Saturday, 10 March 2018

Six days of learning and sharing - Life is where we learn nonstop

It looks like yesterday that I had my first leadership training, but it goes all the way back to the late 80s. Luckily, I have had opportunities to learn the same course in different schools of thought over the past 3 decades including one at Harvard Kennedy School. The last one was, however, in early March 2018. Life is exciting and a university on its own where we learn nonstop.

4th- 9th March 2018 seem history now as they are gone and gone forever, but well spent in Markfield, England with about 45 wonderful people gathered from across Britain for Citizen UK’s National residential training. We were there as it takes us all to see change happen and work with others in the process.  Yes, we can’t afford to be bystanders. In the words of Neil Jameson of Citizens UK, “If you are a player, you make change happen. If you are an observer, you watch it happen. It is important to work with people we don’t necessarily agree with as being in action together gives people hope.” The message was clear and one that resonates to many. Nobody would have joined the training unless there was a desire to make a difference; to make the world a better place for us and the future generation. Jiten Patel, one of the participants said, “we have borrowed this world from the future generation and have a responsibility to hand it over in a better shape.”

Sometimes we feel angry when we see or hear about injustice. Good to have that anger. Anger to stand up, get counted and be the wheel of change and stuck in the change making process. When there is injustice, we are there to fight it and get it right. Carina Crawford Khan of Citizens UK, who was one of the trainers, was right to say, “when you face injustice inaction is not the option.” Action is what is needed to see change happen, but it needs to be organised. We should also be political as we live in the world as it is - striving to take it to where it should be.

During the six wonderful days together, we didn’t only learn how we can bring about change; how to build power in a relational way to see that change; but we also built relationships; helped colleagues and others in Birmingham, the youngest city in Europe, with their Common Wealth assembly and had fun. We also sung together with young and old as we are all keen to see The World in Union.

Among the highlights of the week for me was to meet new people that are ready to go extra mile and kind enough to share their stories and feelings openly; ready to engage with others; enjoying the training and making sure the training was an experience worth having.  It was also good opportunity for colleagues to help one-another, to step in when needed and share wisdom and experience in the process. Yes, we were there as a team and for a purpose. Above all to learn as we are a learning organisation. The assembly organised by Birmingham Citizens was an excellent experience for many. Those young students singing and dancing and telling the world that they  have dreams; the newly resettled little kid saying, 'Thank You’ was heart moving; the social event organised by the trainees on Thursday evening was phenomenal and second to none. These all remain in our memories for a long time. 

We were also blessed to have Elizabeth Valdez of The Metropolitan Organization and learn from her wealth of experience. And of course, yet another opportunity to learn from our very own Neil Jameson who is in the process of handing the baton. Six days well spent learning and sharing.  It is time to reflect and come back with plans for actions.  

Friday, 2 March 2018

A community that inspires many – Community Sponsorship at its best

On Sunday 25 February 2018, I had the privilege of joining many others to celebrate 1 year since a community group in Merton, South London welcomed a Syrian family to the United Kingdom through the community sponsorship scheme. The group that welcomed the wonderful Syrian family is exceptionally amazing. To see the joy on the faces of those unsung heroines and heroes of Community Sponsorship of refugees was phenomenal. Everybody who spoke at the event mentioned that by working together to welcome a new family into their neighbourhood, they also strengthened their relationships; felt empowered and fulfilled.  This is simply community sponsorship at its best.

The group is led by Major Nick Coke of Salvation Army who is one of the heroes of the Community Sponsorship scheme in the United Kingdom. Nick has inspired many, supported many others and is always willing to go extra miles to contribute to the success of the scheme. For Nick it is all about delivering social justice and getting stuck in it to deliver. 

This group is blessed as it has lots of amazing people who are never tired and always willing to do more; always willing to inspire others; always willing to find solutions and of course always enjoying what they are doing. Kudos to you all. You have pushed boundaries; brought changes and exceeded expectations. You are all inspirational and have place in the history book as you leave a lasting legacy. A legacy you could be proud of; and, a legacy the next generation could be proud of. 

