“I Stand With Baltimore”: Solidarity Gathering Outside The US Embassy.

Yesterday, the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence organised a peaceful protest in solidarity with Baltimore and the protests following the death of Freddie Gray. Held outside the US embassy (I had never been there before but I would not expect anything less of the imposing building), the protest drew attention to the injustices experienced through police brutality in the US and the UK. Here are some pictures:

Check out more about the event and the aftermath here: https://www.facebook.com/events/816469358430934/

London Campaign Against Police and State Violence Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LCAPSV


One is NOT like the other: The aftermath of Charlie Hebdo.

It took three days and 20 deaths to see the siege which engulfed Paris come to an end. ‘Ironic’ cannot begin to describe the sequence of events which followed Stephane Charbonnier’s or ‘Charb’s’ illustration in his last edition of Charlie Hebdo. The killing of journalists, a caretaker and a policeman at the satirical publication on Wednesday, in addition to subsequent shootings and hostage-takings over the next two days, shook not only Paris, but those in solidarity around the world. This attack on outspoken proponents of democracy has been denounced by all, excluding the network of extremists who claim to be fighting in the name of Islam. But how can this violent cause be conflated with a peace-loving religion? With regards to the murdered police officer, Ahmed Merabet, how can it lead to the killing of those with whom you wrongfully and insultingly associate with?

Last Sunday’s ‘Marche Republicaine’ saw almost 4 million demonstrators including 70 world leaders proclaim ‘we are not afraid’, most notably through the adoption of ‘#JeSuisCharlie. Yet, almost as quickly as the ‘#JeSuisCharlie’ hashtag emerged online, so did criticisms towards it. What many expressed after the killings was that Charie Hebdo, despite being a satirical magazine, used this label to disguise underlying racism and Islamaphobia. Although the magazine’s illustrations are devoid of political correctness often provocative, as widely remarked by journalists and the late Charb himself, all sectors of French society were targeted equally by the magazine.

We cannot eliminate the issue of culture: France is a country in which freedom of speech is exercised as fully as possible. It is no coincidence that a British equivalent of Charlie Hebdo does not exist in the mainstream; it certainly would not live to compete with Charlie’s forty-four year presence in the media. Aptly, the famous Voltaire quote: ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but i’ll defend to the death your right to say it’ has been adopted by many and reflects the respect that societies around the world express towards the freedom of expression, despite the controversy surrounding it. Undeniably, the images depicting the prophet Mohammed were offensive and in bad taste. However, it in no way justifies confrontation to this extent. That is not Islam.

A principal concern of the French population, Muslim and non-Muslim, is the potential ‘amalgam’ which is anticipated to follow. I, along with most, fear for the plight of the Muslims who may find their position in French society in a vulnerable state. Already, ‘revenge’ attacks against mosques and innocent Muslims have taken place, only serving to heighten religious and cultural tensions, and add fuel to the fire of ignorance. Blaming the majority of followers of Islam is both irresponsible and vilifying.

In contrast to #JeSuisCharlie, ‘#JeSuisAhmed’ has also been been used to voice the heroism of the murdered policeman who many remarked was ‘protecting a magazine which made fun of his religion’. The hashtag also marks the position of Muslims and non-Muslims alike who, although sympathising wholeheartedly with victims of the attacks, do not accept the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo.

Over the days following the killings in Paris, pictures on the French news channel ‘France 2’ showed measures taken by teachers to educate and debate with students on the implications of such an attack. One picture which struck me was of a teenage girl weeping, overwhelmed by what she saw as a ‘war’ breaking out. What the peaceful protests have shown yesterday, today and I hope tomorrow, is that we are not at war in terms of deadly weapon against deadly weapon. Right now, we are fighting with our pens and pencils, defending our right (to the death) to use them, and to exercise freedom of speech.

