Podcast

47 - The problem of “othering” ft. Aws Jubair

December 1, 2020

Today on the podcast, Aws Jubair, activist, humanitarian worker, and filmmaker, and Director of the Aman Project, the United Hands for Refugees, and the De-Otherize Dialogue Project.

The conversation revolves around how Aws’ own experiences about being a refugee in Turkey after having to leave his home country of Iraq because of the war and oppression. Aws talks about how he found his purpose in the work he is doing now; supporting and advocating for those who are oppressed simply because of who they are, and not what they have done. In our discussion, we dig into how to build understanding between people and how to achieve a world where everyone has the same opportunities and can live with dignity and respect.

Click through to help Aws spread his message by donating to and supporting his latest documentary!

Pinar Guvenc  
Hello, everyone, and welcome to What's Wrong With the podcast. Today we're happy to be speaking with Oscar bear from Baghdad, Iraq. Alice is a refugee activist, humanitarian worker and filmmaker who now lives in Turkey. His passion is to support and advocate for refugees and LGBTQ issues in the mener. region. oz is the director of the Amman project, the United hands for refugees and the deodorised dialogue project.

Aws Jubair

I was welcome. Thank you for having me.

Pinar Guvenc  
Well, it's a delight to have you here, please introduce yourself and tell us more about your work.

Aws Jubair
So I'm house buyer, and I am an activist, and filmmaker. I'm from Baghdad, Iraq, I am actually a refugee in Turkey. And yeah, I've, I'm the founder and director of two projects that focus on human rights issues. The Amman project, which focuses on raising awareness about LGBTQ issues in the Middle East, and also supporting the LGBT refugee community, in Turkey, by providing emergency assistance. And I am also the CO director of United Nations for refugees. It's a project that is a COVID response effort to try to support the refugee families who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic and economic outcomes. And yeah, that's what I do. And I'm also working on other projects. And I'm working on a movie right now to raise awareness about LGBTQ issues in Arabic.

Pinar Guvenc  
Fascinating, well, thanks so much for all your work that you're currently doing, and for making such a film in advance, and thanks for sharing that, to that it's in the works. I want to talk about I think, you know, it is very important to understand a person's story, before getting into, like, why we're doing in what we're doing. We watched before this interview, we watched a short film that sort of shared your story on leaving your home. Right? And I think I guess for anyone who is going through such a struggle it is it would be great to hear to like, how does that transition happen, where you're leaving home, there's quite an emotional toll on that I'm sure there's like a transition phase when you're in a new country that you may or may not have been before. And you're adapting to that. And then you find that the strength and the team and the skills to start building things and actually giving back to people or like, try to really empower and elevate the community. So in, can you sort of go more in depth into that journey? Like how I don't want to say what are the steps because it's not prescriptive for everyone is different, obviously. But what is that journey? Like? How is that journey really driving what you're going to do next?

