During this week, I attended my third The Child is Innocent (TCII) fundraiser in Boston courtesy of one its co-founders – Kevin Schwartz, MD of Massachusetts General Hospital. I was introduced to this non-governmental organization by Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy and have found it a good way to stay connected to the people and well-wishers of Uganda. Kevin and his team at TCII are planning to build a new school campus called Hope Academy in Gulu, Northern Uganda in three phases. The detailed architectural plans were on display at the event to encourage others to donate and get involved.
Hope Academy: Vision and Master Plan, The Child is Innocent Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2019.
What impressed me about this organization was its core group of volunteers and dedicated supporters. They are committed to the TCII mission and travel frequently to Northern Uganda to meet with local staff to be proactive with decision-making and fundraising. Perhaps one area they could improve upon relative to other NGOs I have worked with is on the concept of “radical transparency.” Attending a fundraiser in Boston with little knowledge of the issues on the ground in Northern Uganda, I can understand how some observers might feel skeptical as to how funding might be mismanaged. This is not a criticism of TCII but of many charities around the world. Therefore making budgets, financial statements and fundraising transparent and available to everyone via the Internet might garner even more support and goodwill for TCII and other similar charities.
Hope Academy Architecture, The Child is Innocent Fundraiser, Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2019.
In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, the front cover of both the printed and online version of this blog are of a group of African HIV orphans who I had the privilege of coaching and refereeing more than fifteen years ago in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda. Though not part of my official United Nations Volunteerterms of reference (TOR), it was a very signifiant experience in my personal growth and development. Hence, I would like to acknowledge Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy, who along with several Italian and Irish volunteers in Uganda invited me to the orphanage in Uganda on a weekly basis. This coaching experience became one of my many inspirations in the field of sport for development and peace.
As part of my rehabilitation and ongoing recovery I have strived to practice greater self-care to ensure my own health and wellbeing. While every individual is unique and may have their own limitations (medical or not) the importance of health and wellness takes on a greater role as we age if we seek longevity. Healthcare providers, employers, caregivers and well-wishers all play a role in managing recovery (as depicted in the graphic below). The reason why I am sharing this illustration is to provide guidance for others to learn from and develop coping strategies.
Recovery Enhancing Environment, 2015 (Source: Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation).
One of my coping strategies has been to travel which I have shared with various Youtube videos on this blog. I have been traveling internationally since I was an infant and find that it is still something I enjoy. Traveling internationally can become expensive overtime so staycations are also another good option especially if on a budget or have time constraints. While there are many memorable travel moments, the video below captures some of the highlights of my staycations in the New England area of the United States.
In the video one can notice images of the Sun and Moon at various stages. Native Americans believe the Sun and Moon represent life for all. We know that the Sun is an essential element for human existence and the Moon for dreams, high spirits and the assurance of a long and prosperous life. What is not visible in this video, but is another important coping strategy is managing Sleep, Time management, Relaxation, Exercises, Smiles and Self-Talk (STRESS). Through self-regulation, planning and implementation I continue to strive for a balanced, healthy life and long life while cherishing one’s freedom. Happy Independence Day to all Americans!
The sport for development (SDP) sector comprises of for-profit, not-for-profit and hybrid business models that at the end of the day require revenues or donations in order to sustain themselves to perform mission-critical functions. All SDP organizations need funding to ensure sustainability for their stakeholders. This is why I have ventured into a new role with RK Global, an international growth marketing agency headquartered in Los Angeles as a Business Development Consultant.
My three-month hiatus from blogging was to assess new ways of monetizing and sustaining activities for a “win-win” situation to enable SDP organizations, the readers of this blog and myself. The acceleration of growth in the SDP sector through information and communication technologies (ICTs) – such as the Internet, cell phones, artificial intelligence, 3-D imaging, virtual and augmented reality – create many ways for growth-oriented SDP organizations to reach more customers and people in need, regardless of whether they are in high-income or low-income countries. Ultimately, ICTs are not a panacea for all the world’s problems but can promote systems-wide action if used for good.
