I Share Hope

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Story. Action. Hope.

Stories about hope and ways to share hope

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Marina Mahathir

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“I once did a conference called International Muslim Leaders Conference on HIV AIDS. It was all going pretty well and then some people decided to cause trouble and it really got nasty. There were people crying, there were people shouting and I was the chair of the whole conference, so I had to manage it all. It was the most terrible five days of my life and everyday I was miserable and praying that everyday things will go better. When things get really bad, something happens to change things around. Even if it’s very small, it just changes the outlook on everything.”— Marina Mahathir

Marina Mahathir is a well known newspaper columnist and human rights activist. In 2010, she was awarded UN Person of The Year for her volunteer work in combating HIV/AIDS. Today Marina serves on the board of Sisters in Islam which advocates for justice and equality for Muslim women.


 

MMPicPAINTING OF MARINA’S DAUGHTER INEZA ROUSSILLE


26: Marina Mahathir – Taking #hope across religious, political and social borders – #isharehope

“I once did a conference called International Muslim Leaders Conference on HIV AIDS. It was all going pretty well and then some people decided to cause trouble and it really got nasty. There were people crying, there were people shouting and I was the chair of the whole conference, so I had to manage it all. It was the most terrible five days of my life and everyday I was miserable and praying that everyday things will go better. When things get really bad, something happens to change things around. Even if it’s very small, it just changes the outlook on everything.”Marina Mahathir

Intro:

Welcome to I Share Hope! The podcast where world leaders share their real stories of hope and how you can use actionable hope to start changing your life today and now here’s your host, Chris Williams.

Chris Williams:

Marina Mahathir. Thank you first of all for your time. So, tell me Marina, where are you right now? Are you home or are you traveling?

Marina Mahathir:

I’m home in Kuala Lumpur.

Chris Williams:

Okay. For some reason we thought you’re in Europe this week and I thought, wow, I don’t know where she’s at.

Marina Mahathir:

Oh no, I’m leaving on Saturday for London.

Chris Williams:

Oh good for you, what fun. Excellent. Well, thank you for your time this morning. You have been an activist in women’s rights and the Muslim community in particular and also the gay and lesbian community as well. I’ve read a lot about your work and I’m impressed. I’m impressed not just because of your work in that area, but you’re coming at it from a place in the world and a time in the world when it seems like it would be really tough to do that and bring hope in a positive light to those conversations at the same time.  Just because of socioeconomic, political pressures, all the things that wrap up and make our world the good and bad that it is.

Tell me more about you and then I’m going to jump into the questions.

Marina Mahathir:

Okay. I’m basically a writer. I have a newspaper column that I’ve been writing for more than 20 years. At the same time, I also work on an NGO. I used to run an HIV NGO for 12 years. I left that about 10 years ago and then did my own thing for about five years and then I joined an organizations called Sisters in Islam which works for justice and equality for Muslim women. I’m on the board of that organization right now

Chris Williams:

Incredible. You’re very well known for your work in HIV and you are obviously well known in your work for women’s rights as well. I’m impressed. You’re a busy, busy person. I don’t know how you get it all done – and writing.

Marina Mahathir:

I’ve been so busy, yes, I don’t know either.

Chris Williams:

You’re still writing, correct?

Marina Mahathir:

Yes. Every two weeks in the newspaper.

Chris Williams:

Incredible. Great. Thank you for your time. I know you have a lot on your plate already. So, let me ask you these questions. They work the same way for each guest. We ask the five questions about hope.

Question 1: What is your definition or your favorite quote about hope?

Marina Mahathir:

I don’t have a quote I think. I think my definition of hope is really when things get really bad and then something happens to change things around, even if it’s very small, it just changes the outlook on everything. I don’t know whether that’s clear enough, but it happens all the time here in Malaysia. When things seem really bad and something happens, for instance when I was in HIV, we worked for a long time to try and introduce harm reduction – needle exchange programs and all that. It just seemed  impossible because everybody was against it because we have a drug problem. The approach to us, the drug problem has always been very punitive and et cetera, so the idea of giving out clean needles was just impossible.

We sloughed away and sloughed away and then one day I got a phone call from the Minister of Health and said, “Marina, we’re going to have needle exchange programs”. Just like that. Suddenly, wow, it worked.  

Chris Williams:

That worked, no kidding.

Marina Mahathir:

It was great. When one thing good happens, it gives you hope about other good things happening. I try never to get too depressed and always try and see a little light somewhere. It’s got to be there. It’s got to be there somewhere.

Chris Williams:

I love it. I love it. You’re so right.

Question 2: Who has shared the most hope with you in your life?

