The sound of sirens echoing every other hour has stopped now in the area of Paris where I am living and people are trying to get back to normal, despite the horrific events that took place on the night of the 13th of November.
The streets have been deserted in my neighbourhood as restaurants and public buildings were closed for the three days of mourning and a deafening silence replaced the hustle and bustle of taxis, traffic and tourists.
The morning after the attacks which claimed more than 100 innocent lives I met my Parisian neighbour. She hugged me several times and we spoke briefly about what had happened the night before. Before we ended our conversation, she said we must carry on, stick together and not give in to fear.
For me this has several meanings; fear of being attacked, fear of being victimised and fear of being who we are…
As an inspirational speaker for Mosaic for the past 5 years, this has been one of the core messages I have delivered time and time again to students in schools in inner city areas such as Small Heath and Handsworth.
When people ask me why I decided to get involved in Mosaic my answer is clear: to educate young people, the leaders of tomorrow, about how they can live their dream and achieve their goals. This is key for their personal development and vital in changing their perceptions about who they are, despite the way they may feel.
In the past, I too have experienced prejudice, but my response to this was to fight back though my passions – through my work and through my way of life.
Having worked for different arms of the United Nations over the past 15 years in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, I have strived to give the voiceless a voice, including refugees, displaced people and women; as well as those whose lives have been wrecked by conflict and disasters. My experiences all around the world and encounters with people from other countries and cultures has made me the person I am today: a peace loving person.
When I talk to students in schools, their questions are usually about how people treat me in other countries, what I wear when I’m out there working in the field, whether I cover my head and how may parents reacted to my lifestyle given that I am a single woman from a Muslim family from Birmingham.
The answer is simple: people treat me with love and respect, because that’s the way I treat them, I wear what I feel comfortable in and what is respectful to other cultures. I don’t cover my head because I never have done so and my parents have been supportive throughout my career.
Over the years I have educated my loved ones and friends about my work and my cultural experiences, about all the countries I’ve visited, Chad, Kenya, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Yemen and so on, so that they too can open their minds to life outside the UK. When we understand other cultures and other societies, we begin to build social harmony.
And so, I passionately believe that no matter what happens, no matter the terror and hate such as that which was wreaked on Paris, it’s essential for us to keep opening up our hearts and minds, to not give into fear or hate and to continue filling our world with compassion.