Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meena Saifi: Love, Peace, Freedom and an Afghan Artist


Meena Saifi:
Love, Peace, Freedom and an Afghan Artist

An exclusive interview with Edward Zellem
July 2013
INTRODUCTION:  Afghan artist Meena Saifi مینه سیفی  is a rising star in the world of international art.  Born in Kabul, she and her family were forced by the Afghan civil war to flee to Pakistan in the 1990s. They eventually found safehaven in Rawalpindi, Islamabad.
Her father Asadullah Saifi, an artist himself, built a successful school there to educate his own children and those of other Afghan refugees. From an early age Meena helped her father build the school’s curriculum, while continuing to draw and paint anything she could.
     Still in a refugee status, the Saifi family was forced to relocate to Peshawar in 2004. Meena’s talent was recognized there by the revered Afghan artist Ustad (Art Master) Qais Nawabi.  Under his tutelage she quickly became his premier art student.  At the age of sixteen Meena’s first oil painting, “Dream,” was sold at a record price to an art collector in Germany.  The international art community began to take notice. 

     As her work evolved, Ustad Nawabi began referring to her respectfully as “Ustad Meena.”  (Art Master Meena).  She held her first official art show in Peshawar in late 2007.  At this show another of her paintings, “Baba Panjshiri” (Panjshir Grandfather) commanded great attention and was sold to an international art investor.  Shortly afterward Meena was offered her first media interview, with Voice of America.
After that first show in Pakistan, Meena’s reputation as an artist continued to climb. She held her first international art exhibition in Phoenix, Arizona in 2009, sponsored by the Pangean Orchestra.  Her show received excellent reviews and another of her paintings, “Dhol” (Drum), was acquired by an influential art collector. Her reputation grew. 
     Since the 2009 Phoenix show, Meena’s work has been featured in art exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Germany, France, Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
     In May 2013 Meena was sponsored by the Fluxus Foundation - a global collective of artists, musicians and designers whose members have included John Cage, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Nam June Paik - to participate in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Annual Art Party in New York City.  The Whitney Art Party is one of New York City’s largest annual gatherings of artists and Hollywood A-listers in the world of fine arts. This year’s event was sponsored by Max Mara and was hosted by the Whitney Contemporaries. 
     Meena continues to work with and support many other art projects around the world, including the Pool Art Fair, Art Warning the World, The Kabul Art Project, and others.

       Artist Meena Saifi  مینه سیفی  speaks here in an exclusive interview with Edward Zellem,  دگروال ادوارد زالم  the author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs” and a U.S. Navy Captain.

Edward Zellem:  Meena, it’s great to speak with you.  You’re a rising star in the international art world, and your work is gaining more and more public attention.  How did you begin as an artist? 
Meena Saifi:  It’s wonderful to speak with you too, Dagarwaal (Captain/Colonel) Zellem.  دگروال زالم    You’re very kind to say that.  And thank you for your support of Afghan artists, and for all that you are doing for Afghanistan and the creative arts. Zenda bosheyn!  زنده باشین  

How did I begin as an artist?  It is hard for me to say.  I feel as though I have always been one.  Art comes from the heart, and it is a part of me.
    The Afghan civil war in the 1990s was a dangerous and complicated time for all Afghans.  Even artists and other people who wanted only peace were targets in the fighting. So my family and I fled from Kabul as refugees and we escaped to Pakistan.

    After we eventually found safe haven in Rawalpindi, my father built and ran a school there.  He named it Sufi Ashqari, صوفي عشقري  after a great Afghan poet.  My father was a graphic artist.  Even when I was a very little girl in Rawalpindi, I helped him with his art projects. 

EZ:  What inspires you? 
MS:  What inspires me?  Everything.  Love, peace, humanity.  When birds are flying.  A drop of rain.  Smiling faces.  The eyes of people, which can never lie. The pain and tears of women.

     The poetry of Rumi, Hafez Shirazi, and Omar Khayyam inspires me.  Many other great poets like Sufi Ashqari. I am especially fond of Ghazal, a great and ancient poetry style that expresses the pain of loss or separation, and the beauty of love in spite of that pain.