Aws Jubair
Um, I think so my journey has been and my, the things that I went through has been essential and has been a main drive for everything I'm doing right now. I grew up in war in the Iraq war. I was 12 when I started, and I was 19 when I left. So basically, when I was 1913 1415, I saw the toughest years of the war. It was I've witnessed horrific things in my eyes. While I was in Baghdad while I was going to school while I was just playing with my friends. And that had a huge impact on me, obviously, but also coming after that to Turkey. As a result of that war, you know, my, my, let me just also mention them, um, I come from a mixed background. So my father is she My mom is a posting in Sunni. And why that is important is because in Iraq in those years, there has been a sectarian violence aimed at everyone basically by extremists groups. So my father was threatened. And the Shias in our gfms, or in our neighborhood were targeted and killed, and I've had friends and teachers and, and then, you know, neighbors getting killed. And so we had to leave our home, we have to leave, I had to leave my good school and my friends and everything our home. And we went, we went to, in an area where we thought we would be safer, it's more modern, and more more like, diverse and my mom was targeted because the militias were influential in that area. So I woke up one day, and my mom and I saw that 30 policemen and, and army men were in our house trying to arrest my mom, because she was accused of kidnapping children keeping them in our place, which was, which has, which there is no evidence, but it was, you know, like, started from someone who is with the militias, and they didn't like my mom being in that neighborhood. So, um, as someone who's more, you know, have liberal values and I am an an ex Muslim. So I left my I left their religion when I was growing up, and that had all the problems. in my neighborhood, in my school people found out and, and everyone knew and, and I was harassed, threatened, you know, I was into fights and fights because of it, I was bullied. And at some point, like my feet, might even my friends had to leave me and I stopped going to school because it was dangerous. So I think after I came to Turkey, because of all of these reasons, I we had another major challenge that well, that is the fact that we are refugees and that we are from Iraq, we were in home we are discriminated against because of our lack of belief, or because of our diverse backgrounds. In a we were discriminated against because we are refugees. So people, I remember, when we first start looking for a home, apartment to rent, we were told right in my face like someone told us we were not renting for refugees and I remember when I was going to apply for a job as an English teacher a few a couple of years later they told me they told me Oh, we don't hire people from Iraq. So and and the system by itself is designed not for us because we don't have the right to work we don't have the right to travel freely. We like we are supposed to be in one city and we cannot get out of it unless we asked our police permission. So all these obstacles that my family and I faced is simply because of who we are and not because of anything we've done yeah. And that that had made me deeply concerned about this issue having been having experienced injustice myself

Unknown Speaker  
know what is it like to be discriminated I know what it's like to be you know, marginalized and and i i felt like victim for a long time. But it was it was, when I started volunteering, I realized, I started volunteering and working with refugees and then trying to support the community, I was empowered just by the fact that I had the ability to do something about the problem. And suddenly, not suddenly, actually it came to came gradually like it like, in time, it took time, of course, for me to realize that this is what I want to do. And this is makes me feel empowered. And

Pinar Guvenc  
what is that time, like, you're in Turkey, how, like how many years past that you're realizing like I can volunteer, and I can be of use for the community.

Aws Jubair
That was in 2015. I, so I came to the 2011. And 2015 is when I came to volunteer and, and, and later works with organizations. And I felt like, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is my purpose. And it was very empowering to feel like you can do something about a problem, rather than just complain about it or be sad about it. You know, we have we live in a world where there's so many issues, that if you just keep hearing about what's wrong, it's draining. Sure, at some point, I remember, I remember I stopped watching the news, because it was too much. But it was it was when I was able to do something about it that made me feel, you know, stop, stop, I stopped feeling drained, I stopped feeling negative I I started feeling empowered and positive. And most importantly, how I start to have a purpose, which is very important. That time was very important for me,

Pinar Guvenc  
how did you find them? Like how, and I think like, this is important, because you know, there are probably other people with similar stories that got lost, right? Because you can like what you're seeing in terms of all the emotional like trauma that you're suffering. And if you don't have people around you that will help you sort of get out of that mindset and show you you can do things you're actually important. Like your work really means to us a lot. Like those people can shift your mindset, but like how do you find those people?

Aws Jubair
Well, for me, it was volunteering.

Pinar Guvenc  
And you reached out to them or?

