In my failure biography on this blog, I describe my first psychotic experience in 1999 in New York City. Twenty years later after a lot of psychotherapy, medication, vocational and family support I am very lucky to have not ended up on the streets of New York City without food, clothing and shelter. In this blog post, I would like to share some of the amazing work of the Bowdoin alumni I am grateful to know who swiftly saved me during my medical emergency.
Marc Wachtenheim, Founder and CEO of W International based in Washington DC and a member of the Class of 1997 was the first person to call and alert my father in the early morning hours in The Netherlands when I experienced my first psychotic episode in New York City. Marc and I have remained in contact over the years and he has been a mentor to me and gracious host during many of my subsequent visits to Washington DC. The video below is Marc speaking about human rights at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Eddie Lucaire, Vice President of Brand Partnerships at Copa90 and a member of the Class of 1999 walked me to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan where he assisted in voluntarily admitting me for emergency psychiatric care. At the time I did not know where or why I was going to the hospital but thanks to Eddie’s good guidance I was safely given the treatment I needed. Eddie now lives in Los Angeles working for a start-up in the global soccer business and we have remained in contact over the last 20 years.
Adam Stevens, Principal of PS 4 Duke Ellington School in New York City and member of the Class of 1999 was employed by American Express Corporate Travel Services in New York City. I was about to begin my first day in the same department of American Express with Adam, but did not make it to my first day of work. Adam also reached out to my father and family by sending them a fax in The Netherlands to let them know how things were going. Adam and I are not in frequent contact, but I know he is continuing to serve the common good through education.
While I was in New York city, I had two roommates in Manhattan – Crispin M. Murira and Daniel P. Rhoda – who were working in investment banking for Credit Suisse First Boston. They too noticed the warning signs of my psychosis and helped work as a team with Marc, Eddie and Adam to get me the care that I needed at Bellevue Hospital and later at McLean Hospital in Boston. Sadly, in 2013 Dan passed away due to an unknown reason but I was able to attend his funeral in Houlton, Maine. Today, Crispin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Copia Global which leverages technological solutions for bottom of the pyramid customers in Kenya (see video below).
The reason I share this true story is not only to express my gratitude, but to assist with fundraising for Bowdoin College and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) both of which I contribute to in meaningful ways. I hope readers of this blog post will feel moved to make a contribution to these mission-driven organizations.
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.
The Boston Public Library and WorldBoston, both forward thinking organizations hosted and organized an important event to raise awareness of the role of diplomacy in enhancing American global leadership. Since the end of the second World War, the United States has led the world in military, economic and cultural power, yet the change in today’s global trends – the rise of China, geo-political challenges in Europe and shifting economic tides, gave the speakers an impetus to call on the American public to improve the state of the U.S. State Department.
Building on Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s compelling column and Ambassador Nicholas Burns’ alarming op-ed piece in the New York Times, their remarks at the Boston Public Library made a strong case in opposition of the 30 percent budget reduction to the U.S. Department of State by the Trump Administration. Ambassador Stephenson outlined the role of American diplomats, their strengths and what happens when diplomacy is done well – in terms of “invisibility and light touches,” while cultivating relationships to better negotiate international agreements and treaties. For example, the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement where community-based policing transformed relations between Catholics and Protestants.
Ambassador Stephenson and Ambassador (Retd.) Burns on the “The State of the State Department,” moderated by Mary Yntema, CEO of World Boston at Boston Public Library, February, 2018. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
Ambassador Stephenson closed her remarks by asking what happens when American diplomats are not stationed overseas? Her unequivocal response, was that without the presence of American diplomats, there is a void in the relationship between the United States and the host countries, there is a lack of intelligence or “eyes and ears” on the ground and it is difficult to deal with threats to U.S. interests. In short, Ambassador Stephenson emphasized that the budget cuts were not plausible and not sustainable for American global leadership in the world.
Ambassador Burns, a Massachusetts native began with how Boston, has always been an outward looking city with its seaport and trade relations with many countries. He went on to describe the extent to which the State Department budget cuts and the increase in federal spending on the Department of Defense was not prudent, nor wise. Ambassador Burns shared how the diplomatic corps and military personnel often share serving on the frontlines, therefore requiring better integration of State and Defense Departments. He provided examples such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Korea – where there are currently no US Ambassadors serving to protect and advance U.S. interests – all of which face important, complex political, economic and security issues. Ambassador Burns closed his remarks with an apt quote by Winston Churchill during his 1943 speech at Harvard University, just as the British Empire was on the decline and America’s influence was improving, by stating “the price of greatness is responsibility.” For students, educators and practitioners I highly recommend learning more about the Boston Network for International Development, which is why I attended this educational event.
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!
Today happens to be my Mom’s birthday and the month in which Mothers are celebrated, among other national and international awareness activities (such as Mental Health Awareness Month). To readers of my blog, I hope you have a few minutes to read this post.
I’ve made a couple of references to my parents on this blog largely because I know it is thanks to them and many others, that I am able to stay healthy, volunteer my time with causes I care about and explore new places and things.
The video above is a culmination of my journey in squash. I have enjoyed every moment of playing, coaching and volunteering in squash at various levels, as well as being a team member on winning and losing teams.
I plan to stay physically active with and without squash, as it definitely keeps me well and balanced. Thanks, Mom and Happy Birthday!
