Life is short, make it count

A friendly recently commented about the infrequency of my posts on this blog. Once I contained my excitement of actually having a loyal reader who’d noticed this (besides my dear mum of course), I got to thinking about the reasons why I post on this blog.

It started off as an exercise in writing for a different audience to the academics whom I normally write for in my day job. Away from work, my interests are vast and varied, and cover the spectrum from languages and cultures to current affairs. That is why it was difficult to narrow down the focus of this blog. Instead, I purposely sought to maintain it as a medium through which I write on any topic that tickles my fancy. In doing so, I have written posts on topics such as the ‘Grim Reaper of Football‘; my foray into amateur vexillology; and my mock indignation at public signage in Austria.

image source:

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image source: http://qaspire.com/2015/11/09/emilie-wapnick-on-being-a-multipotentialite/ (click on image for larger version to open in a new window)

I’ve often wondered whether these diverse and varied interests (and related knowledge that I’ve subsequently picked up along the way) were a boon or a curse. This is particularly because it means that I am almost always interested in almost all aspects of new things around me – and I then absorb myself in learning as much as I can about them. A TED Talk (12:26 duration) by Emilie Wapnick, a Career Coach, celebrates the “multi-potentialite” — those of us with many interests and many interlocking potentials. Emilie’s talks resonated with me to such a degree, that for the first time in my life, I actually thought of my ‘multipotentiality’ as a unique advantage that I have; further evidenced by Tanmay Vora’s sketch (image on right) of the ‘super-powers’ that we multi-potentialites possess.

Another thing that I have learnt about myself in 2016, is that I should be proud to be a ‘multi-local’ person: a citizen of the multiple global identities in many senses. Taiye Selasi’s TED Talk (16:31 duration) on ‘Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local‘ made me realise that it’s alright not to have a straight answer when people ask me where I am from: I was born in one country; raised in a second;  spent my teen years in a third; travelled and volunteered in a fourth; realised my strengths in a fifth; and am currently working in a sixth – and those are just countries that I identify with by virtue of having lived in them for extended periods of time. There are still even more countries, cultures (and languages) that I associate with, such as the ones where my ancestors are from; and where my personal travels take me to the most!

These two profound realisations (aka my double boons), coupled with other personal milestones for me this year, have made me realise that my mantra for 2017 will be “Life is short, make it count.” And to make one’s life count, one cannot and should not discount the attributes that make one unique. So here’s to 2017 – may it be a year of more frequent posts on this blog, and may it be the year where I proudly stand up for my multi-potentialite and multi-localite identity!

And for you, my dear readers, I think it only fitting, having recently returned from a trip to Dublin, to leave you with an Irish blessing for a happy and prosperous New Year:

“May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.”

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Grief

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

― Vicki Harrison

My heart is truly broken for two people very near and dear to me who have suffered the sudden and bewildering loss of their daughter a week before she was due to be born. How do you comfort someone whose loss is of such an intense magnitude that you cannot even begin to comprehend? What do you say? How do you grieve with them, and yet at the same time, try to be strong for them? Their pain and sense of loss is one that I share in but a small way. Sometimes, when I think of the little angel – Aleena – and her parents, the grief that I feel is a physical ache for me. And I am reminded of Helen Keller’s profound words, “All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

God bless you forever and ever darling Aleena, and may He keep you close to Him. As you frolic on the swings amongst the angels in the heavens (the way you did in my dream about you), know that you are loved beyond words and beyond the realms of time and space. God bless your parents too. May He bring them peace and courage in the knowledge that you are now their Guardian Angel watching over them every day until you meet again.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

SDGs and the post-2015 Agenda

On 25th September later this week in New York, the United Nations will commit to 17 new Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Various events and activities have been planned to commemorate the launch of these ambitious goals which build upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which I alluded to  in previous posts here and here.

The Millennium Development Goals were established in 2000 and included eight anti-poverty targets to be accomplished by 2015. Although progress was made towards their achievement, the lack of achievement of the MDGs reflected the diverse and challenging nature of global development. It is hoped that the SDGs will be more robustly supported through grass-root integration into the planning and advancement of countries at varying stages of socio-economic development.