Marina Mahathir:

I look back at my 12 years working at the Malaysian AIDS council, when I was president, I think it’s always been all my colleagues and especially people with HIV. When we started out, there was literally no hope. People just died. There was no way of imagining any other scenario and then suddenly there was treatment, so there was this little spark of hope. Then, the next depressing thing, oh, it’s so expensive, we can’t possible afford it and all that. We kept on working and suddenly in Malaysia, the government decided they would give free treatment to certain groups of people. We worked some more and then they decided, okay they’ll give treatment, first line of treatment at least to all Malaysians with HIV.

So, there’s always something. I try never to get too upset about any setback and all that because I always find that it’s not useful. There’s always some way of finding some way out of it.

Chris Williams:

Is there any one person in your life who’s just giving you hope? Just encourages you along and make sure that you’re always staying back up on top of things when you’re falling off?

Marina Mahathir:

I wouldn’t say there’s any one person. I think I like working with young people and I always have time for young people. If they ask me to come and talk to them whether it’s schools or universities, colleges, I always do go. They’re always the ones who give me hope because perhaps they’re still young so they are not a battle-weary or jaded like me. It’s just the spark in their eyes that makes me think, okay we can do this, we can carry on, it’s all worth doing. Young Malaysians in general.  

Chris Williams:

That’s a good answer. That is so true. I felt the same way.

Question 3: When is a time in your life, personally, I know you do a lot of work with people who may lose hope at times, but when was a time in your life when you really needed to lean on hope to pull you through something?

Marina Mahathir:

Many, many times. I once did a conference called International Muslim Leaders Conference on HIV AIDS and we were trying to marry the theologians with the activists. We were trying to put them all in one room, so that they didn’t spend their time talking among themselves. It was all going pretty well and then some people decided to cause trouble and it really got nasty. There were people crying, there were people shouting and I was the chair of the whole conference, so I had to manage it all.

It was the most terrible five days of my life. Everyday I was miserable and praying that things will go better, but looking back there was so many good things that actually still came out of it. We had this minister of health from Baluchistan which is a very conservative part of Pakistan, who at the end of the conference came to thank me for it. I heard that when he went back to Baluchistan which is quite a remote, very poor area of Pakistan, he called in all the NGOs working in HIV and said “I want you to educate all the religious leaders on HIV AIDS”.

I thought, oh wow, that’s what we wanted to happen, right? Then, all the communities, religious leaders that we assembled in Malaysia, they found the whole conference very useful. Then we went around the country after and it really, really helped to make them understand because at the grassroots level, they were already facing HIV and they didn’t know what to do.

Despite all the noise and the shouting and screaming by actually very few people, there were a lot of positive outcomes. So, although I still think of those five days like the worst, worst days of my life, when I sit back and look at it at the bigger picture, it was good actually.

Chris Williams:

That’s a good example. So many people think of losing hope and needing to use hope as that time when there’s been a tragedy in their life or an illness or loss of loved one or something, but you were actually on the march doing something good and you’re just getting twisted back.

Marina Mahathir:

Probably.

Chris Williams:

Yeah, I know and you’re still losing hope doing something good, but it’s so true. Just keeping that eye on the future, on the goal – well, look what you’ve done. Wow, it’s great.

Question 4: How are you sharing hope today?

What are you doing today? Obviously, there’s so much information about you online and Wikipedia is very positive about what you’re doing, there’s lots of great things, but what are you doing personally in your daily life to share hope?

Marina Mahathir:

Well, in Malaysia there’s been a lot of very difficult issues which was really divided a lot of people and unfortunately, it’s been dividing people between racial and religious lines. Of course, this is a real recipe for a real conflict and possibly tragedy. So last year, some friends of mine and I decided that we – there were some issues between some groups that was potentially going to be terrible and it involved a church and then some really very, very conservative Muslim groups. There was potential for violence at this church on a Sunday.

So, some friends of mine, all Muslims, we decided we’d go and lend support to the church. It was very hurried. Church was on Sunday, we decided on Friday and said okay, let’s go and then it was all the logistics – how do we get there and then somebody said let’s go get some flowers and all that. We went and basically we handed out flowers to the parishioners and this got into the front page of the newspaper. It was something like the parishioners were expecting some very angry people to come and instead they found these people handing out flowers, which was us. That was really great.

Since then, that group, we kind of morphed into another group called Malaysians for Malaysia and it’s a very multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multicultural group. What we do is we organize events to bring people together just to simply be with each other and to talk. We’ve done some in KL, the capital, but we’ve also inspired others in other cities. It’s really done a lot to make people recognize each other as human beings and they get along because of that. I think that’s given a lot of Malaysians hope. That we will not be divided by silly people and silly arguments. We are better than that.