The bottom line is that SDP organizations do not operate in a vacuum and are influenced by political, economic, social and environmental forces. This means in order to avoid organizational shutdowns and failures, sufficient political, economic and social capital is needed. The twenty four innovative technological tools and multiple marketing strategies offered by RK Global are potential solutions for the sustainability of the SDP sector. This blog as a subsection of the Internet will not end, as long as I am able to do so. Therefore, I look forward to writing more blog posts in the future.
I recently safely returned to the United States from a vacation in Kerala, and learned that today is the International Day of Charity which is observed by the United Nations member states. During my extended stay in Kerala, the state faced unprecedented floods (yes, climate change is real) that caused immense damage to its people, economy and infrastructure. Fortunately, my maternal family members were not severely affected by the flooding. Several cousins did however, mobilize resources with local organizations to assist with the flood relief by distributing food, clothing and care packages as well as organizing fundraising events for flood victims.
Mother Teresa and my maternal great grandmother of the Kuruvinakunnel family in Kerala, India. Photo Credit: Unknown.
I am proud of my Kerala family tradition of leading in social and philanthropic causes, beginning with my great grandmother from the Kuruvinakunnel family (my maternal grandmother’s mother). Above is a picture which Mary Michael, my maternal grandmother shared with me while we were housebound due to landslides. The photo is of Mother Teresa during one of her visits to Kerala and my maternal great grandmother. During the summer of 2012, I was fortunate to make a 3-day visit to the Mother Teresa Center of Calcutta to assist with social service activities.
The purpose of my trip to Southern India, and Kerala in particular, was to visit my maternal elderly grandparents, Michael Kallivayalil and Mary Michael and other relatives. Upon returning to the United States I created a video slideshow to remember my visits to Peermade, Kerala and Bangalore, Karnataka which were among some of the places I traveled through. Joseph Michael Kallivayalil, (Managing Director of Glenrock Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd), my uncle is an avid golfer so there was a great day spent together on the Peermade Club golf course, despite the calamities caused by the flooding in nearby districts. This visit made me realize there is potential for sport tourism in Indian states like Kerala.
Nonetheless, Kerala faces an uphill task of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy as well as rehabilitating people severely impacted by the flooding. As with many humanitarian disasters the coordination amongst government, business and civil society actors “on the ground” is critical for efficient and effective reconstruction. Building on the momentum of the goodwill shown to Kerala by its diaspora and well-wishers, those ordinary citizens of Kerala who lost everything including their homes, livelihoods and sense of well-being must not be ignored and forgotten by the media, local, state and federal relief agencies and the private sector.
Prior to the reorganization of ITG, Geoffrey organized a company retreat in Duxbury, Massachusetts. The photograph below is of a handful of the ITG team who were in attendance while other key team members were missing. Starting from right to left they were: Colin Maclay, Marcela Escobari, Geoffrey Kirkman, Magda Ismail, Carolina Vizcaino, Mridul Chowdhury, Chutney (the dog) and myself. Thanks to Geoffrey’s own blogging projects and his mentorship over the years, he positively influenced my blogging endeavors. I’ve enjoyed preparing, editing and writing my blog posts for a general audience. However, as my 100th blog post and counting, it is not clear how this will impact the limitations of space in the printed format.
Nonetheless, I shall share a few thoughts on how blogging has helped me and prospects for the future. First and foremost, the ability to reflect upon my work has not only allowed me to document the work done, but to pause and think about the importance of health and wellness. Second, this blogging project has connected me to a wide array of individuals and organizations working to improve the state of the world in real and meaningful ways. Third, I have developed a platform on which to translate longstanding political, economic and social issues in America and around the world through the lens of sport and development.
