Ayesha Abbasi writes about setting up her new organisation Help The World Oxford.
Asalamu alaikum and hello!
I run an organization called Helptheworldoxford, an organization based in the heart of Oxfordshire
Our aim is to raise awareness of world issues and disasters, fight any form of injustice anywhere against anyone and help the local community in any way that we can.
As well as help, we wish to educate our community, for education is the key to battling ignorance. Another big aim of ours is to change the negative stereotypes against Muslims, alternatively, I hope to spread a positive image of Muslims, especially in light of Islamaphobia and right-wing views on a rise across the world.
It is our responsibility to fight these negative stereotypes, not just against Muslims but people of colour and immigrants. Which is why our organization is made up of students of from all sorts of different backgrounds, and that we will make a difference in this world and make it a better and more peaceful place, one step at a time.
Female empowerment also drives our organization forward, to show people that hijabis are not oppressed, that we are not “letterboxes” and we do not need to be liberated. We have a voice and our organization has helped and will continue to help girls of all backgrounds to find their voice in a world of patriarchy.
Why did I set this organization up?
I was lying down in my bed at 2 am, I just could not sleep after hearing about the Lebanon blast and how hurt the Lebanese community was hurting in Oxford
I always felt and realised again in that moment, that certain disasters and injustices do not get the same amount of representation and love as when these things happen in the western world.
I never saw any physical representation of support, no memorials, paying respects, protests against islamophobia, protest for Palestine ( etc ). Oxford had become silent regarding these issues. Painfully silent.
I had always known that the western world did not have the best view of Muslims, and it always disheartened me for it was pure ignorance, a negative stereotype perpetrated by the media and right-wing parties. I wondered if that was the reason people did not give as much care to injustices and disasters in other parts of the world.
I was tired of the silence, of the negative portrayal of Muslims and people of colour and of even my community which at times, is not letting girls have a voice.
I was tired of feeling like the world was against me and didn’t understand me and frustrated by the ignorance people portrayed.
And then I realised, Nothing can be done if there are no examples of positive Muslims/ People of colour. We needed to show people who we truly are, instead of sitting at home and getting frustrated on how we were portrayed and how people didn’t seem to care about us.
So I got up at 2 am, looked at my wall which had a poster up saying “ Be the change you want to see “
So I set up a youth organization called Helptheworldoxford. And got to work.
What have we done so far?
Our first event was a Beruit Vigil. I wanted to show the oxford community a physical representation of support for Lebanon In 3 days, I organized for a singer to come, volunteers to help and speakers to be present.
It was beautiful
Dozens of people came at such short notice, people of all colours, of all backgrounds and religions.
In the tears and sniffles, as our singer sang the most moving songs, we all lit candles, placed flowers and paid our respects.
We then had a Christian and Muslim prayer as well as speeches. It concluded with people writing notes to the Lebanese community and a temporary memorial set up in which people continued to pay their respects after we had left.
The second event we planned was much bigger than the first. With our name out there, my organiztion started growing and got people from all backgrounds to join. We held a Palestine sit in and culture day.
We gave out hundreds of Palestinian dishes to the public, had culture corners full of books and frames about the rich history of Palestine. We had mannequins propped up showing off beautiful Palestinian clothing and even had traditional cultural artefacts on display.
We had speeches from several organizations, from the Palestine association to XR youth to anti-fascist and Black lives matter. Who all spoke up for Palestine. The public wrote dozens of hopeful and encouraging messages with chalk in the town centre.
We concluded with chanting and traditional Palestinian dancing.
From both events, we managed to get into the newspaper several times and raised money for both causes that we donated straight to the causes.
I have also spoken on a zoom conference, talking about my organization and Islamaphobia with oxford university students. As well as joining the Oxford unity branch and coming together will all the oxford organizations and marching across oxford.
As coronavirus has stopped all activities, we are continuing to raise awareness of social injustices across the world on social media. Currently, we are working with the community and trying to help them as much as we can. We have offered to be a support to anyone to news someone to talk too, offering private phone calls to anyone who feels alone with mental health on the rise.
We are also going to be providing free meals to anyone in need in the December half term as the government is incompetent and decided to not fund half-term meals for children in need.
To conclude, I want to show people that Muslims do not care about our own issues, but that our religion teaches us to fight injustice anywhere, against anyone.
To raise awareness of world issues and help our community . To educate and fight ignorance.
To spread positivity in a time of uncertainty
Ayesha Abbasi ( Founder of helptheworldoxford ) is a school student living in Oxford