Since the start of my project to raise awareness of mental health issues through undertaking a series of varied challenges and tasks, a couple of events have involved my friends from the local Muslim community.
I’ve attended Friday prayers at a Mosque, and observed Ramadan… well for a couple of days, and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of learning something about the Islamic culture and faith. Actually that’s not totally true…I didn’t enjoy the dates at the Iftar meal, and the fact that they looked just like chocolates just increased the sense of disappointment….
On reflection, I suppose I should include my boxing challenge in the list, as the unbeaten Guisborough fighter Josh Leather is trained by Imran Naeem, and he was the person solely responsible for sending me into the ring with the absolute minimum amount of training (five minutes on the pads…) and no gum shield to face one of the country’s brightest young prospects.
Imran assured me Josh wouldn’t hit me in the mouth.
Imran was wrong….
To be honest I was rubbish, but as anyone who has followed my challenges since 2014 will know, that’s not the point. The aim is to talk, to be able ask for support in achieving a goal (however small), and to try and highlight what I see as the parallels with mental health; the massive difference that can be made by taking that often incredibly difficult step to ask for help….
The fact I am not a Muslim has never been of any consequence to my friends within the community; they respect the values and beliefs that are important to me, just as I respect the faith that guides their lives. There are members of the local community who do a lot of work to support those less fortunate than themselves—work that often goes unnoticed by the majority—and I really wanted to take part in an event to find out just a little about the “difference” (that word again) that they make.
I was aware of a soup kitchen for the homeless, which is run through the One Ummah organisation (which provides aid to those in need around the world), and so I sent an e-mail asking if I could volunteer for an evening.
When the reply came, it was from someone I knew (which was a bit of a blow because I’d really exaggerated what a nice bloke I was) and we arranged for me to go along to Middlesbrough’s International Community Centre last Saturday evening.
Atif, Imran, Pav and Sab were already busy setting up the hall when I arrived; putting out tables and chairs, boiling the water in the urn for the hot drinks and putting the food (pizza and rice) into containers. At six o’clock, it was time to welcome those who had come along for what is now a regular fortnightly chance to have a hot meal and a drink in comfortable surroundings—I didn’t count the exact number, but there were would have been somewhere near forty people in the hall.
I helped Atif with making the teas and coffees, and seeing all these faces file past, each with their own life, their own circumstances, their own story certainly made me stop and think. It wasn’t so much the day-to-day difficulties, because I don’t really know or understand enough to appreciate just how tough their individual situations may be; it was more their gratitude for being given something that most of us simply take for granted.
It wasn’t a sense of pity… I suppose it was a more positive feeling; that experience of seeing people in need both accepting and appreciating an offer of help. Homelessness has its own stigma, as has mental health too, but just as there are some battling debilitating and unseen illness; others have to contend with different forms of hardship… often with quite humbling dignity.
Saturday was intended to be a one-off… another tick in a box; but that simply doesn’t feel right. Atif, Imran, Pav and Sab (and everyone else involved in the work that One Ummah does) give their time freely to help others; obviously my work with Time to Change continues, but I will be back….