What does this mean for the future? This year – 2018 – is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the original framework on which my workbook “What Squash Can Teach You?” was derived. Furthermore, my time with Reebok’s Human Rights Programs also shaped the work of this blog project by wanting to combine and continue my interest in sport and sustainable international development. In the future, I hope that the printed formats of this blog and my workbook will be used as educational tools to facilitate critical thinking as well as create positive economic and social value, in the United States and across the world. By reflecting on the start of these writing projects, I intend to create a better finished product.
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.
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.
Thanks to my uncle, Tawheed Hazarika, one of my local volunteering stints was with the Andover Village Improvement Society (AVIS). This enabled me to discover the conservation efforts in the Town of Andover, Massachusetts while improving upon my prior knowledge of conversation when gorilla tracking in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Park. The gorillas are amazing creatures, but given the distance, I could not replicate my African safari so my AVIS volunteer opportunity was the next best thing. I learned about the various trails, vegetation and waterways closer to home. Goldsmith Woodlands, one of the trails led to the sign post below. Since discovering this trail, I have taken many refreshing walks along AVIS trails in the vicinity.
Goldsmith Woodlands, Andover Village Improvement Society. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2017.
When reading this sign I questioned my wanderings across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. As mentioned, I realize I am very fortunate to have studied, lived and worked in many countries, which I believe, are now part of my DNA. It is sort of fitting that I found this sign in Andover, MA which has been a wonderful base to explore the world after my undergraduate graduation. My understanding and reading of this sign is that it is an indication for me to make a new beginning. Every ending means a new beginning.
The United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace has aligned itself with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Therefore, it is time for me to take stock of all my blogging and lessons learned to apply myself in a real, self-motivated and practical position. I have a keen sense of the what I’d like to do, but the where and when remains to be seen. I’ve been writing this blog for 8 years which is the equivalent of 2 Presidential terms in the United States with a blog posting, approximately once a month. My hope is that it can be a basis for publishing a book or memoir in the future. Gracias, Merci, Weebale, Efcharisto and Thank you for watching and reading! Bon voyage!
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!
This post is not meant to relive my past or prolong my future. Much has been written in academic journals about the negative effects of specialization in youth sports and unrealistic expectations of players, coaches and parents. For example – increased injuries, parental abuse and corruption – all of which can vary, depending on a variety of factors ranging from location of events, league organizers to player participation. I am a firm believer in playing multiple youth sports and then choosing one to focus on in adult years. In my case, I played a variety of sports, one of which was swimming – which I enjoyed throughly thanks to competent coaches, good infrastructure and well-organized leagues.
Saudi Arabian Western Region Expatriate Swim League (WRESL) medals won by Tariq Mohammed 1988-89.
After winning a few swim meets for my age group and going on to break national swimming records, I went through a process of readjusting my expectations and hopes. My parents and coaches provided positive encouragement during my swimming years. I was guided by them to take an alternative route in my sport journey because I did not have the height or reach to compete as an elite swimmer. This was tough to hear for a 12 year old especially when my swimming times were good enough to compete at an international level. Nonetheless, I chose to listen to my coaches and parents who suggested I try a different sport. By turning my attention and focus to squash I was able to continue to enjoy the benefits of playing a sport while balancing my academics. I had the opportunity to play squash in college and the rest is history.
Swimming ribbons and awards won by Tariq Mohammed 1986-92.
I know 30 years later of switching from swimming to squash was a good decision. Both of these individual sports are also lifetime sports. If I were a parent of a young child or a practicing coach today, I would encourage student-athletes to make the right choice for the long run to avoid over-specialization. It can be a tedious and difficult process but if players, coaches and parents can arrive at an understanding where the best interest of the player is put first then they will be able to succeed in the long run. The “professionalization” of youth sports today, in terms of sponsorships, travel teams and increasing adult participation, make it more challenging for parents and their children to arrive at decisions that will benefit them for the long run. If you are a player, coach or parent in a similar predicament – I recommend start having the conversation – to help you arrive at the right decision.