English: There, here and over there. Basically, in a sense, to mean restless. A collection of thoughts, musings and ramblings...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts as a Mosaic Summit 2013 delegate

Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
~ Sabrina Aripen

Ok. So I stole that quote from Mother Teresa. Adjusted it and made it my own.

She said the smile is the beginning of love, but I would prefer to say "friendship" so as not to make the guys run to the nearest exit (Ahahahaha). Aside from that little difference, I love her quote.

I absolutely love this sneak photo taken by Ahmed Mohammed Hussein during one of the first tea breaks we had during the Mosaic Summit held in the University of Greenwich. It captures the essence of the first moments of "getting-to-know-you" between myself and group member Ammar Issam from Iraq - in the midst of a shared laugh that sparks the beginning of a friendship.

Until you've shared that laugh, you're nothing but mere acquaintances. And through friendship, you gain a lot of understanding

Someone had asked me sometime in the first few days of the summit, if I felt that the summit had changed my life. At that moment in time, I wasn't ready for an answer. Sure, I could totally resonate with many of the points that the speakers had shared with us, as I had experienced many of those myself as well. But change? Not sure.

It was when I was sitting in the hall at Community Links, our last project visit, listening to one of the welcoming speeches that it hit me.

"I want to make positive changes as a leader and show the world that Islam is beautiful"

I must confess, I was a little worried when I was first accepted to come to the Mosaic Summit. I was born and bred a liberal Muslim - I grew up with the basic knowledge of Islam, had even grown up loving Quranic verses when I was much younger, but my budding love for the religion was tainted, and subsequently crushed from bad experiences and horrible stories about the cruelty of Islam.

"Islam is bad, torturous, oppressive" was the message. The list is long. And expectation of being a 'good Muslim' back home was high, and kind of superficial, interlaced with cultural expectations. It got worse in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Islam is now synonymous with terrorism, hatred, and intolerance. Recent happenings back home did not help either.

Sure, I've tried a few times to defend my religion. But my heart wasn't truly in it. I never felt like I truly belonged. I wasn't a 'good Muslim'. And somehow it sounded like an insult to be one.

So naturally, I was worried. Worried that I wouldn't fit in. Worried that there would be certain expectations on myself that I cannot live up to.

But I came - with an open heart and an open mind.

The story about how Mosaic came to being, working hard at restoring people's faith in the beauty of the religion really stirred me. I look around, from the first day of the summit we have heard from Muslims creating positive impact, integrating themselves into a world that tried to reject them with stereotypes, and succeeded to transform the mindset. And there are the delegates themselves - wonderfully open, kind and compassionate, as I've discovered from many conversations, shared stories and time spent together. People that I would not normally have met in my every day life.

It is an eye-opening experience for one that has been fed with so many stereotypical stories. The personal, face-to-face meetups are ones that I treasure the most.

You and I, we are the same. We are all human. We bleed the same colour of blood. Together we have the same dreams of a better world.

The ones that ruin the name of Islam are few, there are more of us who could make a difference to the world through positive impact.

For me, as a result of Mosaic, I now see Islam through new and different eyes. And with that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Putting the Pieces together – Mosaic Leadership Summit 2013 Part 2

“We can't be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better.” 
C. JoyBell C., Author
Flying over 16 hours to London to attend a leadership summit and to meet delegates from 16 different countries is definitely an adventure in itself. 

Amid the worries about 'fitting in', I came with a set of preconceived notions about what I could be expecting when I arrived. I've never met people from at least 75% of the countries listed before.

Indeed, it was an eye-opener

I ended my last blogpost with some insight on the speakers that we heard from on the first day of the Mosaic Summit in the University of Greenwich. The day actually did not end just there, but we continued on with a special project - a Team Building Art activity, facilitated by representatives from the Prince's School of Traditional Arts.

With the words 'Art' and 'Teambuilding' in one sentence, I somehow visualised an open space, mural painting and the like. Perhaps a little chaotic as well to accomodate the some 80 plus people in the summit.

However walking into the room, we were greeted with orderly slips of paper on the table, with gilded dotted strips, pens, small paint brushes and palettes. We were doing something that is inspired by Islamic designs - geometric shapes and interlaced web of straps.