The Merton Group resettled an amazing Syrian family that is a joy to be around. A family that is never short of smiles and always generous. Of course, this family has also prepared finger-licking food, as usual, for all who were part of the 1-year celebration.  In the words of Kerry Coke, “It takes a family to welcome a community.” Another group member called Mohammed said "it took us all to welcome the family and through the process it helped us to come together"

The Merton group has inspired and equally challenged many as it has now set the bar so high. It is a community that leads by example. A community that inspires  many!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Behind the success story are the inspirational leaders

Ethiopians and British citizens of Ethiopian origin gathered at the Ethiopian Community in Britain which is located in Finchley, North London on February 4th for a spectacular event that brought together folks of different ages, experiences and talents. This event was a success by all standards. The food, drinks, music and venue may be similar and what we are often used to seeing at Ethiopian events.

But the February 4th event was one that transcended generations; that was unique in nature; that was well organised and started almost on time (unlike many Ethiopian events); that was led mostly by young leaders. One of the most intriguing moments was interview conducted by Ermias Kebede where he brought 4 youngsters who were born either in Ethiopia or outside Ethiopia and now living in the United Kingdom. The question on identity and why it matters was even more entertaining and equally challenging. It was also a very good opportunity to hear some wonderful stories of self - that turning points in the lives of those interviewed; moments when folks had challenges; their actions or inactions and what happened afterwards. It was simply moving.

Another great success story of the day was not only its being orderly, to the point and also participatory, but also brought in the unusual suspects into action. Even more, it brought many out of their comfort zones and helped them to be part of the flawless event. This was an amazing event that exceeded expectations of many. The only challenge is whether the organisers could do it again and whether they would be able to beat the high bar they have already set.  

I am hopeful that the board of the Ethiopian community in Britain will bring us together in the not too distant future and that it keeps delivering and exceeding.

Kudos to the organisers of the event and all who supported.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Community Sponsorship of Refugees - Where it all begun for me

I still recall sitting in a room with colleagues from Citizens UK to talk about the worsening refugee crisis; talking about what we could do to discharge ourselves responsibly. That goes back all the way to September 2015. Yes, that time needed some bold decisions and we have never been shy from taking such decisions. It was important to step in and do our bits to see change happen. Yes, it wasn't enough to feel sorry about the crisis; we had to do something about it. But we couldn’t do it on our own. That was why we had to organise, organise and organise. It was all about creating a movement out of the moment. After all it takes us all to address the crisis.

We have gone a long journey since then. The time in between has not been simple. It has had its ups and downs. But we know that life is not a bed of roses and we should stand up to challenges and use these challenges as opportunities to organise and change the course of history.

But for me it was beyond a call of duty. I have the experience of fleeing my home country. Seeking sanctuary and adjusting to life in my new home – Britain. I am a living testimony that Britain is a more humane and one of the most welcoming countries in the world. That is what I saw when I travelled up and down the country to work with people that were keen to welcome refugees. From Lewes to Totnes, from Petersfield to Cheltenham, from Bath to Crawley, from Leicester to Devon and many more places I had the opportunity to go to, people were keen to welcome and integrate refugees. They were ready for more practical work. People ready to get stuck in. That life changing experience taught me that we needed a scheme where communities could take charge of refugee welcome and become part of the integration process.

Hence the introduction of the community sponsorship scheme in July 2016 was a commendable first step. For people like me, getting it right on arrival is more than important. The first few years have impact on the lives of newcomers, especially for integration. And I believe community sponsorship can give that opportunity to newcomers.  Many people tell me that they are sad to see fellow humans denied the right to a decent life which strips people of their dignity as human beings. And the same people tell me that we all have a humanitarian responsibility to allow refugees the freedom to get sanctuary and rebuild their lives.  

