Dancing with the Fighters

Sheema Kermani is a dancer. Shershah Syed is a doctor. 

They are fighters from Pakistan. Both have waged a ceaseless crusade for decades in a country they cling to as home, despite threats against their lives.

If you live in any of the 12 cities they have targeted in USA, you stand a good chance to meet them.

The doctor and the dancer are amazingly alike in their crusade of social activism, aimed to create awareness in a society sickened by all the ills, which plague third world countries.

Both Sheema and Dr Shershah Syed have won recognition at home and abroad for their achievements in their respective fields as they continue their war for women’s rights, which, as Sheema says, are human rights. Under the banner of a women empowering organization, Tehrik e Niswan (the women’s movement) founded by Sheema and a group of women in 1979, she carries on a dialogue with her audience through dance and drama, seeking to end gender discrimination, prejudices and injustices on all fronts. She takes her plays into downtrodden, poverty ridden slums with an intrepid zeal, which is amazing to behold. The response she gets is worth the guts it takes.

In a country with a prejudice against dance, Sheema has continued to pass on her legacy as a performer and a teacher to her students ranging in age from six to sixty. During a visit in 2010 to Karachi, I was able to see, what in many ways was a major milestone in her journey, an entertaining, educative, week long festival of dance and drama. She had dedicated that festival to peace, disarmament and to her earliest dance Guru, Ghanshyam. Ghanshyam was there for that festival, his first visit back to Pakistan after his forced exit 27 years earlier. That exhilarating reunion of teacher and the taught was also to be the last, as Ghanshyam passed away in 2012. She had titled that festival ”tilism”, which means magic.

Magic it was. The magic of thoughts and ideas, transformed into music, dance and drama, crossing boundaries of time and space, a show reflecting a commonly shared cultural heritage that binds India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

It was during that same visit of mine that I saw a collaboration between the dancer and the doctor in a stage play “hur aurat hai anmol”, or every woman is priceless, which highlighted issues of gender discrimination, child marriages and the lack of maternal care for the poor. A lack that results in 30,000 maternal deaths each year, a shameful figure, which Shershah has sought to bring down ever since he was shocked on seeing maternal death for the first time when he returned to Pakistan in 1989 after his postgraduate study abroad.

Even more horrifying was the realization that no treatment existed in Karachi for a debilitating early marriage, childbirth related injury called Obstetric Fistula that leaves young women unable to control the passing out of their body wastes. As many as 2 million women in third world countries suffer in shamed silence from this condition, forced into isolated, miserable lives, needlessly and for no fault of their own.

Shocked but undeterred, Dr. Shershah went to Ethiopia to train at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital to get the training needed to help such women patients. Over the years Dr Shershah has continued to expand the treatment facilities available.

Never one to mince words or refrain from voicing the truth, Shershah says:

my patient had waited for 41 years for treatment, and all it took me was just 21 minutes to give her back her dignity.

Dr.Shershah’s dream child, Koohi Goth Hospital, a center for obstetrics and gynecological care, started operating in 2004. Initially with funds from his family and friends and the UNFPA. Koohi Goth is one of the few large and well-equipped facilities in Pakistan which specialize in treating obstetric fistula. Apart from providing modern quality care around the clock to women patients totally free of cost, the hospital also fulfills Shershah’s priority to train the midwives, nurses and technicians needed to extend and ensure the care every woman patient should get regardless of her social or economic level.

As Dr. Shershah explains,

Every day some 250 women come to the hospital in OPD (out patient department). Whichever woman needs surgical intervention gets surgery without any cost to them.

Every year the number of patients increases. Shershah’s dream now is to expand this center for women’s diseases to a General Hospital for poor women, and cover other ailments including mental illnesses which is still a hush-hush subject.

Another goal is to increase the number of beds, from 130 to 250. Funds raised at various levels keep this one of a kind visionary hospital going, which is what has brought Sheema and her loyal troupe along with Shershah on this first ever fundraising multi city tour in USA. If you get to dance as it were, with these two fighters from Pakistan, count yourself lucky.

These two are both one of a rare kind, who have taken on the responsibility on their own selves to do what has to be done, fighting for what is just, right and required-regardless.