The first lesson: Connecting the dots to make a nice 'plaited' border for the artwork!

First we practiced on getting the patterns right on the A4 paper. Then do it for real on the gilded slips. Next, we painted the dots blue or red.

After finishing the borders, some continued painting on some pretty individual pieces, but I decided to join another table to paint on the bigger art piece where the small individual pieces will be pasted on. Just like pieces of a puzzle. Or mosaics.

Hard at work
Almost there...!
I must say - I am not the most talented painter, in fact I always always always failed art in school. I made a few smudges here and there.... but still, the final artwork is gorgeous! And everyone had a part in creating it.

The final piece was presented for show to HRH Prince of Wales during the reception that he hosted for the Mosaic delegates at his London residence - Clarence House.

Ta-dahhhh! The finished artwork in St Catharine's, Cambridge
 There wasn't much time to spare, as then it was time for the Open Forum where delegates are free to share a presentation, a speech, a performance or whatever for 5 minutes. I had put in my name, and decided to speak a little about where I come from, and my passion for gender equality.

I had brought with me a couple of souvenirs that were sponsored by Chanteek Borneo, including a few collectible dolls to be given away as gifts to delegates. Which was a good thing, since I could use one as a prop for my speech. Incidentally, I had also bought a wakid, a backpack made of woven rattan and was able to slip it on to the doll, which represented the KadazanDusun community in Sabah. I also used my nice kain dastar bag and Vinusak beadwork necklace by the Rungus community to illustrate a few points about the contribution of women in the society and why I am who I am.

I was pleasantly surprised that many came up to me and said it was a very inspiring speech. It was a good start to the summit.

On the second day of the summit, we were honored to have Peter Sanders. a photojournalist with us to show some of his work. Peter is internationally recognised as one of the worlds leading photographer of the Islamic World. 

You could feel a vibe of calmness that surrounds him as he showed us photo by photo, each of which was incredibly beautiful and profound. A picture speaks a thousand words, and nothing is more true than that when you viewed his presentation.

His project - The Art of Integration is a graceful and visually poetic reminder that Muslims have been a part of British life for well over a century and have made and continue to make an important contribution to the United Kingdom's rich cultural diversity.

We also had Aaqil Ahmed, the first Muslim to hold the post of Head of Religion and Ethics at BBC as one of the speakers of the day. It was interesting to note his outspoken and strong presence, in contrast with Peter's quiet yet impactful approach. Being Muslim, his appointment had initially cast many fears on viewers that Christian faith is being sidelined and downgraded on the television network. He shared with us the many challenges he had to face to dispel the negativity that surrounds Islam and prove that Islam is a religion of peace.

Our fifth speaker - Bushra Nasir, was voted one of the UK's most power Muslim women. The first Muslim female headteacher of a British state school - Plashet school, she talked about how she had revived a failing girls' school in the London borough of Newham (one of the most deprived boroughs in the country) into one that is highly esteemed. According to her, mixed faith schools improve social cohesion.

After a powerful morning followed by a good lunch, we expected to be wilting over like flowers in the heat when we were introduced to the last speaker for the day. One and half hours... phew!!

It was not meant to be. He had us all sitting up straight in our seats as we savoured everything he had to deliver.

A very entertaining speaker (and obviously a very talented and engaging teacher), John May is the Secretary General of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. He is a campaigner, teacher, youth worker, writer and broadcaster who has spent his career working with and for young people in the UK and around the world.

He shared his passion on working with young people and showed the differences between each generation. According to him, what the sheltered milliniels (the generation now) really need are a set of beliefs:-
1. Believe in Yourself
2. Believe in your Ideas
3. Believe in others
4. Believe in action.

The second day ended with some sharing by all the group leaders, all of whom were delegates in previous summits, on what they have accomplished since then.

On the third day, we had 3 speakers with us, before we had to prepare for our grand reception hosted by HRH Prince of Wales.

In the morning, we had Stephen Howard, Chief Executive, Business in the Community, as well as Khawar Mann - chairman of Mosaic, is also currently chairman of Medsi Group, the largest healthcare provider company in Russia.

Stephen Howard shared that we should all recognise that everyone wants to play a role in making a difference, especially businesses. In a nutshell, we should ask ourselves "Are what we are doing, something that is worth doing? Does it matter?"