In the same vein of democracy and freedom of expression, it seemed contradictory to exclude Marine Le Pen’s ‘Front National’ from participating in Paris’s upcoming national unity rally. However, this was a <em>very</em> welcome contradiction, and it spoke volumes: while Le Pen could use the attacks to further her political agenda, her ability to do so is being restricted. The core-rattling events witnessed over these past few days nearly always engender a strong unity and nationalism within the affected country, and it is reassuring to witness that, publicly, Islamophobia has no place in it. Privately, however, we must not be under the illusion that ‘unity’ is our reality – it is not. Europe is a deeply fractured continent, and, as the Pegida movement in Germany shows, Islamophobia is a profoundly rooted problem which governments and citizens must actively work to rectify.

Beyond these protests however, we also cannot ignore the wider issue of extremism, its advocates, and the dangers it presents in the future. It has been said that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is a French equivalent of September the 11th; one of the most poignant illustrations published as a response to Wednesday’s attack is a symbolic representation of 9/11. In it, two green pencils stand upright, with a plane heading towards them. Given the comparisons made between the two era-defining attacks, it is yet to be seen whether the cause of action which follows Wednesday’s attacks will mirror that of 9/11.

In proclaiming ‘Je Suis Charlie’, supporters are standing in solidarity with the principles of a publication which fully exercises freedom of speech, as well as its victims and their families. Yes, the magazine is polarizing, and often as ‘nasty’ as it proclaims itself to be. But ultimately, the freedom of speech – this ‘pillar of democracy’ – is one which we must defend our right to exercise. Journalists of Charlie Hebdo cannot be blamed for their deaths, for such extreme defensiveness can never be justified – and certainly not in the name of Islam.

The ‘Global Hand’ Profile: Part 1

DSC_0471The first time I came across Global Hand was around a year ago, when my friend, Becky, enlisted my help to volunteer in one of the simulations they often run to raise awareness around issues of poverty and a lack of sufficient dynamism around the subject. Having volunteered with them again this past summer and getting to better understand the work that the organisation is involved with, I realised that the work that Global Hand does carries more complexity than its mission as ‘the partnership people’ humbly states.

Creating partnerships between businesses, charities and individuals is instrumental in trying to bridge the gap between two disconnected worlds. Within Global Hand’s remit, the charity actively calls upon the empathy of its partners to create change in their actions and become more dynamic in thinking about and helping to solve problems of poverty that can often be (directly or indirectly) linked to their actions. The work they do is impactful and educational: it sheds light on the issues of corporate responsibility and global economic inequality and helps economically powerful figures as well as young students, to face a world that their daily schedules and lifestyles might separate them from.

Having worked with CEOs and schoolchildren, the work they do spans the spectrum of influence. In the first part of the 4-part profile on the organisation, I met with three members of the team: Ben Solanky (UK Director of Global Hand UK), David Watson (office administrator), and Matthew Gurney (Chief Operating Officer) to talk about their vision for the charity, the people they have worked with, and their motivations for doing what they do. 



MATTHEW: The vision is to connect and bring people together. We live in a world of surplus and a world of need, and often, these two worlds do not connect, and so we want to find ways to do that – to bridge that gap – and bring people together. We want to form partnerships and utilise resources, skills and knowledge.

BEN: One thing we have seen increasingly is the desire for people to accumulate their knowledge and skills, and help where it is needed. Prior to collaborating comes the will to actually do so. Allowing others to have that empathy and see the world as it is seen by those living in poverty is enlightening and powerful in inspiring that collaboration, and so the simulations have inspired such collaborations.


MATTHEW: For me it wasn’t planned to come into this organisation. It coincided with a time in my life in which I wanted to leave the sector I was working in,
which was a design and construction company, into an area that was close to my heart but that I hadn’t anticipated working in. That was it – a very unexciting way!

DSC_0454DAVID: For several months, I was going through a rough patch with work, not knowing what to do and so Global Hand appeared to me over that summer. And so, the ‘odd job’ went, and Global Hand came into being. It is something that changed my career massively and I’m learning everyday.