     Music inspires me, of course. All types, both modern and very ancient.  I enjoy Qawwali, which is a Sufi musical tradition that goes back more than 700 years.

    The great happiness and sadness found in life inspires me.  The Universe inspires me.
EZ:  What types of subjects and themes do you enjoy painting?  Do you prefer working in oil, acrylic, pastel or watercolor?  Do you have a favorite medium? 
MS:  I paint many things.  I enjoy painting about freedom and peace.  I especially enjoy painting about women's rights and women’s empowerment, because I feel and believe that my art can become their voice.

     I get lost when I work on these themes.  I enter the universe of my imagination.  It is very hard to describe that feeling.  I have no words to describe that other world. It becomes just me and that world for a while.
     I prefer watercolor because it comes very naturally to me.  I enjoy it a lot when I drop colors on paper, and they surprise me and create a beautiful new color.

EZ:  Western art is generally classified by type or period, such as Impressionism, Dadaism, Realism, Cubism, and others.  Does Afghan art have these types of categories?  What is your favorite type of art?  Who is your favorite artist?
MS:  I can only speak of what I know about Afghan art history.  I have read a lot of old books, especially old books of poetry.  I like books that are designed with Minatory art, a very ancient style of kaleidoscopic design.  In my opinion not enough academic research has been done on Afghan art history. A hundred books could be written on that topic.

     My understanding is that oil painting did not exist in Afghanistan until two Afghan artists named Ghulam Maimangee and Abdullaraqgar Bhrezhna graduated from a German art school in 1919, and returned home. The King of Afghanistan at that time was King Amanullah, and he was very interested in art and modernization.  King Amanullah even sent young Afghan teenagers to Europe specifically to learn the European art styles.
     For centuries in Afghanistan before King Amanullah’s time, the main type of “painting” was calligraphy and Persian miniature art. Most people then believed that these were the only two art forms allowed by Islam. When Ghulam came back from Germany, he built Afghanistan’s first School of Arts to teach Afghans the art of painting in more styles.  So less than a hundred years ago there were only three Afghan art masters in the modern sense: Ghulam, Brezhna, and a third great artist named Abdul Aziz.  It’s very interesting.
     Today, the Taliban have been removed from power and Afghan artists are free to paint in all different styles.  These range from the modern to the ancient, and many combinations of these.  Afghan artists are very creative.  But sometimes it is still hard for Afghan artists to promote their work there, because of the fear of being killed or other problems.
     Personally, my favorite forms of Western art are Abstract art and Cubism.  As for my favorite artist, all artists are my favorite artists. I enjoy everyone’s art because it is painted with their deep emotions.

EZ:  It is well-known that the Taliban oppose the painting of living things.  They even made it illegal when they were in power.  They are against most types of art and music in general.  What would you say to someone who says that you should not paint?
MS:  First of all I would say that the universe that we live in is a work of art.  We live in art. The beauty of nature around us, the high blue sky, starry nights, colorful rainbows, flowers all around, humans, animals, such beautiful creations.  It’s all art! 

     And the voice of rain, the singing of birds, the waves, even the sound of air is all music.
     How lucky we are, to live in a work of art where the music always plays!

     Art is a natural thing.  It shouldn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman either.  But unfortunately sometimes society, closed minds, and life situations can build strong walls around an artist.  That can be true anywhere.  But an artist must be strong enough to break those walls down. I am a woman, and I was in a situation like that.  But I chose art. That is the only window where my soul can get some air.
     For those who say I should not paint, my answer is: you mean that I should not live.
EZ:   How can people see your artwork?  Do you have more shows coming soon?  What are your plans for the future?
MS:  I have a website, www.meenasaifi.com. I have several upcoming shows in New York, Washington D.C., and Las Vegas.  I also have accepted an invitation to participate in the Rumi Awards show, and am supporting that event any way I can.  The Rumi Awards are great for the future of Afghanistan, and as I said earlier I have a great love for Rumi’s poetry.