Aws Jubair
Well, I yeah, I just looked online. I was like wondering, what what do I want to do? And then the Syrian conflict came to my mind first, and I was like, I want to be involved. I want to be I want to be doing something with the Syrian community here. So I yeah, I just looked online, and I found a place I called them was small project Istanbul. And I showed up and and yeah, I, I thought that I'm going there to help someone or some, some people with anything small that I can. But actually, it turned out that I was the opposite. I got a lot of support from the community, much more than I, you know, was giving, and that have had empowered me also, of course, to carry on and keep, you know, being working in the, in this field and humanitarian field. And it wasn't, you know, it wasn't too, too much later when I realized like, hey, I want to do this, always And specifically, I I started working with another organization that was working with refugees. And I started getting paid, but also, then I started working with a LGBT refugee shelter. And it was my time there that also made the biggest impact on me, because, you know, for all these years, I thought I was the victim and suddenly I'm in a place with people around me who have seen struggles that I could not imagine. And I've started to also realize my privileges. how privileged I am to be a man, how privileged I am to be straight sis man, and never have to worry about my family kicking me out of the house or threaten me or my friends coming after me. Or my, you know, community rejecting me and sending me hates messages. So I was I was very involved in that project, and I became the manager of the project Two months later, after I was working there, and I felt like I want to do something for those people who are discriminated against. And we're facing in justices just because just like how I faced in justices. And I could I couldn't stand I couldn't stand what? what is like to be in that position? Maybe not exactly in a position of an LGBT refugee question, but I could see, I could, I could remember when it happened to me, many times when people discriminate against me, and I wanted to do something about it, so it was a life changing outlook, because I suddenly I felt like, okay, you know, what, all the things that you've gone through all the struggles you've gone through, and all the things that you were sad and depressed about, and now you can use it, to do something good with it. And it's my ability, in my experience, going through that, it's have enabled me to have a better understanding and empathy and more motive gave me the motivation to keep at it. Yeah, I kept working in the project for two years. And I've seen that was probably the most difficult time of my life, like, it was really stressful, really powerful, inspiring, also the same time and beautiful. And I've met some amazing people, and I've heard some amazing stories, which are, which is the reason why I want to make the movie because when I, when I saw these people and listen to what they have to go through, but also who they are as human beings. I thought I'm not the only person who should be hearing this. Yeah, the whole world should hearing what these people have to go through, and who they are. And, and, and I thought, okay, one day, I imagine it at that time, because I couldn't see it happen. So soon, I thought, like, years later, maybe 10 years later, when I leave Turkey, I will, you know, whatever, like, who have make a movie and try to tell the stories. But when the filter when the for the project, close down, I actually saw an opportunity to start working on this thing that I always wanted, and, and I started it and I also when the shelter closed twist called the Oman shelter, I founded my projects. So it's, it's, we do similar thing, we don't have a shelter, but we support the LGBT refugee community by emergency in emergency situations, such as homelessness and hunger, and when people don't have food and, and medicine and things like that, but we also very important for us to raise awareness. And we do that through social media through talking to journalists, through talking to podcasts like this one and, and yeah, we we want to raise awareness about a topic that is very, you know, taboo, and it's rare to talk about in the Middle East, right, especially.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yeah, well, I mean, first of all, thank you so much for sharing the story, you know, so openly, I think, you know, the things you experienced at such an age could be life defining, right and it is easy to fall into a really different path after that after experiencing all of that like that can darken your spirit like you may be more, you know, jaded against everything instead of remaining open like so much things could have defined Your character, but choosing to be strong. And I'm sure that comes with a lot of work, like you mentioned, you know, you couldn't watch news anymore, which is something we've been actually talking about for like the past two weeks, because we were talking to an organization here that does great work for black and Latin x communities. And they were saying, you know, in terms of like awareness, for example, like everything that we keep seeing about Black Lives Matter, maybe, okay, it's great for awareness purposes. And it's also important to have, you know, non black people on board, I think that there's something important here that we can discuss also is that you don't have to be a refugee or having that experience to support and if you are actually on board and supporting the community, and collaborating and teaming up together, there can be more work done in actually, more awareness could be raised afterwards. But she was also talking about how, you know, while we're trying to raise awareness about a subject, that is also quite traumatizing for the community, because then you're keep listening to the things that once were a terrible experience for you, or you keep seeing things on the news and or you can't, it's like, keep opening up a wound, like you keep digging, your keep scratching and woundedness, that is also quite powerful. And in something honestly, that I didn't look at it that way, like I was more like, Oh, great, like, more white people are talking about it, that's the important part, or like, finally, people are talking about or acting or changing attitude. But I honestly didn't think or to that extent that while we were trying to educate everyone else, and be aware, it could also be still very much traumatizing, and, you know, like, impacting negative way for the community. And that was really eye opening in that way. And I think, you know, we keep when we're talking about refugees, and when we're sharing news about that about what's going on, or if there's like organizations that are trying to gather donations, it's generally very sad imagery. Right? And that is, maybe for it to, like, maybe that brings more action, maybe that brings them more funding. But what does that mean for the refugee communities, keep seeing those, keep reliving what you've gone through through others, that that is quite a big trauma, which is why I also find really interesting how you choose the route of a film. Right? Like, I think that is sort of like the power in creative work, like you can create something. Something just beyond the news, like sharing the bad news, something that sort of transcends beyond and becomes like an artwork, which is a beautiful way of like sharing a story to and maybe it's even more empowering, empowering for the people who participate in the film, because it's a creative work that they collaborate on together with you. So I find that really, really interesting. But I also would love to hear your thoughts on sort of, like reflecting back on this. About I mean, it's amazing that there are so many organizations that are trying to help out. And clearly like, there is the first response needs, like basic needs, like safety, food, you know, like shelters, this is really required. And what else can be done, like what else because we're human beings, we have other needs, we have creative needs, as in your case to what can be done, I want to say differently, because like, all these organizations are really just trying to gather all the basic needs that people have. But what else can be done sort of to make it a more human experience? Or go beyond just Yes, I survived. Like, how do you go, what type of work is more needed so that we move from the mindset of survival to actually living?