(source: http://www.globalpartnership.org/multimedia/infographic/education-and-global-goals) Click on image for a larger version to open in a new window

(source: http://www.globalpartnership.org/multimedia/infographic/education-and-global-goals) Click on image for a larger version to open in a new window

The educationist in me was not surprised to see an infographic developed by the Global Partnership for Education illustrating how integral education is to each of the 17 SDGs. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see  a recently-released report from the British Council and SEUK, Think Global, Trade Social. The report is a comprehensive account of the significant role that social enterprises and businesses with social purposes have in ensuring sustainable and inclusive development, and in contributing towards the achievement of the SDGs. Although it notes that the SDGs have yet to reflect the critical role of businesses, the report illustrates the rising scale of social enterprises globally and the need to promote and support their development, whilst creating the conditions under which conventional businesses will adopt more environmentally and socially responsible behaviour.

The SGDs will be made official in a few days. It remains to be seen how world leaders will take ownership of these challenging developmental goals. One thing is clear though, even as mere mortal citizens of our countries, we have a collective responsibility to ensure the achievement of these goals. Entrepreneurs have reports such as Think Global, Trade Social. Educationists have presentations on how education influences the SDGs. Those who don’t fall into either category, still have opportunities to ensure that leaders take ambitious decisions to reduce poverty and inequality and protect our planet by taking action in plethora of means and ways. What will you do? How will you have your say in the achievement of the SDGs? What part will you play in the post-2015 Agenda?

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

The dignity of a refugee

I must preface this blog entry with a caveat: I am neither an activist nor a political person by any measure. The text contained within this post is meant solely to capture the multitude of emotions that I have experienced in a short span of time. It is not meant in any way as a comment or interpretation of the politics or policies of any nation. 

I am fortunate to work in a job which I not only love, but also one for which I travel around the world. I am currently in Budapest, Hungary. Although the past week has been spent attending various sessions and meetings for work, this weekend I have had the privilege of being able to volunteer for a while at the Keleti train station before catching my flight back home.

Having grown up in countries that are oft touched by violence and bloodshed, although upset by the manner in which human lives are affected – whether through death or displacement – I am rarely moved to tears. This weekend has been different.

90086b1c7e942a2ad41e1fc289d2e7cd2a06dd18517156a1009729daff130bed79ff14262d62ab31edea87b46b0778b6This weekend I witnessed firsthand the dignity and positivity of those whom we so routinely refer to as ‘refugees’ without truly understanding the trauma and enormity of the connotation behind this word. There is not much more that I can say, except to share my first impressions of the situation in the pictures which accompany this blog, and video shared on facebook (if you can hear beyond my weepy narration), as well as this one.

The ECER Conference that I attended, has also developed a blog as an initial platform to mobilise us researchers into giving voice to the Syrian refugees in Europe. Besides opening a channel for monetary donations, action plans are being formulated as I type this. Some suggestions put forth during a moot that I attended yesterday on ‘Amplifying the voices of refugees’ included action research projects involving the Syrian teachers and educationists amongst the refugees, as well as involving the students and young persons amongst them in dialogic learning and development of collaborations with the European Educational Research Association (EERA) educational networks. One colleague stressed the urgency of the call to action so as “to prevent the energies of these groups from floating away.”

c5982dc3795afdd84a991e784ad23b471a156a5d070a330987048670109fbaed c2e83298bfdba63a43ea70d144be2b28That particular phrase struck a chord with me this weekend as I worked amidst these amazing and inspiring human beings. Their resilience and their zest for life, their humble gratitude and their positivity at having escaped the trauma and violence of their homes reduced me to speechlessness time and time again. At one point, two men and a woman came to comfort me when I turned away with tears in my eyes, not wanting them to witness my weakness in the face of their courage and their happy demeanours. One of the men (the researcher in me prevents me from divulging his name, or calling him by a pseudonym) told me that he’s excited to get to Germany as he hopes to continue his studies to be an engineer. Another teenager told me he hopes to be a footballer, and he thinks he has a good chance in Germany as they have a good football team. Both these amazing people and countless others reminded me of the dignity they still have, along with hopes, aspirations and dreams, just as any other human being on the planet.

