Sara & Finn: Big heart in every day kindnesses

Allow me to share a story about this very special person. He’s 12. We’re in our last season of commuting to school together after seven awesome years.

On Monday morning, I was feeling groggy & slow. When he asked why, I explained that for much of his dad’s & my life together, outside of the time when we did 4:30/5am turn-taking wake-ups with little people, his dad, got up each morning, brewed coffee, & brought it to me in bed. Yes, I know I’m spoiled. I explained that his dad isn’t one for big grand gestures, we aren’t great at the grown-up birthday or Christmas gifts, but I prefer these everyday kindnesses over any one-time big thing. Well, this week his dad’s longtime early workout class had changed its start time (grrrrrrr) & it got him home too late for brewing coffee before we needed to leave the house. Yeah, I’m capable of brewing coffee, I’m just not particularly good at it & just haven’t had the practice. We went along with our day.

That evening while sitting in our front room, I heard this guy ask his dad to show him how to make coffee. On his own. His idea. He then set his morning alarm 15 minutes earlier than he normally gets up. The following morning, he went downstairs, ground the beans, brewed coffee, & frothed milk. And then he walked it upstairs in my favorite mug. It was without a doubt, the best mug of coffee I’ve ever had. I have felt its warmth in my chest throughout these past days. Oh, how I love him so.

~Sara Armstrong about her son Finn, New Haven, CT

The ones who survived

Rohingya family

A 9/11 hate crime survivor meets Rohingya refugees.

In December, I visited the largest and densest refugee camp in the world. In Cox’s Bazar, hundreds of thousands of oppressed Rohingya men, women, and children, the “lucky” ones who narrowly escaped Myanmar with their lives, are now suffering in this camp.

Visiting this camp was a life altering experience. Thousands of sickly, terrified, traumatized, and destitute Rohingya people populate an absurdly small area in southeast Bangladesh. I bore witness to their plight.

As a relief worker, I sat down with refugee families in their tiny, tarp shacks and listened to their heart-breaking and courageous stories. I saw thousands of children under the age of 10, many playing in dirt with makeshift toys made of trash. No food. No medicine. No home. No school. No future. The mercy of others is their only chance at survival. 

The unlucky ones

Imagine if they were your own children or loved ones. How would you feel? These children have done nothing to deserve this life. The reason for their fate is the accident of their birth: They happened to be born into a Rohingya family in Myanmar.

They survived genocide, only to walk hundreds of miles, day and night, through hills, paddy fields, and streams, the threat of violence looming with each fragile step toward another uncertain day of existence.

Mohammed Sahel is just six and his sister, Asma bibi, only five. They, along with three other younger children, sat to play with me on the dirt floor of their family’s small tent.

How could these innocent, young children, along with many thousands like them, walk day and night, hundreds of miles on their tiny feet, falling asleep anywhere on their painstaking journey whenever their little bodies couldn’t walk another step?

But, this pain was far better than the alternative — being burned alive, beaten or shot in the head by one of the most ruthless militaries in the world, led by some of the world’s most morally corrupt civil and military leaders.

Here I am, visiting with refugee toddlers who have witnessed their loved ones being brutally murdered, their homes and land decimated, and in many cases, family members fighting to survive after severe wounds and infections from being tortured and beaten

I asked them what they ate in the camp and they told me a meagre portion of rice and lentils, and if lucky, maybe they’d get a bit of curry with green beans and tomatoes.

As I continued to walk through the camp, I saw thousands more children, many naked and severely malnourished.

These children, many only two or three years old, went through the same kinds of trauma that Sahel and Asma bibi did. No playdates or soccer practices or birthday parties for these youngsters, just the punishingly brutal reality of being a poor refugee.

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to an elementary school class in the US and was asked to avoid using such words as “gun,” “kill,” or “blood.” And now here I am, visiting with refugee toddlers who have witnessed their loved ones being brutally murdered, their homes and land decimated, and in many cases, family members fighting to survive after severe wounds and infections from being tortured and beaten.