BEN: I should be a teacher, in my mind! I worked in the charity sector for a number of years but I didn’t have a lot of hope staying in it. I was trying to become a teacher at the time, however I was reintroduced back into the idea that the world is a place that is full of need, and that is why we charities exist. We cannot address these problems by ourselves – as individuals we are dwarfed by enormous needs such as poverty, suffering, and climate change. Ideas of collaboration and partnership are real assets and are powerful tools to address those needs. As I was trying to become a teacher, that desire…to be involved in charities came to me, and the attraction to it was the idea that we can all contribute and we can bring our knowledge, our contacts, our wisdom and our resources to a world in need. But, yeah, I was trying to be a teacher!


BEN: One account of a partnership stems several years from the impact of a simulation we did in Davos in [in conjunction with] the UNHCR, at the World Economic Forum in 2010. The chairman of Nestlé turned up at the event and he was clearly moved by this journey into the life of a refugee and some of the reenactments of life within a camp. Upon coming out of this simulation, I was able to discuss with him how he might like to be involved with this in the future. Sometimes we don’t know or see what happens next, but this year we were back in touch in touch with this same chairman, and he happened to be sponsoring the same event in Davos this year, which was focused on galvanising support for Syria. At the end of one particular simulation, he gave a testimony explaining how he had attended the same event that we ran in 2010 and how it had changed his worldview. As the chairman of Nestlé, he is so removed from that world, but it changed his worldview in that when the Nestlé factory was blown up in Damascus last year, they wrestled with the question of: what SHOULD we do as a company? We have people and employees who depend on us – if we take them off the payroll, it would most likely make the refugee situation worse because of the lack of money and support. So he said that he decided to keep them on the payroll. What was also powerful is that, in sharing his testimony, he had tears in his eyes realising the agony of these big decisions, and other powerful figures became inspired to do likewise. So much of the power of these simulations lies in the peer-to-peer influence that is inspires, and that is a privilege, to see that degree of testimony. Often we don’t hear back, but that was one of our most touching testimonies.

MATT: We run these experiential programmes in order to allow participants to step into the shoes of those who are refugees, or living in desperate poverty, and allow those in the simulation to get a sense of feeling of what people in that position experience in their everyday lives. This element of empathy is critical – we want to touch people’s hearts so that they understand what these issues are. Eventually, with that understanding comes the desire to do something about it, and we have seen those results from the simulations we run.

DAVID: We often go to schools and community groups, so we do things on a smaller scale also. It’s quite inspiring to see effects on a smaller level.



MATT: The list is very long! One of the main platforms we run these simulations on is at the Davos World Economic Forum (for the last 6 years). The people that come through these simulations… we’re constantly staggered by it because they’re heads of industry and world leaders. Earlier this year had the king and queen of Belgium attend, an astronaut, the heads of Nestlé and Unilever, Sheryl Sandberg  – all sorts of people have done this, but it is not just the big names for us. Everybody that takes part is as significant as the other, and so we run the same programmes for schools, church groups, community groups and businesses. It’s been a journey and hopefully will continue to be.


DAVID: for me, it was when I went to Davos for two weeks a couple of years ago. From seeing the setup and the types of people coming through [at the start] compared to when they leave, it is incredible to see the way it changes peoples outlook. It’s a privilege to know that they took time out of their busy schedules to attend.

DSC_0451BEN: I’ve been privileged to see quite a lot over the years – from partnerships with the UN, to  seeing a small organisation grow. A particular project I was close to was in Haiti, and seeing an earthquake survivor get to the Paralympic Games. Over my time here, I have worked with colleagues that don’t have to be here. Everyone is a volunteer, and that is a real honour and privilege to be working in a community like this. It is by no means easy, but it is an honour. Those are the things that make you proud – working with volunteers who are keen, committed and serving, it blows my mind. I do have to keep reminding myself of that because there are times when you have a lot to do, and there are a lot of resources you don’t have; working in this sector means you’re always yearning for more. But when you take stock and look around, it is pretty amazing to see what has been gifted and the lovely environment you have to work in that is this organisation.

MATT: I would say the same as Ben: It always comes back to the people you work with, the people you are partnering with and people who are doing things that are sacrificial of themselves and with little reward – that is hugely inspirational. The most challenging aspect is, however, people – the limit that we have of them. The work that we do is limitless and we need more people to do it. In that sense, it can be a constant struggle to move forward, but we do!