 

The fundraising tour has already made it to Washington DC, Atlanta, and Orlando. The events in the various US cities include dinner and traditional Pakistani dance. Upcoming cities include: New York CityDetroitChicagoSt. LouisDallasHoustonAustinLas VegasLos AngelesFremont. Don’t miss it!

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Learn more about obstetric fistula at endfistula.org.

The post has been modified since it was first published. This post has the goal to raise awareness of the current fundraising tour in USA of Pakistan’s National Health Forum, to raise funds for Koohi Goth Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. See more here.

Inspiration and Hope on World Refugee Day

Approximately 75 to 80 percent of the 50 million refugees in the world today are women and children.

It is widely understood that life as a refugee is a constant struggle. However, rather than focusing on the countless hardships refugees endure, I want to use today, World Refugee Day, as an opportunity to shine a light on amazing female refugees that refuse to be silenced or lose hope.

In Kenya, over 500,000 refugees take shelter at Dadaab Refugee Camp, making it the largest camp of its kind in the world. However, the camp’s massive size does not come close to the extraordinary strength, determination and courage of its people.

Meet 18 year old Koswar Asad Warsame. Like many young girls around the world, she loves poetry.  In the videos below, Koswar reads her extraordinary original poetry – poems of both empowerment and sorrow.

In “My Future Will Never Go With My Home,” Koswar questions the true meaning of home and demonstrates a wisdom and talent beyond her years.

My Future Will Never Go With My Home 

I am a Somalian child

who is homeless.

My home is taken

but my future will never go with my home.

I am an African child

who survived for long time.

For how long shall I be mistreated?

For how long shall I move from country to country?

Home is the best.

My future is my home.

In “Peace Must Prevail,” Koswar waits for Peace and questions Peace’s absence from her life. 

 

Peace Must Prevail 

All people of the world,

listen to my bitter saying of lamentation.

The pain and clamor of nation,

I cry for the finishing light of my future

lost in conflict.

Peace, you are the only cure of our pain,

the only solution.

Peace must prevail.

 

Thousands are killed and thousands are displaced.

Our dreams to be doctors, teachers, and lawyers

had all been squashed like a thunderstorm in flash.

There is no way to peace.

You are the way.

Peace must prevail.

 

Peace, Peace, Peace,

where are you Peace?

You are very sweet but

never taste you.

You are the best friend but

never meet you.

You are very beautiful but

never watched you.

Dear Peace, why have I miss you?

I am hungry and thirst for you.

I hope for peace.

The black man’s peace.

Peace must prevail.

 Although powerful, poetry is not the only artistic outlet employed by Dadaab refugees. One Somali mother empowers and inspires through song. “Buranpur,” a poetic prayer, calls for an end to widespread violence and suffering in exchange for a rebirth of mercy and peace.

Similarly, in the video below, Somali women take part in a traditional Somali song and dance, bringing energy, hope and happiness to the dusty streets of Dadaab.

Although the above examples focus solely on Dadaab Refugee Camp, rest assured that similar stories of hope, empowerment and courage exist among refugees all over the world.

The plight of the refugee does not serve as a refugee’s entire life story, but only a small chapter. Once the world, as one, advocates for peace, we will see an end to the suffering.

After all, Peace must prevail.

Photo Courtesy of Dadaab Stories
Photo Courtesy of Dadaab Stories

To learn more about organizations working to empower refugees around the world, please visit the following:

Dadaab Stories

International Organization for Migration

International Rescue Committee

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Refugee Council USA

Women for Women International

Women’s Refugee Commission

 

All examples derived from DadaabStories.org

ONE BILLION RISING. Join in this V-Day!

1 in 3 women will sometime during her lifetime be a victim of rape, abused or another form of violence. It is a pandemic affecting mankind. One billion women and girls violated is an atrocity. One billion women dancing is a revolution!

Today is V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls, and the official start date of the One Billion Rising campaign!

Now Girls’ Globe is joining the One Billion Rising campaign.

We will not tolerate violence against women! We will continue to raise our voices to end it!

Girls, boys, women and men are RISING and DANCING all over the world! Check out the live stream and see a few snapshots below!

I love this video from One Billion Rising Cape Town.

I am rising. Join the revolution!

I AM RISING
I am rising for women and girls worldwide!
Love from Julia, Founder of Girls’ Globe
#OneBillionRising