Aws Jubair
Well, I think I think that I'm always making the narrative on, you know, having narrative on the bad things that were happening and showing how people are struggling and basically shuffling refugees as victims all the time Yeah, is a can, it can hurt even though I understand that the intention can be good and, and, and trying to help, but I feel like people don't respond always to negative and sad things at some point they're gonna shut off.

Pinar Guvenc  
yeah, we max out after a while, like you said, We stopped watch us.

Aws Jubair
We'll we'll have the capacity of a human being and we all get fed up with Yeah, that things and we we are attracted to things that make us happy. That's why we watch comedy movies, you know, go to the beach or whatever. So I feel like what what is important is to inspire people not only make them, you know, give them the, the, the bad or sad news. So I think that is with the movie, what I'm trying to do is not only talk about the sad things, or the bad things that have been happening in the lives of LGBT refugees, but also what are their dreams? What are their talents, what are their hobbies, and, and I think it's important to, you know, highlight the the human nature, the human nature of, of people, and ensure and show the human in this story, not, not just sad events, but so try to create an understanding between people yeah, you know, because we all we all share the same things, we share the same things, that we share more things that what makes the things that make us different. And when we always talk about the sad stories, people can, sometimes can't really relate because they haven't experienced that, right? Such trauma or such sadness in their life. But if you show something that is more human, that's that, that that, you know, the love for art, or the love for making something or whatever it is, people can relate to that and people can can be inspired by it. And suddenly, that other person who's so foreign and different than me, becomes not so different, after all. So we want to, we want to, we want to bring people closer. And this is why actually, now, although I recently got offered a position as the CO director of this new project, it's called the D other eyes project. And we're waiting now for funding, and if we get funding, we will actually start working on it. And the idea of the project is to work on how to build understanding between people in the US and roughly in the refugee community. And we do that by facilitating, facilitating zoom calls or conversations between directly between refugees and people who haven't, let's say met so many foreigners or metta refugee in their lives, and we want to show them that, basically, who are refugees, you know, refugees are just people like you and, and, and, and, of course, me, I'm not refugee, but people who you can walk in the street and and you find, you know, people could, that person could be a refugee. It doesn't have to also to be from Iraq or Syria, it could be from South America or, you know, even Europe a few years ago. So, we want to work on making more connections between the West and the rich community and the other one of the other ways we do it is also by connecting people who share the same interest or profession. They can cooperate on something together and while they working together on something, they are learning about each other, and, and, and and that can, can have a life changing. attitude change experience for some people. I mean, I know because I had coming from Iraq, I had lots of stereotypes. I had lots of projects. On on different kind of people when I can, but you know, how I got rid of these stereotypes is by actually meeting people from those places. And I realizing that Oh, that person is not as I thought it was just was really just a human being just like me. And there's not much difference between us. So I felt that my prejudgments and stereotypes or negative stereotypes are doesn't have an excuse. And and so I helped me have an a more open mind. And I think it can work with the majority of people, I think the majority of people are good people have good hearts, and they they, you know, it's, it's, it's hard to hate a close. I think most people if they even if they've worked for Trump, for example, or, you know, they they might have like different political views, I think when when they actually get to meet people, I don't think it's going to be hard for them to understand and accept them. I think it's, it's human connection, we sometimes underestimate it. So, through this project, hopefully, we want to promote more of that. building a bridge and, and, and promote understanding.