Chris Williams:

Wow. That is really simple, but honestly a really gutsy way to do that because… So there are Christian parishioners, I’m assuming, a Christian church?

Marina Mahathir:

Yes. Catholic actually.

Chris Williams: 

Catholic, yes and a group of Muslims going to them to say we respect you as humans and you’ve done so much more than that since then.

Marina Mahathir:

Malaysians for Malaysia is a really great group. We’ve done things for instance, you know MH370? The plane that disappeared and is still missing? So, March 8 last year it disappeared and March 9th we decided we got to do something. What we did was we called up shopping centers and said, could you put up walls or a space where people could write messages of hope? We called them walls of hope. We initiated by calling up all the shopping malls and all that, we initiated about 15 and then others took it up. So, all around the country, people started putting up these walls and the public just responded. The wonderful things is that they were writing messages to everybody on the plane and saying please come back. They didn’t differentiate what nationality, what race, what religion, whatever of the passengers and crew. The people who were writing the messages were also from everywhere. They were writing in every language, they were drawing things, they were putting up prayers and thing. It was just utterly amazing. One shopping center, a very popular one, had 40,000 messages.

Chris Williams:

Oh my goodness. Wow.

Marina Mahathir:

That was just one. It was just a way – I think Malaysians needed a space to pour out their feelings and their prayers and their hopes for this plane. The walls of hope provided that.

Chris Williams:

That’s really practical and our next question deals with practical steps of how to share hope, but before you get there, I just want to point out what you’ve just done because a lot of people who I talk to hear these stories and they think, wow, this is an amazing person and they can share so much hope because of where they are in life. But really, it’s crossing the street and in our minds, the neighbor across the street may be different than me religiously or in the color of our skin or the way we choose a certain life, but there’s so much we can do that’s just – how do I walk over and hand in a flower or encourage them and you think, I don’t know what they’re going through. What I can’t relate? It doesn’t matter. It’s just a person.

Marina Mahathir:

It doesn’t matter at all. The point is to show, to do something and to show that you empathize no matter how different. You’re a human being, that’s another human being and just on that basis alone, you have something in common already.

Chris Williams:

You are so right. Okay Marina, tell me then –

Question 5: How can we share hope today?

I’m sitting here learning about hope and how I can share it better in my community. What should I do? Give me some really practical step A, B and C.

Marina Mahathir:

Well, I think what you’re doing is great. You’re sharing these stories. People really want to connect with one another through good stories, stories of human goodness because it’s so easy to get cynical about everyone and how everyone is so out to rip off people and mean and nasty, so when there’s a nice story I think we should share.

I shared this story on my Facebook page the other day about a real thing that happened to me where I had gone to a shopping center food court to buy something quick to eat and I had left my iPad. The workers there found it and called up my office, because my card was in there, to return it. So, I put up the story and then I sent someone from my office to go and fetch it. They talked to these workers and they turned out to be foreign workers, migrant workers in Malaysia. They were really nice people and they talked about their lives and all that. I put up the followup story and then last week, because I hadn’t been back there myself, I went back to that store to say thank you myself and I found out there was more to the story. The original guy who called was not the one who actually found my iPad. He was a supervisor and there was a guy who worked underneath him who was the real person and I met that guy.

I told the story of this fellow. I asked him about his background. He came from Bangladesh and it was a nice little story about  honesty and really good people. I put it up and so many people liked it. I’ve never had a story that was liked better. I have50,000 likes on that story. I mean most things I put up, maybe a few hundred or a thousand or two thousand that would be already good, but this one had 50,000 likes. It was such a nice human story about a good person. I offered to give this boy something, some money as a reward and he said “No, Ma’am, all I want is your prayers”. That’s all he wanted. He didn’t want anything else. He said his father has taught him that to be a good Muslim, you just have to work hard and be nice to people, be good to people and that’s it. That was really touching.

Chris Williams:

That’s so sweet, so special.

Marina Mahathir:

It is. It’s really, really sweet. You never know when you come across people like this. So, it’s the sort of thing that keeps you having faith in humanity.

Chris Williams:

That’s a great story. I love it. Oh wow. You know, that’s an iPad or an iPhone or any of those devices, you think, boy they’re gone. You lose them for 5 minutes, but wow, what a great guy. Wonderful. Is he on Facebook? Has he been able to see how much good his story has done? Do you know?

Marina Mahathir:

I think he should have. He is on Facebook.

Chris Williams:

I hope somebody would’ve told him by now.