Around me at other locations around the station, little children and toddlers laughingly played with a ball, whilst a group of them petted a dog brought round by one of the local Hungarian volunteers. I observed throngs of men, women and young children lining up, waiting for a train to Germany. Incidentally, Migration  Aid, whom I volunteered with, are also helping the refugee families with little children with tickets for transfer to Germany. I helped with the clothes distribution, whilst other portals had been set up for food allocation and washing and bathing. Volunteers are welcomed no matter how much time they want to give, or what they feel they can contribute in terms of their skills and energies.

I could conclude with a quote from one of the uncountable happy and hopeful testimonies that I heard from the refugees, about their gratitude to the world for helping them, and their hopes and aspirations for building better  lives for themselves away from the war that is ravaging their homes, but I simply cannot pick just one; they are all such powerful discourses. Instead, I will conclude by quoting myself from a message that I sent to my mother, “These refugees have so much dignity. They’re so brave and positive. I’ll never forget them as long as I live. I think something inside me has changed forever.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

In memoriam

Lately I have been acutely missing my dearest Uncle, whose passing I blogged about last year in a post titled A Celebration of Life. I’ve been so caught up with the daily rigmaroles of life, that I hadn’t mentioned to my mum how much my Uncle has been on my mind recently; my longing to hear his deep voice saying “Congratulations” whenever I shared good news with him, or his comforting “Don’t worry. I’m here, aren’t I?” every time I’d call him up in tears following some downturn of events. He was my source of comfort, courage and strength; my protector, my advisor, my supportive and (sometimes) admonitory father-figure. I miss the daily doses of his wonderful sense of humour and how he was not only my confidante, but my keeper of secrets and co-conspirator in all the surprises that I’d plan for my mum.

Even today, 5 months and 11 days later, it still doesn’t feel real that he is no more just a phone call away for me, or that he won’t be the first one to greet and hug me at the airport when I go home. Even whilst writing this post, I am stumped for words to describe how very, very much my darling Uncle means to me. I shall leave you with this link to my mum’s blog about my beloved Mamu, as she eloquently describes how even the little things meant so much.

الله يرحمك مامو، آمين (Allah yerhamak Mamu, Ameen) God bless your soul Mamu, Amen.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

The Jeevan Bindi

A recent item in the ‘Times of India’ newspaper piqued my interest the other day – an exciting new health initiative aimed at tackling iodine deficiency in Indian women. Many countries in the developing world face health-related concerns in burgeoning populations which do not have access to appropriate and timely medical care. Such issues are addressed by a variety of charities and organisations that are set up with the primary objectives of developing innovative and enterpreneurial solutions. One such NGO or Charity, is the Neel Vasant Foundation, based in India. It’s listed aims include “developmental activities among the rural and tribal population of India.”

The Foundation has recently pioneered what is known as a the Jeevan Bindi or ‘Life-saving Dot’. The idea is essentially similar to that of an iodine patch, except that in this case, delivery is through a religious symbol – the bindi, or visible dot on the forehead –  which is worn by Indian women. For a brief explanation, I invite you to watch the 1-minute introductory video below:

Whilst I commend the initiative, and how “The bindi does not have any side effects or cause skin rashes and can be worn for many hours at a stretch. After the iodine of the bindi is absorbed by the body, it becomes a regular dot,” I am slightly concerned by the following section in their press release:

“The bindi needs to be worn every day for up to eight hours to be effective. It can be worn at night and even by pregnant women… (however) the NGO has yet to monitor the impact of the bindis on the iodine levels of the tribal women, Grey is now working on the second phase of this project wherein they plan to make these bindis available in the market.”