Khawar's main message was that we should go out and do something that really inspires us. He also told us that if 80% of the time you are complaining about your work, have the courage to leave.

In the afternoon, we had Dr Alan Knight, Environmental Sustainability Director, Business in the Community. He has over 25 years' experience working with global and national organisations, advising them at board level on global sustainable development issues which affect business, society and individuals. Sustainability is all about long term solutions, doing things that address the problems, not the symptoms. We should aim to leave a legacy - what do you want to be remembered for?

After a short briefing, it was all hustle and bustle as we excitedly got ready in our finest garments in preparation to meet Prince Charles. HRH the Prince of Wales hosted a special reception for the Mosaic delegates at his London residence - Clarence House.

**I wonder though if the date was chosen as to its significance? It was also the 12 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The lobby was full of excitement as each delegate entered, in traditional wear.

As I was the sole representative of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak), I decided to add something tribal that I feel can represent all the different parts of Malaysia. So I wore the conventional lace kebaya, but paired it up with some Sarawak prints for the sarong and selendang, and wore beadwork by the Rungus community of Sabah.

And of course, accompanied by my ever favourite Kain Dastar bag from the Iranun community of Kota Belud.

It was a foot-aching 2 hour wait... but it was worth it. A seemingly soft-spoken and humble gentleman, HRH the Prince greeted every single guest with a handshake or a smile, and spent some time talking to everyone. Accompanying him was Founder Chairman of Mosaic, HRH Princess Badiya bint El Hassan of Jordan.

It is such a great honor!

For the rest of the first week, we went on project visits around London, travelling via public transport. Our first stop was at Sir John Cass Redcoat Church of England School. Up until 1966, it was a failing school but currently it has climbed up to the top 1% schools of the country. While it is a faith school, it is attended by roughly around 85% - 90% of non-whites, with Bangladeshi Muslims being the biggest majority. The school practices multifaith prayer at assembly every morning and each student learns in general about the 5 main faiths at school.

In terms of leadership, the school focuses on developing independence of its students through security and safety by forming a culture of mutual respect for all, as well as ensuring that they have the best and most inspiring teaching staff to motivate their students to greater heights.

I found it very interesting how in UK so much emphasis is placed on music and performing arts, where it is actually taught as a subject at school and not just something extra you picked up on the side on after-school hours.

The next place we went to was Kids Company founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996, which provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children.

Their services reach 36,000 and intensively support 18,000 children across London, including the most deprived and at risk whose parents are unable to care for them due to their own practical and emotional challenges.

Kids that come here have a variety of activities to choose from, including art, cooking, indoor sports, and even help for homework! We got to help out with some of the activities while we were there.

According to Kids Company, vulnerable groups helped by this organisation ranges from the ages of 0 - 24.

On Friday, we were packed to leave Cutty Sark to move to our new place in St Catharine's College, Cambridge. I was sad to leave my little cosy room in Greenwich which I grew to love, but also excited to see what Cambridge is like.

On the way, we stopped for another project visit, this time to Community Links, an innovative east London charity based in Newham, running a wide range of community projects for over 16,000 people every year, boasting of 30 years of experience working with local people to support children, young people, adults and families.

Through their national work, Community Links share lessons with government and community groups across the country to achieve social change.

Here, we played a few games which teaches lessons on cause and effect, as well as to illustrate that in any situation, there are many players (some that you may not even know are there) who will be affected by any action. We also learnt about how the organisation deals with helping debt-ridden people, for example giving advice on which debts are priority (must be paid) and which ones are not.

And with that, we closed a fruitful first week with Mosaic International Summit, setting our sights for an even better week at Cambridge. The first week had been mostly about learning from the best, and getting inspired on activities that we could do in our communities when we return.

Stay tuned for Part 3!!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Putting the Pieces together - Mosaic Leadership Summit 2013 Part 1

It feels surreal.

Walking on the cobbled streets of picturesque Cambridge, with stately old buildings whose history seem to whisper from the walls, it feels unbelievable how far I've come. Not just in distance, but the experiences so far.

Punting in Cambridge. Ahhh the romance!