A concise, thorough and inspiring presentation, entitled “More Than A Game: Using Soccer to Create a Level Playing Field for Girls” was be led by Ben Sanders, Director of Programmes, Grassroot Soccer South Africa. Grassroot Soccer is an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities.
The USAID Sport for Development M&E Learning Lab is a platform that allows USAID Missions, NGOs, academics, corporate partners and donors to identify and examine evaluation outcomes of programs that use sport to achieve development goals. Group members use this platform to share knowledge, identify best practices, and disseminate research outcomes. Through open information exchange and collaboration, the platform allows members to support the advancement of sport for development and peace programs globally.
Mr. Sanders and his colleagues also referenced a report and digital storytelling to share best practices and lessons learned from Grassroots Soccer. Both are highly recommended for additional reading and viewing. Overall, participating in the seminar was a cost-effective method of keeping up with one of the leading sport for development organizations in the world. Khelshala and others NGOs have a lot to learn from Grassroot Soccer.
A Bowdoin squash alum introduced me to VolunteerMatch, a wonderful website that connects nonprofit organizations with volunteers. Hence, in an effort to continue volunteering locally I was matched with Emmaus Inc, a Haverhill, Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that addresses homelessness through empowerment. How did this happen?
Emmaus Volunteers received the T-shirt above for its 4th Annual 2017 Martin Luther King Day of Service.
The process to act upon my volunteer interest was to register with VolunteerMatch, express interest in organizations and causes near my zip code and then select volunteer opportunities based on mutual interest and availability. My first onsite meeting with Emmaus’s Empowerment Project Coordinator facilitated registration, identification verification and completing background (CORI) checks. I was then emailed by the coordinator the general volunteer responsibilities.
As a Family Guide, my volunteer role for the 2017 Emmaus Martin Luther King Day MLK Day was to provide a welcoming atmosphere for disadvantaged families and individuals at the Resource Fair and Family Theater Almost 200 people from the Haverhill community attended the event and Emmaus Inc had over 130 volunteers respond to the call to work on various MLK day projects. Each volunteer received a free T-shirt, as seen above. For more information, check out pictures from the event on the Emmaus Inc. social media pages! Thank you to VolunteerMatch for helping me to make the Emmaus event a success.
If you are looking for ways to give back to your local community, connect with like-minded individuals and organizations as well as ease your way your back to full-time paid employment, VolunteerMatch, might be a useful tool to make your next steps in the new year.
I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder in 2014 after 2 psychotic episodes in my early to late twenties when I literally lost touch with reality. Thanks to excellent treatment by mental health professionals and unconditional support from my caregivers, I was able to go back to work, but relapsed in my late thirties after two suicides in my family and social networks. A few life changes later, I was unable to follow instructions, process information and became socially anxious. Today it is a burden for me and my loved ones that I need to undergo rehabilitation and find a new direction for my life.
The world of sport is not immune to mental illness as it can strike anyone regardless of age, race or socio-economic background. There are many professional athletes who struggle daily with their illnesses. Some athletes, are open about their diagnoses while others suffer in silence. Unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness does not align well with high performance situations. Athletes, musicians and entertainers are no different from any other human beings on this planet. A 2012, New York Times article titled “With no one looking, mental illnesses can stay hidden,” prompts me to ask the question about what are the long term outcomes of athletic coaches with mental health conditions?
Visit to United States Olympic Training Center, Colorado, Colorado Springs. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2008.
My illness has no cure and it is something I will have to manage carefully for the rest of my life, by taking medication and undergoing therapy. During the summer of 2008, my sister Miriam, invited me to visit Colorado where I visited the United States Olympic Center’s Training Center in Colorado Springs. At the Center, I saw the above inspirational quote by Juan Samaranch, former President of the International Olympic Committee. This resonated with me since my life has been enriched with, through and by sport. Setbacks occur, but life goes on. My onward journey will be to practice greater self-care and be a resource for others with mental illness, in a voluntary capacity, whenever possible.
A few years ago I blogged about what the field of sports for development and peace can learn from the arts? Music is often considered a great communication tool to bring people together. There have been many types of benefit concerts during my lifetime. The LiveAid, Farm Aid and Live 8 concerts are some of the larger benefit concerts that have happened across the globe. Patrick Kabanda, a friend at the Office of the Chief Economist at the World Bank, has written extensively about the importance of the arts to economic and social development. His publications offer great insights.
I recently attended a Lampedusa, a Concert for Refugees in Boston at the Berklee College of Music. It was a sold out show with humorous dialogue and well crafted songs by all the musicians. Clearly, such an event is a win-win situation for the musicians, fans, sponsors and aid recipients. Small scale concerts may be just as good as large scale events in that they can draw loyal fans and supporters. Professional athletes and musicians are often grouped together in the entertainment business which may lead to ease of working together. Personally, the Lampedusa tour stop in Boston, happened to be on my birthday which made it all the more special and memorable.
As a member of the International Sport for Development and Peace Association (ISDPA), I would urge my colleagues in the field to explore ways in which benefit concerts can be used as a fundraising tool to benefit disadvantaged athletes. Choosing which non-governmental organization to benefit from the concerts could be done based on pooling of resources. For example ISDPA, could collect the funds and make equal distributions to its member organizations. In the United States, Up2Us, a sport-based youth development coalition would be a good starting point. An event organizer, may ask is there a demand for such a concert to benefit disadvantaged athletes? My answer would be, just ask around and you never know if there are a group of musicians passionate about similar issues.