If the NGO has yet to monitor the impact of the Bindis on women’s iodine levels, then why are they releasing the product to the public, instead of first conducting a clinical study or randomised control trial? Apparently, I am not the only one with reservations. This article poses a number of medically-informed questions regarding the Jeevan Bindi, some with answers, some without. My aim in writing about the Jeevan Bindi project in this blog post is to raise awareness of the wonderful potential of this initiative, and to try to garner support for further research into the medical questions that should ideally be answered before it is mass-produced and disseminated to women. I whole-heartedly support such ideas, purely because of their simplicity and the wide-reach that they have with regard to those who need them the most.

Let us hope that all testing for the Jeevan Bindi occurs under monitored conditions, and that all outcomes favour the mass-distribution of this life-saving instrument.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

Matilda’s dreadful lies

Lacking inspiration for this week’s blogpost, I’ve decided to post a favourite poem from my childhood – that of Naughty Matilda who told such dreadful lies. I have always loved how Hillaire Belloc managed to capture some humour in this melodic rendition of Matilda’s deceit and her ultimate downfall, along with a variety of other verses in his 1907 book ‘Cautionary Tales for Children‘, bemusingly subtitled ‘Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years’.  I have copied the poem below along with original illustrations by B.T.B., which appeared in the book. I’d encourage you to read it aloud so that you can enjoy the full impact of the verse. Following the poem is a short audio-reading of it to the accompaniment of the pictures, Enjoy!

Matilda,

Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.*

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,

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It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,

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Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe

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to
the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow,
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring through the Town,

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“Matilda’s House is Burning Down!”
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,

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Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away!


It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.

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She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out—
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street—
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence)—but all in vain!
For every time She shouted “Fire!”

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They only answered “Little Liar!”
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

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*Belloc, H. (1907) Cautionary Tales. Duckworth: London.

Do you have a favourite poem from your childhood? Please do share them in the comments below. Have a lovely weekend! 🙂
Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

Happiness is…

In honour of the ‘International Day of Happiness‘, I thought I’d write a post about something that brings me much happiness – an addiction that I cannot seem to shake off, no matter what dire warnings I receive from my dentist, my GP, my mum and my bank too, as I persist in utilising my already-meagre balance to finance this habit…

You see, I am a chocoholic. An obsession that I am not ashamed of, but yet feel obliged to defend before my family and friends. Those who love me have gone as far as trying to harness and muzzle me before approaching the chocolate section of the local delicatessen, to no avail. Hell may have no fury as a woman’s scorn, but just you try and come between a chocoholic and her chocolate, the consequences can be terrible for you.

I’ve had enough of the guilt and burden piled up on me for loving this ‘salad’ (please refer to the picture on left for the indisputable logic behind this cibarious classification). Therefore, in an attempt to make my voice heard, I have taken to the pen (not the bottle, I might add). I sometimes feel disconsolate about my “addiction”. Enough of being ostracised at social gatherings. Enough of friends and family poking fun at me for eating perhaps what may be just a tad more than my fair share of chocolate mousse. Enough of the wise-cracks about having to keep the chocolate cake out of sight of the ‘Chocdemolition Brigade’ (read: me).

With all seriousness (and, of course, all due respect to Shakespeare) let me ask you this: “Hath not a chocoholic eyes? Hath not a chocoholic hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a non- chocoholic is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

I originally started this blog post with the intention of devoting my efforts to a brief commemoration about how chocolate is an intrinsic source of happiness for me. Clearly, my ardour for it cannot be quelled! You see, that’s the beauty of having a passion, a delight, an appreciation – dare I say – an obsession. It is single-minded. It is resolute. It is unwavering. This love for chocolate is. And this blog post is the epitome of what a determined individual can accomplish. The fact that you are reading this at all is proof of the fact that I have sympathisers and empathisers.

Allow me to give you a sneak preview into the chocolate secrets of the lives of those of us who live, sleep and breathe chocolate. Here are the 12 Chocommandments, the rules that govern the very essence of a chocoholic’s survival:

  1. Thou shalt do unto all chocolates as thou would do unto thy most favourite chocolate.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of chocolate in vain.
  3. Thou shalt not lie to cover up thy chocolate addictions.
  4. Thou shalt not complain about thy chocolate.
  5. Thou shalt not boast about thy chocolate.
  6. Thou shalt not blame others for thy chocolate temptations.
  7. Thou shalt not make empty pronouncements about thy chocolate.
  8. Thou shalt not murder for thy chocolate.
  9. Thou shalt not commit perjury nor steal for thy chocolate.
  10. Thou shalt not dishonour any chocolate.
  11. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s chocolate.
  12. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’s chocolate.