I remember that it was last December when I first read about the Mosaic programme. A good friend forwarded an email, excitedly telling us to apply. At that point of time I was on the journey of rediscovering myself, changing careers, trying various work opportunities in the hope that something would 'fit'. The details of the programme seemed incredible, and a trip to possibly London or the UAE for nothing less than a leadership conference is like a dream come true. So I thought "Why not?"

I do not remember exactly what it was that I written in my application, except it was a whole lot about my work for women's issues and other causes I have worked on with much pride.

And then in February, came the email. I was shortlisted for an interview!!

I was in the midst of organising an installation banquet, and going to the interview meant flying out to Kuala Lumpur AND staying over, but I knew that I couldn't give up the chance. And coincidentally BFM, a local radio station, also in Kuala Lumpur, wrote in to ask me for an interview after reading my article on LoyarBurok about feminism.

What are the odds? I felt like I was suddenly thrust into a different dimension.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I went to both interviews, had a wonderful installation dinner, and in April I received the news - Congratulations on being awarded a delegate place on the Mosaic International Leadership Programme!

I was astounded. I couldn't believe it!

After months of eagerly waiting, I am finally here. Meeting with 80 delegates aged 25-35 from various Muslim majority countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, and UK, getting inspired to make positive changes in our respective communities. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Etihad Airways, I had a wonderful journey from Kuala Lumpur.
The Mosaic International Leadership Programme aims to develop leadership skills, inspire thinking about global issues, and equip young people to become involved in their local communities.
The programme lasts for 12 months and begins with the Mosaic International Summit, a 2 week period of intense residential training.
Founded by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2007, Mosaic’s mentoring programmes create opportunities for young people growing up in our most deprived communities. Mosaic’s vision is for all young people to be supported to realise their potential.

Mosaic is an initiative of Business in the Community (BITC), part of the family of charities overseen by The Prince’s Charities, the largest multi-cause charitable enterprise in the United Kingdom.
This year's summit would not have been possible if not for the generous support provided by the supporters of the International Leadership Programme, including Prudential Corporation Asia, Qatar Foundation, Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation, Etihad Airlines, Qatar Shell, Crescent Petroleum, Al Maktoum College of Higher Education, and Pearn Kandola.
During the first week, we were placed in University of Greenwich and staying at Cutty Sark Hall, a cosy residence for students at Greenwich. I absolutely loved the atmosphere there, with the significant Meridien line just close by and central London just a few trainstops away.

We had the honour of having several outstanding speakers with us during our time there. I was completely blown away with some of the leadership tips that our speakers shared with us. As you can see from the line-up of speakers - these are not your ordinary people.
*** First day Speakers***
First up, we had Deema Bibi, CEO of INJAZ (http://www.injaz.org.jo/)  an NGO that first started as a project under Save the Children, funded by the USAID and re-launched in 2001 as an independent non-profit Jordanian organization under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah with the mission "to inspire and prepare young Jordanians to become productive members in their society and succeed in the global economy"

She talked about the expected roles of women that prevented many from going further in terms of leadership. She also shared how we should embrace painful experiences, tragedies or failures (she is a cancer survivor) as those are the times that allow us to reflect and see what is truly important in life. Her tragedy had resulted her in shifting careers, and that is something I could relate to personally, being someone who had just given up 8 years in an accounting career to follow my passion for human rights. I am very interested in what INJAZ is doing, if it is something I can model on for my own youth movement Borneo Youth Revolution in Sabah.

The second speaker we had was the "iron lady" Sayeeda Warsi, Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of the State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities appointed on 4 September 2012. Of Pakistani origin, she was the third Muslim minister and the first female Muslim to serve as a minister in the United Kingdom, although she never won an election. The moment you walked in, you could feel the air of confidence that she exudes. It was definitely a day for feminism, as she too emphasised on how women leaders are affected by social gaps which are imposed by husbands, brothers and fathers. It is all too important to have men who are willing to be equal partners. Ones that understand and are able to step back to allow their women to be who they are supposed to be.

I can only wish for such a partner in my life.

 In a nutshell the first day was a lot about women empowerment and how women can be changemakers. It is all about being passionate and having strong beliefs in what you can do. And I know I do.

As for now... I am off to explore Cambridge, so see you later! Look out for Part 2 ;-)


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