Blog | Module 3: developing your proposal for change, making a difference
Nojus Saad, Youth For Women Foundation Founder. Iraq.
Usman Ali, Medical doctor. Lahore, Pakistan.
Imagine waking up every day in a conservative country, where your entire community, family and the media imposes the belief that only deranged people have mental illness; and praises the religious ideologies of similarity, emotional suppression and traditional perfectionism. A community where everybody is silently struggling alone.
That’s what we, Nojus Saad and Usman Ali, experienced growing up in Iraq and Pakistan respectively.
About the authors
I am a 21-year-old social entrepreneur from a vulnerable remote town in Iraq, where I spent my childhood terrified of the widespread toxically-masculine men who were constantly abusing their wives and children physically, mentally, and financially every day. And spent my decade of the “teenage dream” perfecting how to suppress my emotions while struggling with bullying, my sexual identity and the massive societal pressure of becoming a perfect conservative doctor.
After a decade of self-exploration and hard work, fate managed to finally open its lucky doors for me, as I proudly stoop up for thousands of vulnerable women and LGBTIQA+ children undergoing lethal mental abuses in Iraq – through founding an international humanitarian organisation (Youth For Women Foundation) that educated, empowered, and inspired 5,000 religious, civil society, and youth and women leaders to lead the social transformation for gender equality and digital health inclusion of marginalised communities. I now work with multiple United Nations (UN) agencies and technology companies to represent the voices and struggles of the rural young people and women whom we serve, at international events.
I am a 28-year-”old" brown guy from Pakistan, presently working as a post-graduate trainee in psychiatry. Previously, I had chance to work as public health manager and public health consultant for HIV and tuberculosis with many non-profits and UN agencies. I have also worked in theater as an actor for a play on health awareness.
With Orygen’s program I feel one cannot wait for people to become too mentally unwell and end up in a hospital, we need to promote positive mental health, support those at risk or suffering from mental health problems. This is possible if you know the art of advocacy and that’s why I am here.
Well, it’s been a decade I am out of high school and in different form of learning which is usually by bedside of a patient. I am old enough to consider myself outdated. The system in Pakistan is more conventional in academic institutes. I myself, am used to notes, lectures, listening to teachers, memorising books and zoning out during lecture! Orygen’s fellowship program however is completely new and different for me. First, it’s very lively, interactive and everyone has an equal importance in the program.
Everyone is pleasant and welcoming for other people’s views. In our classroom, only teachers were supposed to speak while here anyone can.
Our projects and their connection to the fellowship
I have previously worked tirelessly to deliver more than 35 training programs on gender-based oppression and digital mental health inclusion for rural women and young people, but module three of Orygen’s mental health advocacy program had me rethink ways I could have better integrated advocacy strategies for those programs to have more sustainable impacts.
The problem framing component of the module’s extensive advocacy training also taught me the indispensable role of research in identifying and understanding social issues. It reminded me of the tactics we deployed in the community-wide research program I lead with my team in Iraq, where we surveyed above a thousand rural girls and women on their awareness of domestic violence, its policy and resources in the region.
Definitely the greatest and most inspiring takeaway from Orygen’s program is the brainstorming and storytelling sessions around an innovative proposal for change and steps to operationalise our advocacy projects, led by William Smith-Stubbs and others.
Utilising some of the new strategies and risk-mitigation tactics I learned, I am currently leading a national campaign on domestic mental abuse of women and children in Iraq, through providing advocacy training for youth organisations, religious leaders and government officials on passing a mental health national strategy to domestic violence for rural Iraq. This campaign is complementary to our previous successful campaign on domestic violence and “honorable” killing that inspired more than 600 diverse stakeholders to mobilise a 5 per cent budget increase for gender-based violence implementation in rural communities nationwide.
I found myself having depression once. When I joined psychiatry in early 2022, I was a bit overwhelmed that I would get burnt out emotionally. I have heard from my seniors at the department that our own mental health always has to be perfect as a psychiatrist. This was quiet of a stress for me. But I am glad that I joined the fellowship just in time.
Back in June, the fellowship team shared brief biographies of current fellows and those from last year. In those biography pamphlets, there were experiences of fellows which made me realise that it is wrong altogether to have perfect mental health in order to work in mental healthcare. The discussions also helped me realise that those with lived experiences come with great passion to work in mental health and probably are better practitioners and advocates than others. I guess this may be one reason why Ally Zlatar said: “Mental health tends to be very superficial; people like to throw around diagnoses but not see the people behind the illness and the voices of their struggles”.
During the fellowship, alumni also shared their projects. Juan Pablo Alvarado Herrera shared their work around transgender mental health called TranSER, which I personally liked very much. Orygen’s fellowship made me more comfortable with my own lived experiences and feeling okay not to be okay.
You do not have to live in countries that criminalise freedom of expression and ostracise people with mental ill-health to have empathy for the countless people who do. So let’s together utilise the super power we hold through the internet and digital devices to reach and educate thousands in just one click.
Let’s all struggle together. We are not alone.