Everybody Stand Up: Humanity Needs You
I'm so excited about the interview we're sharing with you today. Humanitarian, activist and life coach Yasmin Autwal - a lady I've admired since we stood together in queue for a Beyoncé concert many years ago - founded a movement called Stand for Humanity. This queen is here to tell you a little more about it, and how we in the Strong Women Squad can get involved...
Tell us what Stand for Humanity is all about.
The whole idea behind Stand for Humanity is to get people taking action. To overthrow this sense of apathy towards our world - wars, refugees, racism, climate change - you name it. We are in times where there is so much global unrest that a lot of us feel like we are helpless and can’t do anything, and then carry on with our lives, feeling guilty but unable to see any other way of dealing with it.
I realised after spending the past 2 years going back and forth to Calais to help with the refugee crisis there (and it’s still there despite the media blackout) our biggest problem is actually apathy. Stand for Humanity aims to get people doing things - making pledges about ONE thing they care about outside of themselves - and to DO something for humanity, for the sake of humanity alone. Once that begins to happen, people see the effects, they wake up to the fact that actually yeah! I can do something - even if it’s as small as a cup of tea with your elderly neighbour once a month - it’s this power of unity, connection and understanding that we are all ONE, that we so urgently need to put back as our number one priority. And apathy can’t live in that.
What motivated you to start Stand For Humanity?
In all honesty this is something that has been in me since before I can remember, but it was the end of 2016 which felt like everything came to a head from the general shit storm of a year that it had been and it pushed this out of me. It was never an actual plan, I literally received the idea as a flash of inspiration 1.30am one night whilst I was trying to sleep. I woke up hot, went to meditate and then started writing and writing and the whole idea of it appeared before me. Stand for Humanity was born.
Tell us about some of the women you’ve met through SFH that have inspired you.
Pffffft that’s insanely hard! Which women HAVEN’T I met that have inspired me would be easier! In fact there are notably a lot more women that volunteer in Calais than men, by a significant number. Considering that the camps were largely a male population as well, I feel a deep admiration for the women there and what seems to be our natural instinct to care for humanity.
I’ve been inspired by women and girls constantly. One firecracker of a 4 year old got on stage at the last Stand for Humanity event and told the audience that she was born to sing and that we should ALL be doing whatever it is that we love!
I’ve been inspired by a young woman in her 20s, who fell pregnant in the camp and with her husband managed to bring a healthy baby boy into the world, who is the epitome of joy. It’s still a hard road for them and they wish to be in the UK but she’s still managed it with the most dangerous, scary start to motherhood that you could imagine. And I’ve been incredibly inspired by a young lady called Izzy Tomico Ellis. I advise anyone reading this to follow her account on FB as she is a long term volunteer in Chios, Greece. She has spent many a month on night watch waiting for boats of refugees to arrive into shore, she’s helped hundreds if not thousands of people to safety, and seen just as many not make it to safety. She works tirelessly to do more than her bit of Standing for Humanity.
You and I first met standing in line for a free Beyoncé TV concert six years ago. I remember you being a confident and happy shining light, with big eyeliner and an even bigger smile. You still seem a shining light to your very core, but in what ways do you think you’ve evolved from the girl you were then?
Haha aww Lis! Wow that was 6 years ago? Yeah I was most definitely still a girl then…it’s amazing what a ride your twenties can be! Outside of education there’s all this space to discover yourself, be with yourself, be faced with the bits that you really don’t like, get over the horror of discovering said bits, find out new things about yourself, become self aware - the list is endless! I would say I MUCH prefer being in my late twenties than my early ones, I have a strong sense of myself as a woman now and I am so excited for what else is to come.
I am also a life coach now and back then I was just dipping my feet into the self development world; the amount of work that I have undergone - consciously and subconsciously - has been a huge part of me being able to help others on their journey, and as a result has enabled my own light to shine brighter. The irony of it all though is that who I was as a girl is still at the very heart of everything that I do. When things start to go wonky I retreat inwards, back to little Yaz and ask what she would do. And she has the answer every time.
You recently took another trip to Calais – something you’ve done several times before – to help the refugees. What is the atmosphere there like? How can our Strong Women Squad get involved?
Yes indeed just last week...as I’ve said I’ve been going back and forth for 2 years now but this was the second Stand for Humanity trip - where I’ve been taking new people over so that the old volunteers don’t get burnt out and that we keep the awareness up; fresh energy is important for that.
The atmosphere is largely different to how it was last year…Up until October 2016 the camps in Calais peaked at around a 10k population. There were shops they had built themselves, it was a sprawling shanty town that despite the horrific living conditions, was one of the friendliest, high spirited places I’ve ever been to. The energy of the jungle hits you the minute you enter it. The sense of humanity there is what continues to drive me; if I ever have a day where I feel tired or deflated, I only have to think of one of my friends’ faces from the camps and I snap out of it. Their hope, their love, their belief in humanity when they have been so mistreated by humans…it’s a lesson for us all.
The camps we now go to are dispersed groups of people living in the woods and forests.
The French CRS (riot police) have been evicting them daily from the woods and forbid them from using tents, so they now sleep only with sleeping bags or blankets on the ground and sadder still the CRS then spray their stuff with pepper spray making them unusable.
It’s a side to the world that you don’t think exists anymore but it’s happening 30 miles from us and it’s being done with our tax money (we pay for the ‘security’ that the CRS provide of course. £80million of it). So because of this it’s EXTRA important that people keep donating, volunteering, spreading awareness about men women and children within REACH, being treated so inhumanely. There’s been a huge decline in donations as people think there simply isn’t anyone there to help any more which is of course not the case. There’s a group on FB that helps to organise aid to Calais, so even if you can’t go, you can check in there to see what the latest needs are and find a local drop off point to take your stuff. https://www.facebook.com/CalaisPeopletoPeopleSolidarityActionFromUK/
We’ve just returned from our Stand for Humanity October trip but keep a lookout on the instagram page for the next one!
Can you tell us one of the (probably many) highlights you’ve had with Stand for Humanity?
This is so hard! One would have to be the appeal I made earlier this year via social media, as my two refugee brothers from Sudan had 5 days to find a place to live or would be living on the streets. Two incredible women (that didn’t know me personally) opened up their home to take the boys in. I still get emotional when I think about it. They’ve formed their own relationships now and we have expanded our family to include them too. That’s the true spirit of humanity.
What do you hope SFH will be in five years’ time, and what do you hope for humanity itself in the same time frame?
It’s probably not the done thing to admit to this but I actually hate making 5 year plans! I don’t find them effective – my ideas and plans are always BIG and sound dreamy – but this time last year I had never spoken to an audience bigger than a work meeting – in a few weeks I will be doing a TED talk! I plan to get the momentum going, for this to get bigger, to visit schools, to get celebs involved (we mentioned Beyonce before huh? If we keep mentioning her, she will get involved...) maybe even storm my way into a UN meeting - I vision something and then manifest it, and this evolves daily!
For humanity I hope – and I have seen the power of hope – that we, those of us privileged enough to see the horrors of this world from the comfort of our own safety – step UP, to come together more, to recognise the importance of unity and to USE ourselves to save our fellow brothers and sisters. It’s not a cliché to say it starts with us. Who else can it start with if not the top 10% of the world?
You can keep up with Yasmin and SFH via the Stand for Humanity website or Instagram. She's also soon be presenting a TED Talk on the subject of 'Home', which you'll hopefully be able to watch online, and we'll link to it as soon as possible.
THANK YOU, Yaz, for giving up your time to spread a little light around the Strong Women Squad.