     As for future plans, I have many projects underway.  One of them is with two other artists, and we will have our exhibition soon.  I’ll be happy to talk about that with you when the time is right, hopefully soon.  
EZ:  Meena jan, we would enjoy hearing an update about that exhibition in our next interview with you.  As the Afghan Proverb says, Yaar zenda sohbat baqee. یار زنده صحبت باقی  (As long as the friendship lives, there will be more conversations). 

     Until then, one last question:  Can art help the cause of peace in Afghanistan?   If someone asked you to do one painting that would represent the future of Afghanistan, what would you paint?

MS:  Yes, the arts can definitely help.  I know in my heart that Afghan art can help bring peace to Afghanistan.  Anyone who looks will see that Afghanistan's artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers are working incredibly hard to send messages of peace through their art.  This new generation of Afghan artists will help bring peace!
     I have a recent work on this subject that I will unveil soon.  It’s called "Peace in My Homeland."  Here is my life’s philosophy in one sentence: “My world is Art, and the foundation of that world is Love, Peace, and Freedom.”

 دنیایی من هنر است و دنیایی هنرم عشق ، صلح و آزادیست
مینه سیفی




Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Scott Jackson: Growing Global Philanthropy with Global Impact

Scott Jackson
President and CEO, Global Impact  
Introduction:  Scott Jackson is the newly appointed President and CEO of Global Impact, one of the world’s top nonprofits supporting international charities and aid work.  He is a recognized expert in global philanthropy, development, fundraising, marketing, and social enterprise.  In his new role as Global Impact’s president, Scott Jackson will lead the full range of Global Impact fundraising campaigns, workplace giving, advisory services, partnerships and strategic alliances

       Mr. Jackson has led and worked in high-visibility nonprofit and international aid programs for over 20 years.  Before joining Global Impact he served as Vice President for External Relations at PATH, where he built strong relationships with partners and donors and increased the visibility of PATH’s work with global health initiatives in the developing world.
      He has also served as Senior Vice President at World Vision US, where he managed a portfolio of over $60 million and directed external relations, key partnerships, community relations and strategic initiatives.  At World Vision he was a founding member of the management committee of ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.   This well-known global health and poverty advocacy and awareness campaign included a coalition of international relief and development organizations such as Debt AIDS Trade Africa, Bread for the World, World Vision, and CARE 
Scott Jackson helped lead the World Vision team that managed ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History, a coalition of aid organizations brought together by U2 lead singer and activist Bono

       Prior to his work at World Vision, Scott Jackson was President and Managing Director of APCO Seattle, a worldwide public affairs and strategic communications consulting firm.  He also founded TRADEC (Trade and Development Consortium), one of the first marketing and communications firms in North America to specialize in international trade promotion, technology transfer and market access.

      Mr. Jackson serves on a number of national boards and committees, holds an MBA from the University of Edinburgh, and is a Rotary scholar.   He joined Global Impact as CEO in October 2011, and now succeeds Renée S. Acosta as President.  Ms. Acosta retired in April 2013 after more than 20 years with the organization.

      Scott Jackson speaks here with Edward Zellem, author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari ProverbsandAfghan Proverbs Illustrated.”   Zellem also serves on Global Impact’s Board of Directors, all of whom are unpaid volunteers from a broad spectrum of professions.   

Edward Zellem:   Scott, it’s a privilege to speak with you.  You’re the new President and CEO of Global Impact, one of the largest and most experienced non-profit organizations in the world.  What can you tell us about the mission and vision of Global Impact?

Scott Jackson:  That’s very kind of you to say, Edward.  But the privilege is mine to have the opportunity to lead Global Impact, which is a world leader, broker and pioneer in raising money to help people in developing countries.  Global Impact has been doing this for 57 years, far longer than any other organization of its kind.  During that time we’ve been known by other names, such as the Federal Joint Service Crusade (FJSC) and the International Service Agencies (ISA).  We changed our name to Global Impact in 2003.  But it’s not the name that matters so much.  What’s important is that in six decades we’ve raised and distributed more than $1.5 billion dollars to help people in need all over the world.

