people-to-people contact there is between Indians and Pakistanis, and that is exactly what our campaign aims to change. 

What were your key challenges?    
One of the key challenges when designing this campaign was definitely the question of how to navigate controversial issues appropriately. This is always a challenge when designing campaigns anywhere in the world because you have to go out of your way to remain objective. Violent conflicts are an issue that can make people extremely emotional, and there are always politically sensitive issues that you need to know how to broach.

What do you see as the future of both nations?    
My guess is as good as anybody's I suppose. On the one hand I see a lot of positive efforts being carried out by civil society members, and in general I feel most people in both countries just want to have peaceful relations with their neighbour. But at the same time the rhetoric of political leaders (especially right wing parties) remains largely unchanged. Still, I believe there is a lot of potential for a peaceful future, especially if regular people get more opportunities for meaningful dialogue through the use of ICTs, even if the visa restrictions remain in place.

This is a short play, written by Lea Gabay, centering around the theme of "fitting in" against a backdrop of broader constructs that centre around principles of empathy, mutual respect, diversity and respectful conduct built on the values of equality and tolerance. The play centres around four characters. Shahnaz, who is in her third year of university. She is studying to become an engineer. She is extroverted and likes sharing her opinions about a variety of topics. Carlos is in his second year of university and he is studying Business and International Relations. He is known for being very outgoing and sociable, and hopes to make American and international friends in order to feel more integrated into the culture. Tuấn Anh is in his second year of university and is studying Music. He was quite popular at his university and had many friends there. However, now that he is in the US, he is more reserved and shy. Yasmina is in her final year of university and is studying Sociology. She is bicultural/bilingual with a Syrian father and a German mother. She grew up speaking both languages. She is sociable and is caring and supportive of her peers. Yasmina wears a hijab (a traditional headscarf worn by Muslim women).

To read the play, click here.

Lea Gabay is a French American graduate student who is studying for a Master's in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, CA. She previously taught English as a Foreign Language for several years in various countries, particularly in Vietnam. She is passionate about interfaith dialog building, social justice, women's rights, and plans to teach adult literacy and English as a Foreign Language to refugee and immigrant populations.
Image: Ahmed Al-Kulebi
Ahmed Kulebi is a Human Rights Defender based out of Yemen. Working hard for the future of his country to see peace, Ahmed’s efforts have pivoted around working on the current conflict in Yemen. His story follows:

Yemen has been under attack since March 26, 2014 after Saudi Arabia led the Arab coalition against the Houthi’s movement and the National Army, who they are the leaders of the revolution against the government in exile in Riyadh. After the political dispute, unfortunately, the Saudi Arab coalition’s airstrikes have been targeting all the civilians of Yemen. Instead of a negotiation between political parties and finding political solutions, the use of force has caused dire consequences on ground. Most Yemeni infrastructure has been destroyed. Thousands of people have lost their lives, and most of them are innocent civilians. 

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been described as “catastrophic” by the UN, with 80% of the population in need of aid, as violence escalates every day.

The arms issue in Yemen is one of the major problems that has affected the development of Yemeni society for a long time. Naturally, Yemen as a tribal country and the armed tribes’ conflicts have contributed in assisting the spread and expansion of this problem from generation to generation. It also became an important element in Yemeni culture, traditionally being the symbol of manhood. Guns for men are seen “like gold for the ladies”. 

There are no real statistics about how many weapons exist in Yemen, but just at a rough estimate, I’d say that there are 60 million pieces, which means 3 pieces per person! That was before the current war, which is now worsening by the day. We are extremely worried about it. To witness Saudi Arabia contributing to this problem by dropping weapons by air to their allies across the country during the conflict, and to know that many people are getting weapons from the military places after being targeted by the Saudi air strikes is a very daunting thing.

The biggest challenge that my colleague and I am facing is in the form of insecurity and instability in the country. Our work has been affected by the current crisis so much. We used to work for resolve conflict and build peace but now all what the human beings in Yemen need is food, medical supplies and some secure. There are a lot of challenges for the Yemeni people. Without peace, tolerance, acceptable and respectful to other there is no hope for a good future for the people of Yemen at all

We are working hard to prevent gun deaths and injuries, and try to spread a culture of peace and tolerance in Yemen. We aim to combat violence by running programmes which focus on conflict resolution, and on countering violent extremism through the engagement of tribal and religious leaders. 