BEN: There is a wealth of information we have to navigate through, so a lot of out day involves stewarding information between two groups and facilitating a level of communication between them. There is also a huge heap of event planning and meetings, networking and correspondence. What we’re trying to do is steward resources towards where there is a need. It can be a thankless task because as a middle man you can be pushed aside, but we have to keep encouraging each other and that’s a powerful part of working here.

MATT: There is no typical day. It can be here in the office, on the road, running a simulation in a school in Oxford, or travelling around Nicaragua, as our communications manager Dave Crisp is doing at the moment. So it is very fluid, but the common theme is people.|

To find out more about Global Hand, visit their website:http://www.globalhand.org/en

Thanks for reading 🙂 What did you think of this interview? Do you have any questions about Global Hand? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Beware! Mind-blocks, breakdowns and determining your path

I think the time has come for me to join the life club. After years of feeling comfortable in the knowledge that the pressures of adult life seem far away, I was hit with the realty that ‘grown up’ duties are not so distant as I thought. Over the past two years, and more intensely in recent months, I have been trying to prepare myself for adulthood and its obligations as  best as possible by working, studying, doing internships, moving out, managing to pay rent, bills, etc. However for some reason, I was still unable to avoid the mini-breakdown  which ensued just yesterday afternoon, and I could not help feeling that there seems nothing to look forward to. I couldn’t help but question whether all this effort, ambition and dreaming would be worth it in the long run, or whether at some point I might just have to sacrifice said ambitions in order to meet the necessities of post-university life. For some reason, the transition does not seem so smooth.

Oftentimes, this feeling can be difficult to shake and when left to fester, could result in over-thinking, feeling overwhelmed and ultimately, experiencing a mind-block. On this occasion, however, my internal optimist decided to present itself just in time and remind me that this lack of motivation and discouragement should not – and will not – last for much longer.

Why did this happen?

Honestly, I believe it has something to do with knowing and accepting the things that I am motivated by. In that moment of feeling lost, overwhelmed and a bit hopeless, I felt angry at the idea that my ambitions could not be achieved. I felt resentment towards whatever it was that made me feel as though I had to rely on someone or something else to determine my destiny. I kept wondering if all this work I had put into trying to creating my own path would be in vain.

And then I realised that it did not have to be.

I think that if there has ever been a time to determine your own life path, it has to be now. There are so many platforms of expression and creation both online and in real life which can allow us to explore the multiple facets of our personality and turn them into our main jobs and/ or side hustle. Life does not have to be monotonous, it does not have to be a chore. Irrespective of one’s job or income, I believe that a self-determined career and life is possible. Opportunities abound, and while it can feel as though you are being pulled in several different directions, taking a step back and remembering what motivates you in life can help.

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws Are An Affront To African Values, Not A Part Of Them

The anti-gay law passed by the Ugandan president Yoseweri Museveni is just what it says on the tin: homophobic. However, embedded in illogical arguments for his signing of the bill, David Bahati – a Ugandan politician who was present at the signing of the bill – attempted to justify for the reason that it is a transgression to ‘African Values’. All of this unfolded on a recent episode of Al Jazeera’s ‘Inside Story’.

What emerged as problematic – and for two main reasons –  was his adoption of the phrase ‘African Values’ to legitimise his stance and policy. As it stands, homosexuality is considered taboo across many parts of the continent however it is certainly not illegal in all African states, including Cote D’Ivoire, Benin and Niger. Across the continent, views surrounding LGBT rights cannot be said to reflect the same legal or social and cultural positions. For this reason, I failed to understand exactly what Bahati referred to as African values in relation to homosexuality.

The first issue presented itself in the way that Mr Bahati painted the entire continent as a homogenous and bounded space, standing directly in opposition to ‘western’ values. He further justified his claim of homosexuality as unafrican in claiming that ‘it is a threat to our values of a family between a man and a woman’.

Secondly he further justified his position in forwarding the notion that homosexuality in Africa was and is a product of western influence, branding it a ‘new form of colonialism and social imperialism’. Indeed, as it later emerged, Bahati was shown to be historically inaccurate and ignorant.

