Safia Minney chats with Jaz O’Hara, founder of theworldwidetribe.com
A humanitarian organisation supporting refugees.
1. You organisation does amazing work on the ground and raising awareness of refugees – how do you split your time? Which has been the most effect campaign to date? (Jaz, love your videos, which is your favourite and why?)
Splitting my time can be tricky; it’s a lot of juggling. In my opinion, raising awareness is so important so I give a lot of talks about the refugee crisis and my experiences in schools and universities… but then I don’t like to be talking about our work on the ground, more than being on the ground. For this reason I try to also spend as much time as possible in camps, meeting people and understating the needs.
In terms of campaigns, our aim is to reach those not already ‘on side.’ The people who don’t already know much about the refugee crisis or support refugees. The people outside of our echo chamber. We do this by tapping into popular culture. For example, in the summer of 2016, when Pokemon Go was sweeping across the world, we took the game to the refugee camp we were working in in Northern France, the Jungle and made a short film. The film had the tag line:
“If Pokemon can cross borders…why can’t a refugee?”
The intention was to reach people engaged with the game and encourage them to start thinking about the crisis we are in the midst of here in Europe. The film was short and shareable, uplifting and positive. We always aim to inspire with our content and never paint anyone out to be a victim, only a hero.
2. Should we be focussing on the causes that force people to flee their homes as well as their resettling – which are the most effective ways of doing this – how can the public support these initiatives? Are there any important pieces of government regulation that need to change to stabilise the home regions and make it possible for people to stay in their homes?
Absolutely I would say it’s super important to look at the cause of these problems and trace them back to the source. If we could avoid there being any refugees in the first place… that would be the best possible solution.
None of these people want to leave their homes so if there would be any way for them to stay, I would always advocate that, but we are not talking about one issue here, we work with people fleeing the world’s worst atrocities… from a genocide in Sudan, to compulsory military service and a totalitarian regime in Eritrea, to the war in Syria. Stabilising these home regions is no easy task and not one we pretend to know how to tackle
What we do know though, is what we have seen and experienced once people leave. The crazy conditions of the camps. The lack of dignity and respect. Right on our doorstep. This is what we can tackle.
We also focus on awareness and education. I believe that changing mindsets and increasing understanding of the situation both in camps and in the home countries of the people we work with, is a huge catalyst towards positive change.
3. How do you keep positive and keep your energy levels up?
Burn out is very real in this industry. People get so emotionally involved in this work that it’s hard to think about anything else, ever. I am guilty of this. But unless you look after yourself, you are useless to anyone else, and this realisation led me to create more balance in my life.
At first it was hard for me to relax and enjoy myself, knowing what I now know and having seen what I had seen. Christmas 2015 was a struggle as many people that I had made very good friends with were suffering in the freezing cold of the Jungle camp in Calais, whilst I was celebrating with my family. It just didn’t seem right. I felt guilty. But I have since learnt to deal with these emotions much better through taking time for things like meditation and yoga…the things I need to keep me going. These things enable me to keep working and I know that the more effective I am, the more impact my work can have on the ground.
4. What drove you to set up your organisation and how can we help support your work?
The Worldwide Tribe was born organically from a Facebook post I wrote about my first visit to the Jungle Camp in Calais. It was a personal, raw and emotional post that went viral and sparked a HUGE response. Very soon after I quit my job in ethical fashion to focus 110% on the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep. I just couldn’t think about anything else..!
There are many ways to support our work. You can donate, volunteer or fundraise, but you can also simply read and share our posts. Educating yourself, growing your own understanding and joining the tribe. This is the most important think really. All the details are on our website www.theworldwidetribe.com.
We update our social media daily too so check out our Facebook: www.facebook.com/theworldwidetribe
5. Why is ethical fashion important to you and whose your style icon?
Ethical Fashion has always been important to me. Before setting up the Worldwide Tribe I worked for an Ethical Underwear brand, producing Fair Trade, organic cotton underwear in India. Working closely alongside cotton farmers in rural India, I spent a lot of time really understanding our supply chain. Those three years working between India and London were very insightful, special and transformational for me and brought me to where I am today. Fashion is a huge, powerful industry with the ability to power incredible change. My style icons are still the ladies working in those cotton fields. The way they wear colour brings me so much happiness that I don’t understand why the world doesn’t look to them for inspiration!