Pinar Guvenc  
I think it's fascinating. Well, first of all, going back to what you said in terms of like, I mean, Indian girl people and we have similar needs and wants, right? Like, when you put someone in a box that is unrelatable, like for you, like if you say refugee box, that is I mean, then the approach can easily be, as you said, like, oh, let's help like those people, you know, like, it's sort of like the other and we want to help them but there's no bridge between really like the human needs, like oh, like, we both hate apples, I'm making up like all of these, like, really human things are not even discussing this is. And you know, things like the normalization in all the trauma that is like ongoing in Middle East and that geography in general, on the west, right? Like I think on the news, you see, like another terror attack, like the war is going on. And you know, there's refugee crisis like something like all these repeat news that sort of also puts that region in a box where like, Oh, that's where like trauma happens and bad things happens. And so when those happen, we don't see the same reaction by the people that are in United States or Europe when compared to when we see a crisis happening here or in Europe, right. Like, if there's an explosion in the Middle East, that's like normal, but if there's an explosion in Paris, that's a different story. Right? So I think, like, but we also need to get out of the mindset is that, you know, that is that region, and refugees also live there, you know, like, sort of like, pushing away and making it unrelatable in this topic is like an issue both in like social matters, and other matters to like, we often talk about, like when you use big terms, that really people can not connect to like climate change, like biodiversity or decertification. Like people really, like don't I mean, we maybe understand we get an idea what it is, but we really don't understand. So it's kind of hard to even like think, okay, where How can I contribute to this? Like, what is my part in this? What is my role in this, so it makes it relatable, relatable, and it removes the subject from us and distance, we distance ourselves. So like, that's why I see such a value in such a project to just remind all of us like, yeah, let's just like get together, you know, like, have a conversation. It doesn't have to be a sad scene, always. I'm part of an organization here that with the mission making style accessible for people of all abilities, so we work with people with disabilities, but we don't work in a way that it's like, it's not a charity case. It's not a sad story, like every human being has a style, and it should be there, right? You know, to dress however you want, but people with disabilities can't because clothing is not accessible for them. And but it's Oh, we often see a lot of, you know, charity work or whatever that is done. It's more like it's always a sad story. And again, like sort of like putting them in a box where their victim just because of a lack of an ability, you know, and I think like, sort of changing the script and sharing people's stories and co collaborating with them. Not only is great social experience, like, you may make friends, but also it's empowering when you're part of the decision making when you're actually making something together. And imagine how, you know, a refugee camp is having a call with, you know, a creative group in, let's say, St. Louis and then they're just like talking about life, or a project or something, or an artwork or a film. That is, you know, doesn't have to be the sad story, or it doesn't have to be, that's your experience, this is my experience. So I mean, like, to your point, it doesn't have to be a sob story, it can really be just like a social get together. And not only as a good, you know, human need experience, like we experienced that with the pandemic, right? Like, we're social beings, we miss getting together and the human interaction. So it can be like a social interaction, but also, maybe we like both groups watch a movie, and they discuss a movie, or they discuss which, you know, foods they like, and everything that is more relatable and is more human, and doesn't have to be about a sad story, or your experience, versus my experience, just all these topics that are really human and common, and everything that people can relate to. So I mean, that such a project would be tremendously valuable. And if it's also like, designed around like creative things. It can also be, like, really fascinating to observe as an outsider, you know, like, I can imagine people like joining the conversations and just listening in.