Accounts of sorrow

I asked Sahel’s mother how she and her husband managed to escape with their five children and two elderly parents. She broke down, exclaiming: “Only God knows how we walked 13 days through the mud, jungle, up hills, and through streams.”

Where did you sleep and what did you eat, I asked? “Whenever we felt we couldn’t walk anymore, we lied down with the kids, and it was extremely terrible at night because of the fear of getting attacked or shot.

It was a horrible experience, the kids cried all the time for food and from lack of rest, but we had to keep walking to get to the border,” she explained.

I touched the forehead of her one-year-old son, who was sitting on her lap, suffering from an intensely high fever. 

I asked her how life was back home, in Myanmar. She said it was OK, despite the long- term, systematic suppression by their government. At least they had a house, a small boat to catch fish, and land to cultivate. But now, everything was gone, except their lives.

And arriving at this refugee camp meant that they could at least sleep at night, without the fear of getting killed or burned alive in their own home. While she spoke, I could see the immense horror and sadness on her face for all she had lost, for all she had endured.

But, at the same time, there was a small spark of joy: She and her family could sleep at night, even on the unforgivingly hard dirt floor, without a mattress or blankets, but without the fear of being killed in the middle of the night.

* * *

There were thousands of tents near Sahel’s, with a minuscule distance of a couple of feet separating one from the next, and a few make-shift toilets nearby, servicing hundreds of families. Livings conditions were unhealthy, unsanitary, and unstable at the camp.

Most of the shacks sit on the slope of hills once full of trees. Bangladesh has a subtropical monsoon climate, making it inevitable for disastrous, heavy rains, leading to mudslides — to plague the region. In such a dense refugee camp, such a storm would be catastrophic.

On top of this, powerful cyclones and other natural disasters are common. These refugees have faced more than enough severe trauma, and a cyclone or catastrophic mudslides would inevitably only make their plight worse.

Perhaps the irony, as cruel and shocking as it is, is that Myanmar’s leader is a Noble Peace Laureate. Aung Sun Suu Kyi is calling for anything but peace and life. Instead, it seems, she is cynically perpetuating the destruction and devastation being faced by the Rohingya.

A UN resolution called on the Myanmar government to allow refugee access for aid workers, ensuring the safe return of all refugees, while granting full Myanmar citizenship to the Rohingyas.

But sadly, this humane and peaceful resolution was vehemently rejected by China, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as Myanmar.

The same countries opposing safeguarding the Rohingya’s basic human rights are, at the same time, fighting for their own citizens’ freedom from discrimination and torture in other countries.

For example, Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, warned that he may impose a permanent ban on workers to Kuwait, and withdraw his countrymen, if another Filipino domestic helper is attacked or dies.

Peaceful countries, like Japan, and the largest democracy of them all, India, remain silent. Neither voted for the resolution. Perhaps, as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr said, “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” 

Deafening silence and selfish acts never solve anything; rather, they create more hate, violence, intolerance, and open the path of extremism.

Polar opposites

Before I left Sahel and Asma bibi’s tent, I asked them, and their parents, what they most wanted. “All we want to do is go home and rebuild our lives,” they told me.

Overwhelmingly, this was the same massage refugees gave me when I asked this question.

Everyone I spoke to told me they were very grateful for the incredible hospitality of the Bangladeshi people, especially its military.

Both countries are led by women, one has blood on her hands despite being the Nobel Peace Laureate, while the other practices the same mercy, kindness, and compassion Aung Sung Suu Kyi once preached

Two military forces, from two neighbouring countries, Myanmar and Bangladesh; one is morally corrupted and guilty of genocide; and the other is praised worldwide for saving humanity, serving as the number one UN peacekeeping force in the world.

Both countries are led by women, one has blood on her hands despite being the Nobel Peace Laureate, while the other practices the same mercy, kindness, and compassion Aung Sung Suu Kyi once preached during her struggle to free the Myanmar people.

Despite the miserable conditions of the Rohingya’s daily life, I saw the unforgettable smiles on their faces while receiving the variety of relief goods from us. The refugees asked me to share their stories and plea to the international community to help end their plight.

