10 months ago, we all came together from very different ethnic and religious backgrounds, at a time when fears about economic exclusion, immigration, national security threats and the terrible tragedy of Jo Cox’s murder drove a deep and painful divide between the Remainers and the Brexiteers. At such a defining moment in British history, we gathered under the 3FF roof, where we were taught to not only acknowledge our own individual identities, but respect those of others too. At 3FF, we learned to engage in difficult conversations while facilitating a civil, open and harmonious dialogue, rather than harbour misconceptions and live in fear of offending another.
When I first came into the programme, I did not have a clear idea about what I expected from 3FF, or in fact, what 3FF expected of me. I had a vague understanding that 3FF will help me develop leadership qualities and that I would work in a team while being mentored by an MP. Very soon, I would discover that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Our first formal introduction to the programme began with a three-day residential training event held in London. I remember asking myself, what exactly would we be learning that would require three whole days? But as the minutes of the day progressed into the hours, I started to comprehend how cleverly the events of the day had been laid out from making us sit in parallel lines and talking to the person in front of us, to cheering and applauding for a player that wins a rock, paper and scissors match.
These activities were skilfully designed to help us engage with our fellow ParliaMentors. It helped facilitate a socially charged and highly interactive environment, and that’s exactly what happened. We were chatting away with each other in a matter of minutes. This was followed by a range of other learning tasks aimed to develop our leadership, dialogue, community and political engagement skills.
I distinctly remember one such task that required us to fold a piece of paper in the shape of a cupboard. We were told to write information about ourselves on the outside such as our identity, personality and physical appearance. On the inside, we had to write information about what we thought other people perceived us to be. Up to this moment in time, I have remained quite confident in identifying with my identity and me as an individual. However, on this occasion, I as well as quite a few of my fellow ParliaMentors found this a very tough exercise.
Now on the outside, I can write that I am friendly and that I am a Muslim. However, do other people see me as friendly, cold or over-friendly? Do they even see me as a Muslim? I don’t wear the traditional headscarf that is worn by so many Muslim women around the globe. This brought home the realisation about how important it was for me to not only both understand and embrace my own identity, but also ensure that others are able to perceive and comprehend it through mutual respect, dialogue and recognition.
With such an invaluable and enriching learning experience, we began our journey in our respective ParliaMentor teams. And boy! What a journey it has been! Now let’s be honest. It was not all plain smooth sailing. There were hiccups along the way. But suffice to say that any issues we encountered were taken on board by the 3FF team members. Now Sean here at 3FF, kept a constant tab on us. He kept asking us if he could be of help to us in any way with the project which was always very reassuring. We also had the dedicated alumni association whereby each one of us was assigned with our own buddy who we could contact and obtain guidance from through their own ParliaMentors experience.
It was an emotional, personal, mental, physical, and spiritual journey of self-discovery, to peer beyond our own lives and into the painful lives of the less fortunate, and to feel a sense of accomplishment for having made a sustained difference! We the Nottingham Trent University team decided to raise awareness about the sufferings of the homeless people in our town. We wanted to address the stigma that is closely attached to this issue. Stigma such as, they are the ones responsible for their homelessness; they chose to be homeless; and that they and they alone are responsible for the predicament they are in today!
Through the project I was fortunate to hear the stories of some of the homeless people in city. On one such occasion, I spoke to this lady who admitted to me that she would be willing to sleep with someone or commit a petty crime just to be able to sleep in a bed for that one night. This was a horrifying admission! I thought, maybe this woman’s circumstances were so exceptional that it led her to such a confession. However, my fears were realised soon afterwards when I stumbled across a news article about how landlords are abusing homeless individuals and vulnerable people by offering them a place to stay and warm food in exchange for sexual favours.
A massive thank you to Framework and the Nottingham New Art Exchange for their amazing support for our team, the project and all the doors they opened for us in Nottingham and the advice they gave to us all.
So it was through the ParliaMentors programme, the skills I learnt at 3FF and the friendships I built with my team members that we were able to collectively understand the intricacies around this issue and was then able to forge a solid and effective plan for the delivery of our social action project.
And it has not been just us but other ParliaMentors teams that have worked on their own social action projects on issues that they have felt so passionate about. Whether it be loneliness in old age, mental health or protection of the environment, each one of us have taken the skills we learnt at 3FF and used our knowledge, motivation and creativity to help find solutions to modern day social problems.
In the end, I would like to thank the 3FF staff, trustees, the alumni association, MP’s and stakeholders for having believed in our projects and then helping us in making them possible.
And with this, I hope, wish and pray, that we all can depart towards our future goals while remembering that important life lesson that 3FF taught us about our identity, integrity and devotion towards the community we live in.
Mobeen Shah, ParliaMentor 2016 – 2017