Welcome Summit September 2016
The culmination of the first phase of our welcome work was 10th September 2016, when we had a welcome summit in Birmingham which brought together more than 550 community leaders from across the country. By the end of the summit, it was important to prioritise where to concentrate on in the coming months and years and luckily promotion of community sponsorship was one of the three areas. And for me, it was once again a very good opportunity to work with communities across Britain to promote refugee welcome through community sponsorship.

The journey has gone from strength to strength and I am learning a lot through the process.  It is more than encouraging to see newcomers resettled in different parts of the country including in places like Narberth in Wales and Devon.  We now see people keen to explore the scheme and do practical work. This is heart-warming.  
Launch of Sponsor Refugees 42 pledges

To keep the ball rolling and to promote community sponsorship further, the arrival of Citizens UK’s new foundation, Sponsor Refugees, is more than a bonus. It was great to see more than 25 groups and organisations willing and on course to welcome 42 families. This is only the beginning and it won’t be long until community sponsorship becomes an established tradition in Britain as it is in Canada.  I believe we should take the opportunity community sponsorship brings to us and take charge of refugee welcome and integration. We can do it and we can do it now. After all, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The National Training - 10 years ago and 10 years after

About 10 years ago, I was at Citizens UK's National Training as one of the trainees. 10 years after I was back to observe how the training was delivered and share my thoughts to colleagues and the trainees. 

10 years ago, I was keen to learn organising and leadership. But didn’t know where to go to have this training. I wanted to campaign, but didn’t know where to start. I was only a lone wolf writing articles and commentaries about human rights, current African affairs and refugee rights on many blogs and news outlets. I would sit at different corners of coffee shops, libraries and other places and voice my concerns. Cry loud about issues I was passionate about. At times, I was also a mobiliser who organised many one-off actions. Even though I was very loud online and tried my best to get noticed, there were many occasions I didn't get noticed. That was action without a reaction. Reflecting on those days, I now question why I had to act without getting somebody to react to my actions. It was during those days that I attended The Independent Asylum Commission’s public hearing at Lambeth Town Hall. That was the turning point in my life. Yes, I saw organising in action and asked the then coordinator of the commission, now Citizen UK’s deputy director, Jonathan Cox, that I wanted to go for the training. I was given the chance and my journey into organising started subsequently.

Citizens UK National Training Participants July 2017
10 years after I was along with colleagues as one of the trainers tasked to observe the training. This time the training was at Nottingham University. Yes, the university where I was a Human Rights Defender Fellow in 2009 and studied International Human Rights Law. When I returned to the University after 8 years the first person I wanted to see was professor David Harris, a gentle giant who helped me a lot in those days. I hence took time to meet my professor and share with him the journey I have gone through ever since. True to say that we all have distinct stories to share and these stories show how unique human beings are.

Going back to the 2017 Citizens UK National Training, we arrived at the university on Sunday July 9 afternoon. Some came driving, others commuting; some traveling solo and others in groups. Finding where we would rest and hide for a week was the first task followed by introduction to the training, getting to know one-another through rounds. This was followed by setting the ground rules and expectations. Lots of exciting moments. The training is as intensive as in the good old days, but there was a lot to do in between sessions and hence sometimes difficult to remember how far we have gone through the process.
Trainees leading Social action

Lots happened in between including an action organised by the Nottingham Citizens, the local chapter of Citizens UK and we were done by Friday July 14th.

Among the highlights are the trainees themselves. They were fully focused, highly engaged and creative. Their social action was exceptional and by all standard the best.

Reflecting on the training, each trainer tried her/his best to make sure their session revolved around the argument. Do you want change? If your answer is YES, then build your relational POWER, act and develop leaders through the process. Power, Power and Power. Yes, power before action! In the words of Neil Jameson, “Power gives you recognition. That is why you must organise permanently.” Neil’s advice to the trainees was “Never give up, never give up, never give”. Yes, he is right to say that. We can’t afford to give up. We either watch it happen or become part of it and help it happen.

Six days of learning and sharing - Life is where we learn nonstop

It looks like yesterday that I had my first leadership training, but it goes all the way back to the late 80s. Luckily, I have had opport...