I vowed to not only amplify their voices, but reach out to United Nations, world leaders, religious and secular institutions, and individuals of conscience to hold them morally accountable to work together to eradicate this senseless human suffering by implementing a five point solution:

  1. All restrictions on humanitarian aid to the Rohingya should be lifted and access for journalists and human rights monitors should be permitted.
  2. An independent investigation should bring all responsible parties to justice for crimes against humanity.
  3. A safety zone for the Rohingya people should be declared, and UN peacekeeping forces must be deployed to protect them.
  4. Rohingya refugees should be helped in their migration back from neighbouring countries with necessary support to rebuild their homes and lives.
  5. The Rohingya should be recognized as a protected ethnic minority group, with guarantees of their basic human rights, including citizenship and voting rights. 

It’s our moral duty as enlightened citizens of the world to help these destitute men, women, and children to lead a dignified human life. We must remember that no one chose to be a refugee.

Whatever the Myanmar military, the perpetrator here, and the head of the state Aung San Suu Kyi want for themselves and their families are the same things the Rohingya want for themselves and their families: Peace, opportunity, happiness, and love.

We must redouble our effort to amplify the message that rings out from genocides and senseless oppressions throughout human history: “Never again.”

Rais Bhuiyan, a post 9/11 hate crime survivor is the founder of World Without Hate, is an international speaker and the subject of The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas.

Stopping Myanmar’s Genocide

An eight-month-old cries out while his mother is gang raped by a “security” force and the soldiers silence the baby forever with a stroke of a knife.  This is not a gruesome movie scene; it’s part of the ongoing, silent genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. More than 370,000 Rohingya people have already fled and more than 1,000 have been murdered by the Myanmar government since violence erupted.   Here is the ultimate insult: Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar who said she aimed “to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless” as she led the struggle to free Myanmar from its military dictator, is now sponsoring this massive, racist campaign of ethnic cleansing and terrorism.

“No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim,” Ms. Suu Kyi complained angrily after a BBC reporter questioned her silence on the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims. “I don’t think there is ethnic cleaning going on,” she said recently.  “It is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and this divide we are trying to close up.” In fact, she has been closing this divide by systematically exterminating the Rohingyas, by treating them as lesser human beings.

According to the United Nations, the Rohingya people are among the most persecuted on the planet.  Despite living in Myanmar for generations, they have been denied citizenship and basic human rights.  Pope Francis voiced his concern saying, “they have been suffering for years, they have been tortured, killed, simply because they want to continue their tradition, and their Muslim faith.”  And yet, their suffering has not spurred action or touched enough human hearts.

Despite the United States’ Holocaust Museum’s concerns of a possible risk of genocide in Myanmar and the joint UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report on ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in that country, the media has only reported the bare minimum of the plight of these innocent victims.  News reports often falsely characterize Rohingya resistance efforts as terrorist acts.

Before more misinformation is reported, before an entire people is exterminated, the United Nations, world leaders, religious and secular institutions, and individuals of conscience should expose and work to eradicate this senseless human suffering. I urge everyone to call for the following:

  1. All restrictions on humanitarian aid to the Rohingya should be lifted and access for journalists and human rights monitors should be permitted.
  2. An independent investigation should bring all responsible parties to justice for crimes against humanity.
  3. A safety zone for the Rohingya people should be declared, and UN peacekeeping forces deployed to protect them.
  4. Rohingya refugees should be helped in their migration back from neighboring countries with necessary support to rebuild their homes and lives.
  5. The Rohingya should be recognized as a protected ethnic minority group, with guarantees of their basic human rights, including citizenship and voting rights.

Without immediate action, more people will die.  Left unchecked, this crisis could reach the proportions of Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Darfur.  It is Ms. Suu Kyi’s responsibility to demonstrate the same mercy, kindness and compassion she preached during her struggle to free the Myanmar people.   World leaders and institutions should hold her accountable for stopping this massacre and upholding the principles she spoke of during her 2012 Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech, which currently rings hollow given her prominent role in causing Rohingya suffering.