One of Global Impact’s partner charities is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Here the IRC assists displaced women and children during the current conflict in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Photo by Sinziana Demian) 

        Global Impact’s mission statement is To assure help to the world’s most vulnerable people, and we excel in doing just that.  We support a large partner, client and project network that includes initiatives in health care, clean water, job training, education, small business loans, disaster response, and many other critical areas of need. So you can see why I say that the privilege is mine to help lead and support the people and organizations that do such vital aid work in developing countries all over the world.

EZ:  What wonderful and compelling work.  How does Global Impact do that?

SJ:   We provide funding to more than 70 of the top U.S.-based international charities that work at the local level in developing countries.  These include UNICEF, World Vision, Ashoka, CAREDoctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Clinton Foundation, to name just a few.  They’re all doing tremendous and critical work.  We are quite careful to ensure that all our charity partners are vetted to the highest standards, exceeding those of rating agencies such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau.

Global Impact supports AmeriCares and the Central Asian Cardiovascular Disease Initiative (CACDI), a joint venture with Merck to improve heart health in Uzbekistan.   
     Global Impact raises money to support these charities in a variety of ways.  One way is through workplace giving campaigns and special funds.  We also provide a number of critical services to corporations that want to increase their level of corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and charitable campaigns. These services include strategic advisory services, campaign design and management, and targeted distribution to ensure that aid projects result in the success stories and “bang for the buck” that corporations want to see and publicize.

Global Impact has received many honors and awards for fundraising and campaign management

EZ:  Please tell us about some of these services.

SJ:   Global Impact provides fully integrated services designed to meet the specific philanthropic interests and needs of corporations and other businesses.  The client’s interests come first, with Global Impact working collaboratively to establish partnerships, develop strategies, set goals, achieve meaningful results and serve as fiscal agent.  Our menu of corporate services covers three categories:

Advisory Services
  • Philanthropic/Corporate Social Responsibility Strategic Counsel
  • Benchmarking and Research
  • Marketing and Visibility Strategy
  • Employee Engagement Strategy
  • Program Design and Development
Campaign Services
  • Charitable Fund Development
  • Strategic Alliances and Partnership Brokering
  • Campaign Design, Management and Representation
Support Services
  • Distribution of Funds, Donor Receipts, Reporting
  • Charity Vetting
  • Technology Products and Services 
    Global Impact is a trusted partner in philanthropic solutions for over 70 private sector companies

      Global Impact combines these services to provide fully integrated philanthropic solutions based on corporate clients’ individual needs and desires.  This low-overhead, “one-stop-shop” approach means that charity, aid and development efforts are maximized for the people who need it the most.  We offer a similar menu of services for charity partners that we support.  This is not just our common goal and the right thing to do.  It is Global Impact’s entire reason for existence.

 “Global Impact made our goal of raising money for rebuilding and relief in Lebanon a reality. Their administrative partnership helped five corporations give over $1.7 million to provide young people with job skills, assist with housing, train teachers and educate communities. By focusing on one area and working together, the impact of our work made a profound difference.”
         — George Akiki, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs, Cisco Systems 

EZ:  What are your thoughts on how corporations and the private sector can benefit from charitable campaigns and philanthropy?     

SJ:   The private sector is becoming more and more aware that sustainable philanthropy can both help people and also be good for business at the same time.  It also helps employees feel that they are empowered and making a difference.  But in many cases, the dilemma of these companies is that they want to do it - but they aren’t quite sure how to do it.  That’s an area where Global Impact can help them a lot. 

        Global Impact can and is helping the private sector find ways to excel in global philanthropy and social enterprise We’ve supported corporate charity and philanthropy for a long time, and we’re good at it.  My strategic plan for Global Impact is to leverage our deep experience in this area to provide even more services to the corporate sector, and to expand our offerings to new partners.  Everyone benefits – from corporate stockholders in wealthy nations to the world's most vulnerable people in developing nations who just need a hand up.   And that’s a very, very good thing for everyone.