Aws Jubair

Is it is it is actually, if we get the funding, again, it is a very much creative project. And, you know, my position would be also to help elevate it to another level. So basically get form, like, form a strategy for stuff. So I have a lot of ideas that I think, you know, especially being from the community, myself, and having been thoughtful about this issues for a long time, I have a lot of things I want to do, to, you know, send them the message or send the reality of, and help. Like I said, build a bridge. We all could use that right now. Um, yeah. And if we do, I will definitely let you know. So we can

Pinar Guvenc  
well, please do I mean, we anything that we can help with to support such a project, especially also the mom project and the movie that you're working on, you know, like, I think all of these are experiences that need to be shared with others, so that we have to really look at a topic not as a, I mean, yes, there is like funding needs, there are basic needs, but it doesn't have to be a charity case. It can be a project that is collaborative, and just inclusive of communities that are often forgotten by majority of the people may, I mean, maybe not intended to, you know, as we said, people are maxed out on bad news. So we just ignore it maybe like consciously or unconsciously, but to create these positive experiences, so we are raising awareness, but not just like, by sharing someone's sad story. And having people participate in it, I, there is an organization that we would love for you to connect with, actually, and we'd be happy to connect called Art solution. And they work at places of conflict and crisis on collaborative projects. So they do these massive murals and artworks with the community there. But they don't necessarily just go in and show them how to do it and leave, they actually equipped the local community with the skill sets. So this is an ongoing program. So that shared experience and that learning curve that they have totally changes the experience of that refugee camp, let's say or it just becomes like a social thing. They make friends, they learn skillsets like Joel, who's a co founder, he talks about artists, you know, learning animation skills, which is fascinating, that is something that can they can continue with and start creating their own work. So we've seen firsthand like such beautiful projects done by communities that were either marginalized or forgotten. And it doesn't have to be a charity case. There are great artists from these communities that are you know, growing there is opportunity presented to them. So we really hope the other ice project gets funding, and we can't wait to see the film. And you have to also keep us posted on all the news and how we can support you.

Aws Jubair
But yeah, I do have. So the right now, the projects I'm working on, it's not really funded, it's just depending on small donations. So yeah, I, I have, if you're, if your viewers would like to support us, I have also some stuff to send you like a GoFundMe page for the for the sleeve.

Pinar Guvenc  
And we'll add those links into the episode description.

Aws Jubair

Thank you so much.

Pinar Guvenc  
So before we wrap up, I want to ask for your advice to anyone that I guess like experienced trauma, especially at a young age, right, because that can be even like more life altering, or, in some instances, unfortunately, life ending for young people. What would be your advice for anyone who is going through a very tough experience, and to get out of it, and basically turn that into a unique skill set and power that others don't have?

Aws Jubair

Think that your attitude and perspective is so important. You know, we sum we do not have control over a lot of things that happen in the world or in in our lives. But what we do have control over is how we perceive it, and how we look at it. And so for me, the the the change start to happen when I start to when I stopped perceiving what happened to me as always negative and bad. And I start to perceive it as an art, and it an experience that have taught me a lot and enabled me to have a special and unique outlook over these issues in a way that I can offer a lot because I've learned a lot from it. So once you start using your experiences as your mentors, or your teachers, then you know, there's always something positive you can do with it. And the best way to deal with you know, something that's a crisis or sad events, or whatever it is, is to try to do something about it, and be part of the solution. So it was when I started being part of the solution, that's what changed my life because I it's, it's it's really empowering. When when you feel like you have the power to do something, and not just be a victim. So I would, this is what I would have told myself if I could talk to my 20 year old self. So I think I think it's support.

Pinar Guvenc  
Well, I was this was amazing. Thank you so much for being so open about your story as well and sharing all these cool projects that you're working on. Please do keep us posted. We would love to share any updates about these projects with anyone and we'd love to also share with our community to see how we can help get support to realize these creative projects.

Aws Jubair

Thank you so much so much for the opportunity. It was a pleasure. Well, I had a good time talking to you.

Pinar Guvenc  
Yes as to thank you so much as and that is this week's episode it was wrong with the podcast to make sure you never miss an episode, please subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting platform. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel. For more details on our guests. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter. All links can be found in the episode description. Thank you for listening!

Mentioned in this episode:

Aws on Twitter: @JubairAws


The De-Otherize Dialogue Project on Instagram: @de.otherize

The De-Otherize Dialogue Project on Facebook: @de.otherize

The Aman Project on Instagram: @project.aman

The Aman Project on Facebook: @amanshelter

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