The war in Yemen has caused an enormous humanitarian crisis which is increasingly becoming worse and worse while the Saudi coalition is still imposing a siege around Yemen with no food or medical supplies getting through to people in need. The hospitals are full of injured people and lack electricity, medical equipment and other basic requirements have led to many avoidable deaths. This tragedy deserves serious attention from all of us human beings, wherever we are. We strictly condemn the ongoing killings and call for an end to the conflict. We ask all Humanitarian NGOs around the world and the free people to contribute in order to reduce the impact of this tragedy.  We believe that the cost in human lives is extremely high and that violence generates violence and so much hatred, while humanitarian action is inconceivable without close and permanent dialogue with the parties to the conflict in Yemen.
By Aksa Bilal
Image from Pixabay

Kill me now
My pills are on the floor
My hands have been in the wars
My children have been raped and smudged along the floor

Kill me now 
There is no love i would like to hold
No child i would like to own
My veins have been scraped off the floor with shovels and paper bags

I will kill you now
Slit your throat in one go
Pills are too easy, make your blood pour
If you like, i can rape you once more

I will kill you now 
Smell the charcoal off your bones
Your flesh is becoming too heavy to hold
Are you sure you won't like me to rape you once more? 

Kill me now 
Your fingers are tied to my bones
My mind has been stripped naked in the wars
Your haunting eyes have raped me before

Kill me now
My children have been smashed against the doors
The world is running out of the space they hold
Even the devil has monsters of his own.

David, the founder and co-director of MMCC, or the Mobile Mini Circus for Children, shares a little about his story and the journey of running a mobile, social circus in the middle of a war zone.

What is Social Circus& what is MMCC?
Social Circus is a new creative pedagogy, utilizing physical arts to develop children personally and socially and support them to develop themselves. It is a very effective, joyful, and low cost pedagogy reaching a very large number of children. Social Circus is a tool for teaching social skills, overcoming traumas and developing essential capacities and the ability to take responsibility.

MMCC (Mobile Mini Circus for Children, established in 2002) is an international NGO which is grown into a countrywide education program focusing on teaching children to lead. MMCC has performed and made workshops for more than three million children and teachers in 28 provinces all over Afghanistan. It reaches a very large number of children and not only makes them happy and joyful but also bring both educational performances and a hopeful and positive image of the life in a war country. In the educational performances children learn life skills and important messages about Landmine Awareness, Peace Education, Drug Abuse, Conflict Resolution, Malaria Prevention, and Health Education which are incorporated in the shows. The performances at the same time are collective therapy which brings hope and harmony to the war battered country. MMCC conducts different teacher training workshops and has a wide range of social and educational programs such as advocacy for children, children media productions, children assembly (Children Shura and meetings in the Afghan National Parliament), special activities for girls, children cultural activities for schools, IDP camps, orphanages etc. MMCC has sub branches in 5 regions of Afghanistan, and 23 active “Funtainer” centres (Funtainer is a modified container functioning as a Social Circus base).

Why Afghanistan?
As Afghanistan was going through many radical changes and opening to whole new possibilities in
Image: (c) MMCC
late 2001, I saw my capacities and knowledge both about Afghanistan and children could contribute enormously to this changes.Then I dedicate myself to it, founded MMCC and am so much in love with the work MMCC team has been doing since then. The positive impacts of MMCC works in Afghanistan gives me a great joy and satisfaction and I hope to introduce it and its amazing activities in the countries with similar problems. Considering the fact that Afghanistan is the youngest country in the world (42% under 14 years old) and has suffered many years of war, it was quite natural and obvious that children should have the highest priority. It is the children who have suffered the most in the war, and by utilizing physical arts and socializing children to discover their individual and collective resources could contribute enormously to a dynamic joyful and peaceful society.

What Challenges have you encountered on the way?
Some people assume the conservative communities should be our biggest problem in implementing our activities. Everything we do is in full respect for the local culture and very often even inspired by the local culture and therefore we have relatively a good local support. Our main challenge is convincing the donors and the authorities that fun and cultural activities are much more than just entertainment especially in a country like Afghanistan. Fun is a hard sell but critical for building social capital and safeguarding against the creation of angry, alienated and disillusioned teenagers.

Image (c) MMCC
Are there any stories or anecdotes you can share?
One day our trainers were in a very big school conducting one of our typical week long workshops including singing, acrobatic, painting, theatre and juggling which ends up with a performance of the new established team. The old director of the school was checking the activities and going from one group to the other. Then he heard children practicing an old children song in the workshop, and he became so emotional and got tears in his eyes listening to them. He told me that before the war in his childhood he himself was a member of his school’s choral team, singing the same song (…my homeland’s pomegranate is so sweet …) which was almost forgotten. That day he started to make the same choral team for his school with the children of the workshop accompanied with traditional Afghan music with the instruments purchased for the school….

We always invite the community leaders to the shows to get them involved and very often in the conservative areas they sit with crossed arms and legs showing a kind of resistance. It takes only a few minutes for them to start opening up and enjoy the show. In one of the shows after a few minutes I saw the community leader himself was laughing so laud and enjoying the show even more than children, and then he started asking all the children to applaud and encourage the performers with such an enthusiasm.