Arian Rashid: Afghan Proverbs in Psychotherapy and Counseling

Introduction:  I’ve heard Afghan Proverbs used in a thousand ways.  In high-stakes negotiations inside Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace. In friendly conversations over many cups of chai. Shopping in the bazaar. Picnicking in the mountains. Teaching kids how to read in both Dari and English.   

     I heard and used Afghan Proverbs everywhere I went in Afghanistan. That’s why I wrote a book translating 151 of them from Dari into English. It’s why an illustrated children’s edition has been published in eleven languages, with more editions coming soon.  Interest around the world in Afghan Proverbs has been high, and a new edition of 151 Pashto Proverbs ("Mataluna”) will be published in early 2014.    

     I also know that the books are now being used in Sweden and Greece to help new Afghan immigrants with language and social integration. But with all this work on Afghan Proverbs, I had never heard of using them medically in psychotherapy and counseling until I met Afghan-American psychologist Arian Rashid.   

    I was stunned when Rashid explained how she has used Afghan Proverbs for years as a therapeutic tool with her clients. After she told me, it seemed so obvious and natural. I wanted to know more. 

     Arian Rashid was born in Kabul.  Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a respected professor at Kabul University and a judge at the Ministry of Justice.  Soon after attending Kabul University in the late 1970’s Rashid fell in love, got married, and moved to England for what she and her new husband thought would be a temporary work-related stay. 

 They hadn’t lived long in England when history intervened.  When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the young family’s “temporary stay” in England became a permanent one.  Rashid decided to be a stay-at-home mom until her two sons became teenagers.  Then she went back to university, received an MA in Analytical Psychology from the University of Sussex, and worked as a therapist and counselor in England for years.  After 23 years in England, she moved to the United States for advanced studies in psychotherapy at Johns Hopkins University.  

     Rashid has been a therapist and counselor for almost twenty years, and she specializes in treating immigrant and refugee populations.  The majority of her clients have been diaspora Afghans dealing with depression, anxiety, adjustment problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other serious mental health issues.  

     In addition to her practical work, Rashid has published academic papers in the European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counseling, and serves on the boards of the Afghan-American Medical Association (AMPAA) and the Afghan-American Womens’ Association (A-AWA).  She also has done TV and radio interviews with Voice of America and other major media. 

     Arian Rashid speaks here with Edward Zellem, a U.S. Navy Captain and award-winning author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs” and “Afghan Proverbs Illustrated,” now in eleven languages.   
Edward Zellem:  Ms. Rashid, tashakur تشکر  for speaking with us about your fascinating work with Afghan Proverbs in psychotherapy and counseling.
Arian Rashid:  With pleasure, Dagarwaal Zellem.  دگروال  زالم   I’ve been using Afghan Proverbs in my practice for years, and I am so glad you published your own collection of Afghan Proverbs to share with the world.  I’ve really enjoyed your books both personally as an Afghan, and professionally as a psychologist and psychotherapist.

EZ:  You began including Afghan Proverbs in your practice as a therapeutic technique many years ago. What gave you the idea for that? 

AR:   Good communication is the key to good therapy.  For therapy I developed a professional “menu” of graphic language, metaphors and proverbs, and I used all three of these means to communicate.  Because I am a native-born Afghan and speak Dari and Pashto,  whenever I found myself in empathy with a client the right Proverbs would come to mind without much effort.

     As a therapist, I discovered that using Afghan Proverbs and metaphors with my clientele of native speakers made my relationships with them stronger because it deepened our relationships.  It helped me concisely understand a way of thinking and a collective wisdom with which I could identify.
     Of course, I also grew up hearing Afghan Proverbs that were directly connected to Afghan culture, so this approach came rather naturally to me.  You saw this yourself in Afghanistan, Edward – Afghans use proverbs and metaphors a lot when they speak.

EZ:  How are Afghan Proverbs useful in therapy and counseling? 

AR:  Proverbs provide powerful and useful messages for both the client and the counselor. They not only help the client to identify problems concisely, they help the unconscious become conscious.  As the therapist, this helps me to speed the therapeutic process. I have found that it is very important to identify problems and remedies as quickly as possible; there is no time to waste. The sooner I can identify a client’s problems and begin working to resolve them, the less dependency for the client.