Indeed, we chocoholics, have at our disposal a vast array of useful resources and guidelines for daily living. These “chocolatisms“, as they are known, are the very lifeline of our survival. I know I’m bordering on the hyperbole here, but take this delightful pearl of wisdom from the Book of Chocolatisms, “If you can’t eat all your chocolate, what’s wrong with you?”

And then we have the Chocolate Easter Bunnies (currently to be found in abundance in shops as Easter fast approaches). Now, I have been sworn to secrecy on this one, but I can tell you in all confidentiality, that like dear old Santa Claus who propagates the spirit of merriment and goodwill, the Easter Bunny serves to renew the hopes, faiths and aspirations of chocoholics. I mean, think about it? How else can you explain the keen demand by men and women of all ages for a Bunny? And a chocolate one at that!

My fellow chocoholics, I leave you thus, with the immortal words of Lord Alfred Tennyson, “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” – there is abundant chocolate out there just waiting for you to find it.

And to the non-chocoholics, having read my treatise thus far, I say to you, “chocolate is a salad. And salads are good for you.”

Happy International Day of Happiness. Happy chocolate eating. Now please pass the truffles.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

The scourge of Polio in Pakistan

Whilst following news about a recent outbreak of Measles in the United States, I came across this hilarious article ‘I’m an Anti-Braker’, which alludes to the anti-vaccine movement. Having worked in the Vaccines Division of a large global pharmaceutical company and experienced the benefits (and complications!) of vaccination personally, I must preface the rest of this blog entry with a caveat: I am most certainly pro-vaccinations.

I feel compelled to write about this topic, because my research is around inclusive education. I have worked with professionals who support children with a range of needs that vary across the spectrum – from mild to moderate, to the very severe and profound special needs – both short- and long-term in nature. It saddens me to know that thousands of children are inflicted with preventable diseases each year, simply because their parents do not believe in the unequivocal value of vaccinations. There are a variety of resources that you can explore about arguments from both sides of the coin: from scientifically researched articles to first -hand testimonies of parents to interactive data representations.

I particularly want to comment on the polio vaccination because I was recently in Pakistan, and was shocked and saddened to read items prevalent in the news on the daily basis there, about lady health workers being threatened and killed because “some Islamic militants accused health workers of acting as spies for the United States and claim that the vaccine makes children sterile”. Furthermore, cases such as the doctor who ran the fake vaccination operation that confirmed Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan for the CIA, gives such theories added validity. Indeed, despite the large degree of data evidence of the holistic benefits of vaccination (as colourfully illustrated in the example below, broken down state-wise in the USA) and ‘herd immunity‘, it is a sad fact that Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the crippling disease is once again endemic.

Thankfully, there is a The National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication in place. However, frequent security concerns due to ethnic, religious and sectarian tensions affect the execution of the Plan on an almost daily basis. This unrest periodically occurs in other parts of the country, resulting in new cases being reported on a daily basis across Pakistan, and particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

A recent article in the Guardian however, yields hope yet for this issue. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a provincial co-ordinator for public health in Pakistan, says that “initiatives aimed at breaking down resistance… have achieved major breakthroughs.” Examples include the creation of 340 full-time paid positions for women from communities ethnically linked to the high-risk FATA and surrounding areas; local community and religious leaders being courted to ensure they support the polio programme and can argue against the rumours; and immunisation efforts at transit points into the city such as railway stations and major roads.

Such evidence is heartening for the eradication of polio and people’s continued confidence in the power of vaccinations. Indeed, I have an indomitable hope, as asserted by Aziz Memon, who leads Rotary International’s anti-polio campaign in Pakistan, that the children of Pakistan will “walk, not crawl” towards their futures.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015