As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I’m big fan of music of many different varieties. One recipe for mental wellness is combining music and human movement. This can be done in the name of economic or social development to give potential mental wellness seekers greater impetus to take action. As such, my musical adventures of attending and listening to street performances, concerts, and festivals was self-documented from early 2017 to 2019 in the Youtube video below.
What I learned from this personal mini-experiment was (a) music enables healing (b) music is a convener of people of diverse backgrounds and (c) music is a vehicle for social change. These lessons might not be new for some folks, but they were brought home to me when I listened to a live performance of the Me2 Orchestra in Boston, Massachusetts.
In the words of Me2 Orchestra’s newsletter it is “the only classical music organization in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them. The orchestra’s mission is to erase the stigmatization of people living with mental illness through the creation of beautiful music, community, compassion and understanding… one concert at a time. Most important, it is changing the lives of the musicians and audiences in powerful and surprising ways.”
The events highlighted in my video above were both “pay to play” such as Cold Play, UB40 and Karsh Kale to name a few as well as several free concerts such as the 2019 Cambridge Jazz Festival, the 2019 Boston Art & Music Soul Festival and the Shake Away the Blues Winter Festival. Sport was not an explicit theme in any of these events, but there was an economic and social development perspective for each event given the individual artists’ backgrounds, influences and interests. Activism and social justice dialogue were interspaced with the music for audiences to reflect upon and take action.
My Bowdoin 20th class reunion will be held in May/June 2019 and as such I’ve been reconnecting with staff, students and alumni at my alma mater. Any former government and legal studies majors and the general public may learn from a Distinguished Lecturer in Government Bradely Babson’s course “The Two Koreas and Geopolitics of Northeast Asia,” class podcast held back in May 2018, by current Bowdoin students Tim Ahn ’19 and Sam Jablonski ’18 on the role of sports diplomacy in the Koreas.
The recommendations set forth by researchers from George Mason University Center for Sport Management are based on the assumption that the “intent of sports diplomacy programs is to create meaningful change in local communities.” Though the costs of sports diplomacy can be expensive and time consuming, I tend to agree with the GMU researchers’ recommendations, since in my own small way I have lived as a volunteer, coach and administrator to play a role in fulfilling the intent of sports diplomacy.
Ever since I can remember I’ve always been a kinesthetic learner which is perhaps why I ended up completing my graduate degree in Physical Education. I missed out on having an older brother as a kid, but I am super proud of John “Jay” Morrison, my elder brother-in-law who completed the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon recently in over 4 and half hours. Respect to anyone who completes the 26.2 miles of a marathon.
John “Jay” Morrison, my brother-in-law completing the 2018 New York City Marathon. Photo credit: P. Mohammed, 2018.
While I am yet to run a marathon myself, the preparation and training before to qualify and compete in a marathon is not only a physical but mental challenge. Jay was a recreational ice-hockey player in his youth and became a fan as a season ticket holder of the men’s ice hockey program at University of Denver (his alma mater). He is also a golf and skiing enthusiast. His interest in athletics did not stop him from staying physically fit and maintaining a balanced diet (which he learned how to do as an award-winning chef). Currently, Jay is leading a busy life in the food distribution business, but he still finds time to keep fit even though he recently turned fifty!
Miriam (my sister) and Meena and Anjali (my nieces) cheering on Jay at the New York City Marathon. Photo credit. P. Mohammed, 2018.
What can we all learn from my brother-in-law Jay? Well, he is a great example of an American male who is aging well by staying physically and mentally active. Jay did not specialize in sport but is a well-rounded athlete who is sharing his sporting lessons with his young daughters and wife. Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Jay is to keep on moving and learning new things. Whether you are in third grade or a senior citizen, maintaining physical and mental fitness throughout one’s lifespan is worth it!
This blog post aims to (a) illustrate my why in sports for development and peace and (b) not to dwell on my past but to live in the moment, not after the moment as much as possible. I write from Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, en route to India to spend time with my elderly grandparents in Kerala. Abu Dhabi is a place I have fond memories from my childhood. The Al Khubairat Community School (now known as the British School of Al-Khubairat – BSAK – which is celebrating its 50th golden Anniversary this year) is where I attended elementary school and participated in my first sports day.