     Using Afghan Proverbs in conversation with a client can help a lot with this.  The right proverb can help a client see the depth of his or her problems very directly, and can help take these insights further.  One benefit of using Proverbs is that the client instantly knows where the therapist is in terms of empathy.  Another is that the therapist can see by the client’s response to a Proverb whether the client wants to elaborate on a particular subject.  So Proverbs in this way not only help crystallize and identify problems, they also help speed the treatment process.

     However, it is important to note that like everything in therapy, a trusting relationship between the therapist and client is the key.  Only after that trust has been established, and after the therapist has an in-depth knowledge of the client’s difficulties, can Proverbs be used appropriately.

EZ:   Why do you think it is effective to use a culture’s Proverbs in counseling people  of that culture?  Does it always need to be done in the native language?

AR:  I think the beauty of using Proverbs and metaphor is that they not only make the learning process quicker, they enrich it at the same time.  It feels good to hear a Proverb that one has grown up with, and hearing new ones also adds to our knowledge in a multicultural way.
     I still remember when I first heard the American Proverb "The squeaky wheel gets the grease here in the United States.  It was very different from the traditional way of Afghan culture, i.e. being patient, showing respect and silence.  When I use this proverb with my clients, it teaches them something about the culture of their host country and how it operates.  So Proverbs can be a great tool of acculturation too.

  I think it is of paramount importance to use culturally-bound proverbs, especially in the cases of people who have been traumatized by war such Afghans and Iraqis.  When possible, it is most effective to do this in the native language of the client.  But therapy in general is a process of learning.  So it also can be valuable to translate Proverbs into a second or third language to convey meaning, and to help the client get another frame of reference. It’s all about communication
EZ:  Can you give us some specific examples of Afghan Proverbs that you have found to be effective in counseling and therapy?    
AR:   Proverbs are useful in therapy a variety of ways, depending on the situation.  Here are a few examples:
  • Refugees, survivors of politically motivated torture and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):  The question of blame often surfaces in our sessions.  One Afghan Proverb I have used effectively is “Dar jang, naan wa halwaa taqsim na meysha.” (In wartime, food and sweets are not distributed). This often brings home the reality of war, and the fact that many people suffer in war and most of them are not to blame for it.  It helps them see the personal effects of war on themselves in a different way. 

  • Depression, anxiety and memory problems:  When clients seek therapy, they often do not like to take medication.  So my first attempt is to focus on their health and rule out any physical illness.  When clients face depression, anxiety and related problems I use the proverb Aqle salem dar badan salam ast. (A healthy mind through a healthy body).  This can help them to focus on the importance of healthy eating and physical exercise to help improve their mental health.
  • Religious issues:  As a coping mechanism for other issues, some Afghan and other refugees will sometimes talk about the superiority of their own religion.  As part of their therapy and to help them show respect to other people and other religions, I often remind them of the Proverb “Isa ba deen e khod, Mousa ba deen khod.”  It translates as “Jesus to his religion and Moses to his,” and it means “to each his own.”  This is actually a short translation of a Sura in the Qur’an.  So I use this Proverb to help them understand that they must respect the religious beliefs of others as well as their own. This often has transformative results and enriches their experience of counseling.

  • Children’s education:  I am happy to say that with almost all my clients from Afghanistan and many other parts of the world, one of their main concerns has been the education of their children.  We often spend hours talking about this area, and the important job of raising the next generation and all the responsibilities that come with that. “Elm taj-e saar ast”  (Knowledge is like a crown on the head) is one of my favorites, and it really resonates with them.  
  • Adult education:  With adults who think it is too late for them to learn, I often use the famous Afghan Proverb  “Maahee-raa har waqt az aab biggeree, taaza ast.” (Whenever you take a fish from water, it is fresh).  They understand the meaning right away - starting something new is always a fresh chance for success.  This Proverb has great significance.  It’s true for education, for therapy, and for life in general.          
EZ:  Thank you, Ms. Rashid.  This is a fascinating and very important subject.  Zenda bosheyn!   !زنده باشین