Marina Mahathir:

I think so. A lot of those likes, I think, came from Bangladesh.

Chris Williams:

That’s great. Excellent. So, all right, I get to ask this fun question to everybody we talk to. When you’re feeling down and just need something just to get you back on track, what are you going to listen to? Got your headphones in, what kind of music do you like?

Marina Mahathir:

Oh gosh. I like any sort of happy music that makes me dance. So, whether it’s the latest pop or 70s music, you know, I’m off theBee Gees age. Anything that makes me dance, I like.

Chris Williams:

That’s great. So, give me a title or a name of an artist from the 70s, anybody you want to pick. I’m going to put a link to their music on the show notes.

Marina Mahathir:

Okay, well, just off the top of my head, any of those sorts of dancy music from the Bee Gees.

Chris Williams:

The Bee Gees, I’ll get something from there. That’s great. I can do that.

Marina Mahathir:

Okay. Does that age me too much?

Chris Williams:

Are you kidding? Not at all. I love them too. Fantastic. Tell me then, how can we follow you? If we’re wanting to track down what you’re doing on a daily basis and people want to see how you’re progressing in life, where do they follow you?

Marina Mahathir:

I have a Facebook page, it’s a public page so you can follow me on that, Marina Mahathir. I’m on Twitter @netrakl, KL for Kuala Lumpur. That’s open as well, so yeah, do follow me. It would be interesting to have followers from the US.

Chris Williams:

I think you’d get quite a few from us. This is really fun. I love seeing people around the world doing things. It’s been a privilege to have you on our show today. Thank you so much for your time.

Marina Mahathir:

No worries Chris, enjoyed it too.

Chris Williams: 

Okay, great. Have a great, wonderful evening and I look forward to talking to you again sometime.

Marina Mahathir:

Okay. Thank you.

Chris Williams:

Bye.

Marina Mahathir:

Bye.

You’ve just listened to I Share Hope. If you’re ready to make a change, head to our website at isharehope.com and claim your free copy of the Top Ten Actions of Hope from World Leaders to use hope in your own life. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next time.

Chris Williams:

Marina, you’ve been just a wonderful example of hope today. I can’t thank you enough for your time and I keep looking behind you on the wall. There is this awesome painting. Tell me about that.

Marina Mahathir:

It’s actually a painting by my daughter.

Chris Williams: 

Really?

Marina Mahathir:

My older daughter, Ineza, it was done when she was a little girl. She’s now 27, but she did this I think when she was about 9 or 10. She went to a class, an art class by this artist and it was a very different art class because this artist, instead of trying to teach kids to paint things as they are, he was teaching them abstract. They could do anything they wanted. She wore glasses at the time, so she decided to paint her glasses and also in different shapes.

Chris Williams:

I love it.

Marina Mahathir:

Me too.

Chris Williams:

I totally thought it was glasses when I first saw it. I thought that’s really cool.

Marina Mahathir:

Yes. With all different shape frames.

Chris Williams:

Wow. I’m going to try, if I can, to get a picture off of this video so I can put them to show notes because that’s really…

Marina Mahathir:

Okay, I’ll get out of the way.

Chris Williams:

Okay. That is beautiful. Yeah, I can get that. That’s fantastic. The red bar down there on the side, is that her signature space?

Marina Mahathir:

Yes. That’s her name, Ineza.

Chris Williams:

That’s wonderful. Brilliant. I love the colors. I’m a big fan of green. I like the color green. Is she still doing art, your daughter? She’s got talent.

Marina Mahathir:

No, she’s actually a filmmaker.

Chris Williams:

No kidding?

Marina Mahathir:

Yeah. She makes films for various NGOs particularly the transgender community.

Chris Williams:

Really?

Marina Mahathir:

Yes you can look up on Youtube, there’s a campaign called I am a trans eli and she’s done all the videos for that.

Chris Williams:

No way. Wow. What a great talent. You have been a great example to us. You are an author, an activist for so many wonderful causes for several decades now and currently on the board for – is it Women…

Marina Mahathir:

It’s called Sisters in Islam.

Chris Williams:

Sisters in Islam.

Marina Mahathir:

Yes. We are very progressive. We are feminists, Muslim feminists. I also get a lot only by that.

Chris Williams:

How does that receive on average around the community you’re involved in from a Muslim standpoint?

Marina Mahathir:

It’s hard doing here, but I think we are better received outside the country than we are in the country, which is pretty normal.But, we do have lots and lots and lots of young fans. Both female and male firmly enough. I think what we’re saying resonates a lot with young people, so we are pretty happy about that.

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