The input of Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian gay rights activist who fled from the country due to death threats, fuelled the debate. A crucial point that was raised was the question of priority: in what capacity is homosexuality harmful, and are there not more pressing issues for the Ugandan state to tend to? Is this not a ploy to appear as though the state is in control and able to ward off threats in order to shift the spotlight from state misconduct? The anti-gay law appears to be a populist one, no doubt due to the widespread transmission of homophobic values across Uganda, resulting in public opinion becoming dominated by this discourse.

Another of his claims lay in the idea that homosexuality is a negative influence on young boys, however Bahati’s belief that being gay is a choice is again, inaccurate. Exploration into ones own sexuality is an aspect of growing up, and in a society where the free expression of sexuality is repressed and attenuated, this part of self-discovery appears misconstrued and offensive to the values of Bahati and his allies. Indeed, homosexuality is not new to Africa, nor is it a western influence.

Prior to the colonial encounter, same-sex activity and third sex groups existed across the continent, and were criminalised as a result of the homophobia embedded in Victorian beliefs. Among numerous and often untold examples, the 20th century anthropologist Evans-Pritchard observed the existence of ‘boy wives’ among the Zande of Zaire, while the existence of transgender and third-sex individuals in South Asia were not regarded as threatening to social values.

Ultimately, the notion that homosexuality is ‘unafrican’ is invalid: the principle reason being that human sexuality is inherent and transcends regional and cultural norms. One last point I would like to make is the importance of recognising that this very notion of Africa as bounded, isolated and diametrically opposed to other societies, especially western ones, is in itself a construct of colonial thought and reasoning. Cultural norms exist, but the extent to which they dictate individual cases should be questioned. African values also exist and are based in ideals of unity, integrity and respect – but these are also ideals shared in many other parts of the world – and it is for this main reason that I believe Mr Bahati’s misuse of the term to be an affront.

On the conflicting nature of ‘work’


I appreciate the timing of this article: it publicly sheds light on the exploitative potential of the notion that you should ‘Do What You Love’ (DWYL). While I agree with what the article concludes, in a different frame of analysis I look at the DWYL mantra as a purely aspirational one. I can identify with the majority of the working population, as a student who works to supplement my income; at the same time I am very much aware of the temporality of my weekend job. It certainly isn’t ‘what I love’,  but I acknowledge that it is necessary. In any case it certainly doesn’t detract from my ambitions.

I also agree that DWYL, as it pertains to work, can be a means of manipulation and exploitation, as Tokumitsu explains. It can certainly cause alienation and consequent disillusion – one of the dangers which I hadn’t considered.

For me, what really matters when considering ‘work’ or a future career is maintaing a degree of integrity, conviction, ‘humanness’, and a willingness to learn in whatever I pursue. One thing I am currently struggling with is coming to terms with the value ascribed to ‘corporate’ work over other career paths. This is something that constantly makes me question and doubt my values and belonging within the workforce.  In an ideal world, of course everyone would be pursuing what they love but in reality, ‘what we love’ often remains a fantasy. I’m a bit of an idealist (even if I don’t have the means to be!) so this doesn’t always sit well with me. As a result, I’m constantly asking my parents and those around me who I consider ‘older and wiser’, if they love what they do. Although many of the jobs they do aren’t inherently creative or incredibly well-paid, to some extent they feel fulfilled.

For this reason I think the idea of DWYL doesn’t always mean that your job has to be that of your dreams, but keeping a sense of self within that job can help to alleviate potential alienation. I think we should apply the proverb ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game’ proverb here. In other words we should critique the structural set-up of certain training and educational institutions, which adopt and encourage linear paths regarding work. Most often the focus is on training students for conventional jobs, which leads to indirectly perpetuating the cycle of ‘those who do well in the initial stages succeeding in life’, against ‘those who don’t do so well being relegated to sectors of the workforce for which they have no passion’. At any stage, we should not have to suppress who we want to be; we should not have to sacrifice our aspirations.

on turning 20.

age is….