Lee (a Scottish classmate) and myself at the Al Khubairat School Sports Day, Abu Dhabi, 1980s.
I don’t know exactly how old I was in the photo above but it represents the beginning of my athletic journey. I always enjoyed my PE classes and the teachers who led us from from primary to higher education. I don’t remember all the details and lessons plans that our teachers used but they used a constructivist approach to help us progress through various stages of physical and psychosocial development. Even though I am not currently a parent, I have a greater appreciation of the role of teachers at different stages of a person’s lifespan and how they can influence a person’s health and wellness trajectory.
Ooty Track and Field Trip with Mr. Sither, 1990s.
My onward flight is to Kerala which reminds me of trips to Kodaikanal International School. The above photo was taken from my first first field trip to participate in Inter School Sports for The English Speaking Schools of the Nilgiris in 1989. Mr. Sither (retd. PE teacher) was our chaperone and is a teacher who had a positive influence on my athletic development. Besides my PE teachers, my fellow competitors like Lee in Abu Dhabi and student-athletes in the Nilgiris and elsewhere, all motivated to aim for self-improvement in sport and life. I feel like my travels, has me running to stand still.
On a recent trip to Southern California, I posted an announcement on my social media account about prepping for travel to the Greater Los Angeles area. In doing so, I expressed interest in meeting with business, government and civic leaders. I knew before leaving on the trip, I would be posting on my blog to share learnings with a wider audience through the lens of sport and culture. What I did not know was, what the content of producing the Youtube video below was going to be and how it might be relevant to sport for development and peace.
Nonetheless, there was history and context behind my visit. My Dad was a salesman in the Middle East and won a competition for selling Uncle Ben’s Rice in his sales territory. Hence, my parents were awarded tickets to watch the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Then in 1993, my parents, sisters and I visited California on a family vacation before we immigrated to the United States in the late 1990s. During the summer of 1984, Miriam, my sister and I stayed in Andover, MA with the Hazarika family. One afternoon, I clearly remember watching Joan Benoit Samuelson on television, become the first American woman to win the inaugural women’s marathon event.
Moving forward, Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympics and so there are elements of the video that illustrate the business, government and civic institutions in Los Angeles today. I did not have any official meetings with the representatives that I had hoped for, but still was able to conduct a civic media project for myself through low-budget and low-tech video production. This was done on a day by day basis due to disappointing weather conditions early on in the trip. However things, brightened up both, literally and figuratively, when I reconnected with former classmates from India and the Middle East, discovered new places in California and learned about different cultures, all without leaving the United States (for a change).
What did I learn and how can it help others move forward? Well, thanks to Professor Colin Miles Maclay, a former colleague at Harvard and now Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California for helping me (without knowing it) that I have been producing various civic media outputs on Youtube for the benefit of being able to (a) to practice active citizenship (b) foster greater understanding of the United States vis-a-vis the rest of the world (c) create fun memories for myself and others to enjoy.
While there is no better substitute for in-person mentoring for both the young and old, the Internet and social media enables online or digital mentoring. This blog post is aimed towards younger readers and experienced educators. Twenty years ago (during my junior year), I was invited to a Bowdoin alumni event where I had the good fortune of being seated at a table with President Emeritus Robert Edwards of Bowdoin College and other distinguished alumni. The purpose of the “Beneath the Pines” event was for students, staff, professors and alumni to share ideas on what Bowdoin as an institution was becoming and how campus constituents could shape the future direction of the College. I learned from fellow students about President Edwards’ prior work experience with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and was curious to learn more from him.
At the dinner table, we discussed a number of issues concerning the future of Bowdoin College ranging from student life to academics. Following a lively discussion, the elders at the table turned to the youngest person at the table and asked me, “what are your plans for the summer?” With nothing to lose, I expressed my interest in securing an internship with the Aga Khan Foundation USA based in Washington, DC. President Edwards immediately noticed my interest in the work of the Aga Khan Development Network and graciously invited me to his office to discuss his work with the organization. A few days after our meeting I prepared my personal statement and was interviewed by a committee of AKF USA staff and volunteers for a paid summer internship position.