One day in another workshop we put a 24x2 meters long fabric on a wall for children to paint and enjoy collective painting to be used for decoration later. I heard the teachers were surprised to see the small boy who was always escaping, crying or fighting was now so calm and focused painting for 3 hours. As I approached him, I could hear very deep and laud sighing. His painting was only very simple bodies and messy blocks of red blue and black. As it wasn’t clear at all I had to ask him what he was painting and he said: these are coffins, and these black boxes are empty coffins too and here there is a blue wall and here the red boxes are coffins with blood . . . . He was extremely traumatized. The painting gave him a tool to express himself by his own inner therapist and his sighing was a good sign of progress and success in his healing. We have had over 3 million children participants of our shows and workshops, each one of them have a different positive story of joy, hope, inspiration, and small steps towards a better future.

What are your dreams for MMCC?
MMCC has accumulated amazing and unique capacities, and developed systems to help the children in Afghanistan in the last 13 years. My dream is to bring this precious capacity to inspire other organizations and serve more children with similar problems in other countries. MMCC team is looking for partners and sponsors to initiate its activities in countries such as Turkey (mainly for Syrian refugee kids), Pakistan etc.

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By Ameena Mohyuddin Zia

The contemporary Pakistani woman has arrived in the political space. She has dared to step outside of Benazir Bhutto’s somber shalwar kameez and white chiffon duppata. 

Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get here? 

She is the Hina Pervaiz Butt; the Maryam Nawaz; the Sharmeela Farooqi, and the Hina Rabbani Khar. She has navigated her entrance into the patriarchal universe with creative gowns, eyeliners, bold colors, and yes, purses and shoes. Such accouterments have entered bureaucracy! What is she thinking? Or clearly, she is not thinking. I have to admit, she looks beautiful with poise; elegant with confidence; and graceful with femininity. 
Yes, I did say femininity. A part of me smiled inside. 

Now that she has arrived, how should we nicely compartmentalize this contemporary Pakistani woman politician as she navigates through the masculine space of bureaucracy? Do we place her with US Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton’s much-talked-about pant suits and her dominating personality with other women politicians of the upper echelons of society (like Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, and Angela Merkel)? What about the fashion savvy first ladies of the world who werevere for their effortless fashion forward attires (Lady Diana, Queen Noor, and Michelle Obama)? Oh, we just adore them for promoting the values of their husband’s power and platform. 

What would Cynthia Enloe say? She would argue that it is, in fact, these diplomatic wives who are the true promoters of diplomatic dialogue and friendship as they host impeccable tea-gatherings and host fabulous dinner-parties in order to further the nationalist efforts in the international community.

Again, what about the contemporary Pakistani politician? She doesn’t fit into these two categories!
Oh no!
But, oh yes. She is a combination of both.

The au fait of third wave feminism has ingrained in her the idea that everything is, in fact possible. She can simultaneously enjoy being traditional and outgoing; self conscious and independent; romantic and ambitious; hardworking and vulnerable; and creative and smart. Perhaps it is alright to agree to disagree and there is a certain beauty in the miss-matched sequence that binds her consciousness. 

As a young girl,her mother(having sacrificed little pleasures of life because of perils of joint family systems, radical Islamicalization of women’s laws, constant dependency on a male, and living in the shadows in society) taught her that she can be anyone she wishes and do anything she sets her mind to. Her socially constrained mother pushed her to own her thoughts, her emotions, and her ideas…while simultaneously sharing the romance of Elizabeth Bennet, Anarkali, and Heer. She imagined a world of justice and equality as she was encouraged to find herself; her truths; her wants; and to explore the possibilities of creating her own space…and that anything and everything is within her grasps. 

On her way to chase the glass ceiling, she is taught that it is necessary to foster her own individual talents and if perhaps she don’t like something, than simply change it.

She quickly understands to own her own journey; to live her own story; and to learn to fend for herself without emotional reliance on a fiancé or a husband. And therefore, she now has certain ideals and expectations from the men in her society; however fabricated in her own subconscious.

She, now, finds refuge in books and thick rimmed glasses.
She, now, is the product of her mother’s feminist generation.
She, now, realizes she wants it all – the education, the career (of making policy), organic home-cooked meals on the dinner table, and the representation of sheer elegance.
She, now, understand that it is, indeed, possible at the expense of absolutely nothing.

She takes her direction from the grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters; from the Fatima Jinnahs of her time; from the Mukhtar Mais of her time; from the Malala Yousefzais of her time; and from the Asma Jahangirs of her time. 

She is starting to pave a path for herself and for other women. She is comfortable in her femininity and in her roles outside traditional gender constructs. She is the new feminist of her time as she proudly succeeds in a man’s world of politics by deconstructing social paranoia.

The contemporary Pakistani woman politician has evolved in her own capacity as she curates her own reality (one that does not include fitting her into a traditional box). She has arrived (avec accouterments). The question is, is the contemporary Pakistani male politician willing to catch up to her?

Ameena Mohyuddin Zia is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy & Gender Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis and an Adjunct Lecturer at CUNY’s York College. Her work examines social constructs through both research and visual documentations. She also works as a strategic consultant for public-private partnerships in NYC.
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