In just over a month I’ll be set to celebrate another turning page, my 20th one, and I must say that this 19th year of my life has been an incredibly productive and growth-filled year. At many points throughout it, I have reflected on, recorded and recalled my experiences of the past year with a sense of accomplishment and overall contentedness with the point at which i am. However, one thing that has surprised me each time is the fact that I forget that….I am still only 19. I cannot possibly imagine the person I will be in 5 years and beyond, and this thought excites me. I feel as though this is a very liminal point in my life so far; without wanting to sound like Britney, I don’t necessarily view myself as an adult woman, but I am also not really a ‘girl’ anymore. And I like that. I honestly really enjoy watching myself from the outside and observing the person I am growing into.

On the greater topic of age,  it seems that as many of us grow older, the word employs greater meaning. The concept of age goes from just that: the word ‘age’, in which we seem unconcerned with it, as if we will live forever. This then transforms into (potentially) endless justifications for it: ‘oh, but age is nothing but a number…’, which subsequently morphs into the fight against ageism and a society which rejects this natural and universal inevitability of life. But this needn’t be viewed as a pessimistic outlook towards growing up, it is simply an observation that a lot of us make and experience. I, for one, am a strong believer in the beauty and grace of growing up and growing old: it is one of the few, or many, things that the majority of us can look forward to. One thing I am particularly excited about is the opportunity to read my journals and notes from days gone, and recall the memories of the awesome life I have lived. But back to the present – this is where I am. I will not wish these days away, I very much intend to live them fully :).

Scroungers? I Beg To Differ

Quite often and, rather unfortunately, the discussion surrounding immigration to the UK is imbued with outward resentment, nationalist sentiments and to some extent, xenophobic undertones. However the notion expressed by many that immigrants come to the UK to ‘steal jobs’ and ‘scrounge off the state’ hail from a rather misinformed and stereotypical perspective. Having always supported the ‘for’ side of the immigration debate, I was particularly pleased when a report from the Center for Research and Analysis of Migration at UCL was recently released, revealing that “immigrants overall are less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits and are also less likely than natives to occupy social housing”. It is not news that immigration throughout time has elicited hostile reception at some point: countless examples tell this story. However The ‘immigrant as the parasite’ is an image that sadly, even contemporary policy makers have chosen to adopt and exploit. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that the anti-immigration rhetoric spread by UKIP has recently gained ground among the UK voting population partly as a result of these negative assumptions surrounding immigration to Britain. Moreover, these beliefs are shown to be reflected across the continent: in the 2008 European Social Survey figures revealed that 8% of European citizens that participated believed that the rights of immigrants within the receiving country should not be equated with that of native citizens, while almost half of all participants were of the opinion that immigrants received disproportionately more than they contributed to the the economy.

In terms of the UK, hopefully this sentiment can now be overridden. The study, which measured immigrants’ net fiscal contribution to the UK economy found that within a 10 year period ending in 2011, European Economic Area migrants contributed 34% more than they received. Additionally it was revealed that spending habits on average were likely to equal that of native citizens and, relatedly; second-generation immigrants are also likely to contribute to successive generations by paying taxes at a later stage in their lives. Moreover, the fact that almost double the number of non-European Economic Area migrants to the UK obtained a degree than British citizens in 2011 – 38% of the migrant population as compared to 21% of that of the UK – is testament to the fact that the majority of immigrants are not relocating to the UK solely to take advantage of its state benefits.

This report is highly illuminating however, it will be difficult to gauge its subsequent effect on public perception regarding immigration. I am particularly looking forward to how these findings will play out in terms of policy concerning tighter immigration controls. While I understand that logistically, it would be impractical to open up the borders to more people wanting to enter, I do not believe that immigration warrants hostile reception and awkward discussion. From my perspective, I am a firm believer in the fact that immigration has some great benefits – not only economically – but socially also, in the way that it can promote cultural exchange and potentially better opportunities for migrants. My hope is that this statistical evidence will to some extent put to rest the negative connotations surrounding immigration to the UK and enlighten a fair few of Farage’s fan club.