At my internship desk at the Aga Khan Foundation USA office, Washington, DC. Photo credit: N. Karim, 1998.
From the moment I learned of my acceptance to the AKF USA internship program, I was absolutely thrilled to take steps towards a career in international development. The content of the undergraduate internship varied from assisting in several aspects ranging from the Foundation’s communications, outreach and public education to assisting in maintaining and organizing the Foundation’s library, documentation and communication materials. Patricia Scheid, our internship supervisor at AKF USA was an excellent guide, facilitator and mentor who made our internship experience more than “just filing” to assisting in grant writing, event planning and community outreach. Also as interns, we were introduced to other members of the AKDN, U.S. Federal agencies and civil society organizations based both in Washington DC and around the world.
AKF USA Interns: Nadya (left), Tariq (center) and Shalini (right), Washington, DC. Photo credit: Z. Hemani, 1998.
While career trajectories are not always linear, my AKF USA internship was a fantastic foray into the role and effectiveness of foreign aid in improving the quality of life of individuals and communities around the world. A lot has happened over the last twenty years in my career development, as well as in the field of sustainable international development, but I am hopeful that the next twenty years will also be just as exciting, if not more both personally and professionally. Thank you to President Emeritus Robert Edwards of Bowdoin College and the Aga Khan Foundation USA for my transformative internship experience. I hope younger readers and experienced educators will be encouraged by the power of networking, mentoring and leadership development to transform lives.
In 2001, the International Year of Volunteers, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that “volunteerism is the ultimate expression of what the United Nations is all about.” Fifteen years ago, in 2003, I set forth from Boston, Massachusetts on my United Nations Volunteer assignment in Kampala, Uganda under the auspices of the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) – an initiative envisioned by the Secretary General – to support efforts to bridge the global digital divide. Since returning from my UNV assignment, I continued to be engaged with various volunteer projects in the United States and across the world, with an emphasis on sport for development and peace.
Upon re-reading my 2002 personal statement to the Cisco Least Developed Countries (LDC) Initiative of which UNITeS was a key partner, I am glad to have been asked by the hiring managers to undertake such a writing exercise. Any hiring manager who wants to narrow down their selection of strong candidates, would do well to request a personal statement. Not only does this tool allow for benchmarking but it can also help individuals (and organizations) set future goals. I am making my personal statement public for the purpose of knowledge management to improve education and learning while addressing the challenges of sustainable development, of which ICTs play an important role.
My Pin Collection from United Nations Volunteers (UNV), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2018.
In 2018, major news headlines posed big questions about democratic freedoms and the role of the Internet and social media. Through the Kofi Annan Foundation, Kofi Annan founded the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security and recently published an op-ed which addressed the challenges to the integrity of the electoral process for high-income and low-income countries. The findings of the Commission will be released in the coming months. While I have no direct contact with inner workings of the Foundation, the outcomes from the Global Commission can have a significant influence on the political, economic and social systems of international sport governance.
Sport for development and peace is very much at the heart of democratic institutions, such as the International Olympic Committee which strives to promote universal values enshrined in the Olympic Charter. The role of the Internet and social media are often described as tools to provide access to information on programs and projects that uphold Olympic values. I do believe that greater access to information and transparency preserve the integrity of the sport for development and peace sector. However, I also believe in the need for a system of checks and balances in the areas of corruption, terrorism and crime, which the International Center for Sport Security (ICSS) aims to fulfill. ICSS and its partners are identifying weaknesses in systems of sport governance and leveraging ICTs to protect and serve the cause of peace, development and human rights. The Internet and social media will continue to evolve and so citizens will learn to adapt to new ways of living, working and playing.
Since approaching middle-age, I am learning more about the importance of both physical health and mental health through conversations with educators, artists, entrepreneurs, caregivers and medical professionals. It is really about balancing both and checking in with yourself, a friend, colleague or medical professional, if needed. The advice of a former Jeddah Prep and Grammar School swim coach was to “Keep it Simple Student,” or (KISS) in short which is a coaching philosophy based on avoiding complexity and focusing on doing a few things really well both in and out of the pool. Upon living in Massachusetts, I was impressed by the quality of the track and field at Danehy Park (seen below) which prompted me to remember Mr. Sither, a former Physical Education Teacher.