Written by: Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President

Hate causes a lifetime and generations of pain

No one is born to hate. No one is a born a terrorist. People are either taught to hate or have gone through challenges in their lives, desensitizing them to others’ lives, freedom and happiness. Hate and violence do not benefit anyone. Hate causes a lifetime and generations of pain.

Heather Heyer’s family and friends. Those whose lives she touched. The police officers’ family, friends and colleagues. The multiple injured victims. The witnesses. The attacker. No one involved in the Charlottesville protests have been left unscathed. The media attention will wane, focus will soon be placed on another incident, in another town, with more violence, more victims and likely more loss of life.

To truly build a World Without Hate, we must never forget Heather, her selfless dedication, and all the victims who have come before her. We must honor her life by taking conscious, deliberate, every day actions, one act of kindness at a time, if we truly want to combat the seemingly endless cycle of hate, divisiveness, and terror that has plagued our country for generations.

So on this day, and every day after, I urge all of us to take time to sincerely reach out and educate our younger generations, and remind one another, to respect every one regardless of their socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation and gender identification. Let us stand together, rejecting all manifestations of hate.

~Rais Bhuiyan, 9/11 Hate Crime Victim, Human Rights Advocate and Peace Activist

Remembering Hiroshima: Urging reflection for action

When temperatures reach triple digits, we feel miserable, but four digits are beyond fathomable. Now imagine, suddenly your city’s temperature rises to 7,323 degrees Fahrenheit (4,000 degrees Celsius). You burn instantly. That’s what happened to the people of Hiroshima on Aug 06, 1945. The “Little Boy” showed the entire world its enormous destructive capacity, taking 140,000 lives. A dark chapter in human history to be sure.

Hiroshima

World War II is over, but the scars, traumas, and threats of evil still exist. The massive destruction of that war and the degradation of humanity was clearly not enough loss for us to come to an understanding and agree to avoid war, find solutions to conflicts through dialogue and save human lives. It’s never too late to do the right thing.   After 72 years since the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, we can still urge our leaders to find ways to abolish Nuclear weapons, instead of spending money on maintaining the existing 15,000 stockpile and further production. We should utilize our resources on peace building, educating one another about the power of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance and understanding. Let’s (new) clear the world from hate, violence, and ignorance by teaching empathy, mercy, and forgiveness, and building the world we all deserve – a world without violence, a world without victims, and a world without hate.   ~ Rais Bhuiyan

Walking for Water: My Ramadan Reminder

During my recent visit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, a simple, but extraordinarily powerful exhibit depicting the distances that millions go through every day for clean water, touched me deeply. A one gallon (4 liter) bucket sat on the floor, next to it, a loop of bare footprints, and a sign reading, “What is it like to walk for water?” Millions of people around the world walk three or more miles just to fetch clean water. A family of 3 needs a minimum of 5 gallons of water for each person, every day, – that’s 15 gallons and 9 miles. I did the math for my family right way, 40 gallons and 24 miles! There would be no time or energy for any other tasks except carrying water every day. By the mercy of God,

I’ve never had to walk even a foot for water, but I have seen others struggle, feeling for them, and always appreciating my own blessings of easy and convenient access to clean water.

As a part of my appreciation, I also try hard to use it wisely, including but not limited to:

  • pouring into the glass only what I would drink
  • turning off the faucet while brushing teeth or scrubbing the dishes
  • turning off the shower while using soap or shampooing hair
  • turning off faucets in public places if it was not turned off properly

I understand these steps won’t affect the people who are struggling, but it helps the conservation efforts of our most precious resource. Perhaps even more importantly, it reminds me to be a better human, remaining aware of my fellow human beings’ suffering, and in appreciating what I have, finding ways in which I might be able to assist those who don’t have what I do. (There will be information and links to ways in which you can also help those in need of clean water at the end of this post).

Currently, I am observing the holy month of Ramadan. Among many other things, I am fasting between sunrise and sunset. While conservation is important, during Ramadan, we also temporarily deprive ourselves from water and food so that we can feel a just a slice of the pain and suffering that so many endure, each and every single day. Their hope for an end to this struggle, this basic and inherent human right, extends far beyond my 30 days.