Danehy Park, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2017.
Presidential Physical Fitness Awards earned by Tariq Mohammed. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
For individuals seeking to maintain or improve mental health, the physical fitness awards can be instructive when having anxiety, paranoia or thought disorders by counting out aloud the numbers, 1, 2 and 3. As I get older I have found that the simpler the activity or exercise the better I feel. This might not work for everyone, but if an individual finds a routine or activity that helps them maintain both physical and mental health then this will stand them in good stead. Not to sound too prescriptive, but from a policy perspective the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) would also do well to mainstream their programs with coaches, teachers and educators at the Squash + Education Alliance. I am writing based on personal and professional experience and perhaps this will be of help to future student-athletes.
It amazes me how my primary and secondary family members have influenced my explorations in sport for development and peace. When I was 11 years old, my cousin Rosanna Tharakan gave me a copy of the 1987 Pocket Edition of “Trivial Pursuit: Sport – The Authorized Game Book” by Guinness Books (as seen below). I still have the book in my possession today which has traveled with me from various places of residence. I rediscovered the book after cleaning out my basement. What is interesting about this book is that it can help teachers (which Rosanna and her husband happened to be) and coaches (of which I was trained to do) to be better at holding the attention of young student-athletes during practices and matches.
Quizzes: A coaching tool for young student-athletes.
One of the most challenging aspects of coaching for me was keeping my practices focused on skills development while motivating students to be a better version of themselves. I found that there were many in-between moments such as bus rides, sharing team meals and warm-ups, where I felt at a loss on how to maximize my time and energy for teachable moments. In other words, practices and matches can get boring fast for both student-athletes and coaches. Master teachers are always good at knowing what to say to a particular student at the right time. I have still have a long way to go before I reach the master coach level but in the spirit of coach education I thought this blog post would help coaches prepare for the upcoming squash season in New England, so here goes.
Many coaches have developed their own repertoires and are always looking to find new ways of delivering them. Quizzing student-athletes on sport or more broadly about current events at school, in the community or national and international news – during warm-ups or long bus rides may help create a dynamic team to go beyond the acts of practicing and playing to one of social action. For example, in recent months the NFL has given us a lot to consider about the safety of athletes, the roles of players and coaches with respect to national anthems and societal issues such as sexual harassment or gender-based violence. The above book and many others like it are great tools for coaches and teachers to foster team dialogues that may lead to improved performances during practices and matches, enhance team unity as well as create positive social development. Good luck coaches and student-athletes!
I recently returned from a 2 week tour of Southern Peru with stops in tourist destinations such as Cusco and Machu Picchu as well as the Sacred Valley. This was my first visit to a South American country and I chose Peru for a number of reasons. First, old friends and colleagues inspired me to visit, second, I was fascinated by Machu Picchu and third, I wanted to use up my vacation time wisely. Hiking up to Machu Picchu has always intrigued me.
Machu Picchu, Peru – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There were several highlights from my stay in Peru, but I would like to focus on the most striking issues relevant to sport for development and peace, that I was fortunate to witness. Throughout my travels in Asia and Africa, I have had little experience interacting with indigenous people, but while in Puno, Peru a visit to Lake Titicaca‘s Uros island gave me a glimpse of the impact of modern life (including sport and recreation) on the Uros people.
Uros people on Lake Titicaca, Peru Photo credit: Tour company, 2017.
Traveling with a group of Western tourists, we were taken by boat from Puno to Lake Titicaca where we visited Uros island. When we arrived on the island we were greeted by a warm elderly woman dressed in bright, traditional attire who guided us to a semi-circular seating area. After being seated on reed benches, she gave us an overview of life on the island of Uros and its culture with the aide of a translator.
Interestingly, the island itself is made of reeds which are grown and stacked to produced a floating surface which is finally completed by playing sports, such as soccer and basketball to make the “ground” compact. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of turf, especially in a remote region of the world. The Uros are connected to the modern world by modern communication and transportation systems, yet they retain their culture and way of life with a touch of sport.