Every morning, before getting out of bed I grab a sip of the water I keep on my bed stand. The last few days have been different, however. The water is there, but I choose not to drink it. Next, coffee with breakfast, which I also skip. By noon, my stomach starts complaining. By 4pm, it’s nagging at me, fatigue and weakness set in, and my mouth seems to get drier. I feel like I could drink gallons of water and a table full of food. My body is pleading, but my mind is controlling the need. It’s a power struggle between mind and body no doubt, but this annual exercise helps turn weakness into strength, to be mindful and more patient, and to be a more compassionate and empathetic person.

Ramadan,observed during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is practiced by Muslims around the world. This month of fasting helps us to acquire piety, discipline, patience, compassion, empathy, and over all self-control. Ramadan is indeed tough, but truly rewarding spiritually, physiologically, and socially. It’s an opportunity for self-cleansing, feeling the plight of the poor, needy, and deprived.

The first few days of fasting is the hardest. Then, I feel almost immune to hunger and thirst. Instead, I feel as though I have a much better understanding for how people go with little to no food and water for hours on end, in many cases, for days and days. Of course, those who lack access to water, also live in food deserts and often can’t even provide one meal per day for themselves or their children.  On top of this, in many cases, there are constant threats of violence, bombings and killing that take place in these incredibly oppressed areas.  I can’t help but think about the mothers who can do nothing more than hold their children as they die from malnutrition; or the elderly who must beg on the street or go door to door, grateful for anything they can find, desperate to live like a human being. I think about the sick who can’t afford food or medicine. My heart breaks for the 20,000 people, and the four children every minute, who die every day from hunger or hunger related causes (according to UN). The statistics in the United States are also horrifying; one in four children go to bed on an empty stomach.

And so, while 30 days of fasting won’t solve these issues, it does help those who sincerely seek to be more giving, educating and motivating them to go out of their way to help those in need. While my family is not currently at risk of going hungry, my elderly parents not having to beg on the street, and I don’t need to walk three miles for a clean bucket of water, I do have the power to feel for those that do, show them solidarity and support the organizations dedicated to making a real difference in their life.

I urge you to challenge yourself by fasting—for a day or a few—and encourage others to join you, to understand the plight of millions, half-way around the world and right next door. Join me in showing your empathy, sharing your compassion, and demonstrate your support by finding the causes and organizations you can contribute to.

We must remember we are responsible for one another, we must learn to respect, understand, accept, and support each other if we want to bring about the world we all deserve – a world without hunger, a world without violence, a world without victims, and a World Without Hate.

Written by: Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President

To learn more about The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and their work for clean water, and so much more, visit http://www.gatesfoundation.org/.

To support clean water initiatives, explore charities such as https://www.charitywater.org/ or https://water.org/, http://amoudfoundation.com/ among others.

Empathy Ambassadors: Hope for a vibrant future

“I felt hurt when I found out my friend was cutting herself.” A courageous young student shared this moment during a recent exercise in World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassador Leadership Training Program.  This student, and her friend, are in junior high school.  Junior high. Another student shared his heartbreak after his father left home, having done so before, he figured his dad would come back, but not this time. One student shared the hurt and confusion she felt when her mother was deported, torn from her family for two years. When trying to recall my own middle school experience, girls giggling about crushes, who might be “dating” who, or whether you were shaving, are memories more easily conjured up. But, today, students are contending with tremendously serious issues — from cutting and abandonment, bullying and death, hunger, isolation, and deportation.

For two days, World Without Hate staff, board members, and our talented, generous facilitators convened in Dallas for our workshop. Empathy Ambassadors is a multi-faceted, cultural and experiential, program for young people, exploring the interconnectedness of self, other, and community, as well as awareness, connection, inclusion and conflict resolution.

The program asserts the immeasurable worth of individuals regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, intellectual ability, economic background, and so on. It encourages students to build bridges among one another and within their communities, working toward creating a new, vibrant human community which embraces all.

Through active participation, the program asks students to begin to bear some of the responsibility for ensuring that none of their peers ever feels bullied or isolated, and it provides them with the tools needed to create the environment within which this can happen. Staff and facilitators come to each session not to present the program, but instead to guide the individual and collective journey, the one participants create together with the tools shared. Facilitators are also equipped to take proper care, as well as legal and moral action when students share serious issues, such as self-harm, ensuring continued and follow-up support and treatment is available to them outside of the program.

Today as I observe this group of 7th and 8th graders, I find myself in awe, not only by the range and severity of the issues they face, but even more so, by the courage, strength and authenticity they have brought with them.  Shy and quiet participants, though with some hesitation, still stand tall as they share their unique story with fellow peers. Others confess not exactly knowing why they’ve been selected to participate, but are intrigued.  It is those same students who have approached their teacher at lunch, thanking him for seeing what they could not, just hours before.  Some students join us again, another year older, but clearly wiser, more confident, caring and invested, both in their own leadership development as well as their peers.

Our host tells me, “This program has absolutely changed my students’ lives.”

As I engage in this program for the second year, I am amazed and overwhelmed.  Not only are these students learning about empathy, compassion, understanding and acceptance, but they are utilizing the tools provided to connect to one another, many having only shared the same school before today. During one exercise, students assemble groups, work together and later enthusiastically present their ideas for community and societal issues they want to help solve. These students, these future leaders, these Empathy Ambassadors, are living proof that our future is absolutely a bright one.

Written By: Jessica Carso, Executive Director

For more information on World Without Hate’s Empathy Ambassador Program and how you can help bring it to your school, organization or community, email info@worldwithouthate.org.  Visit https://worldwithouthate.org/programs/empathy-ambassadors/ to view our last year’s video. New information and footage will be available soon.

Beyond Borders, Beyond Hate

World Travel & Tourism Council World Travel & Tourism Council works to raise awareness of Travel & Tourism as one of the world’s largest industries. Join the conversation – #WTTC

Beyond Borders, Beyond Hate

Contributed by Rais Bhuiyan, Founder & President,World Without Hate

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain Read more….

Orlando: I am with you

The recent tragic event in Orlando, FL is truly barbaric, despicable, and an act of pure evil. I am speechless. I am beyond shocked. It has been extremely difficult to find the right words to express how tremendously devastating this terrible hate crime truly is.

I can only speak from my heart; as an American, a Muslim, a peace activist and human rights advocate, and as a hate crime survivor myself. From my experience, I know at this time, I can only offer my profound sympathy to everyone who has been touched by this unspeakable act of violence.  I empathize with the victims, survivors, and their loved ones. Their lives–all lives–should never have ended or forever been altered in such a horrific and tragic way. My deepest, heartfelt condolences go out to the victims, survivors, and everyone whose life got torn apart by this shooting. I am praying that comfort and peace may come.

This incident, yet again (sadly) highlights the need for all people of heart and good conscience to dedicate themselves toward a pursuit of better human behavior, better human relationships, a better world…a world without such hate, intolerance and violence. We should not only mourn as a nation, but also work together, regardless of ethnic and cultural background, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or skin color, to make America safe for ALL. We must build bridges among each other. We must embrace one another, our diversity and uniqueness, and our incredibly varied communities.

Please understand that pointing fingers, blaming, or dehumanizing anyone or any group who had nothing to do with this (or any) evil act is not only dangerous, but will further divide an already divided nation and cause even more innocent victims.

I urge us all, I plead, show respect to your fellow human beings, regardless of how angry you are or how much pain and suffering you are enduring in your own life. Please do not take your anger and frustration out on others. Please don’t buy into some media’s discriminatory presumptions. Please remember, though it may seem impossible at the moment, that love conquers hate in the end.

We all deserve a peaceful, respectful, and dignified human life. To help make that possible for everyone, take the time to reach out to family members, friends, or neighbors who may be going through challenges instead of ignoring them. By doing so, we can help save many innocent lives.

With heartfelt condolences,

Rais Bhuiyan

Founder & President

World Without Hate