Join us for an Interfaith Panel TONIGHT!

Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate International Women’s Day? Look no further… join MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellows tonight for an interfaith discussion on Faith as a Force For Good: Joining the Fight Against Malaria. The event is sure to spark lively discussion and will lead into a dialogue of how we can help fight malaria.

The panel of three distinguished speakers – Rabbi Dr. Analia Bortz, Congregation Or Hadash; Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley, Providence Missionary Baptist Church; Tayyibah Taylor, Editor in Chief of Azizah Magazine – will be moderated by MedShare’s Vice President of Corporate and International Relations, Nell Diallo.

It will begin at 7pm this evening at Providence Missionary Baptist Church; directions can be found here.

Are you planning on joining us this evening? Confirm your attendance on Facebook here!

MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellows on YouthUniverse

MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellows, Clint Fluker and Sana Rahim, recently spoke with Rev. Rob Hughes in the series premiere of YouthUniverse, an educational television program that explores creative local and global community development initiatives through the expressed viewpoints and demonstrated actions of interfaith youth and young adults.

Take a moment to watch this wonderful and engaging interview, won’t you?

To learn more about Clint and Sana’s initiatives (including an upcoming art auction!), click here.

For more YouthUniverse, tune in to Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters, Saturdays at 4 p.m. ET.

MEET Clint and Sana: interfaith workers and medical supply crafters

By now, you likely know Clint Fluker and Sana Rahim, MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellows. (You don’t? Catch up here and here, and read about their current project here.) They were recently interviewed by The FEED Atlanta, and we wanted to share the wonderful Q & A session. You can read it on their website here, or scroll down…

MEET Clint and Sana: interfaith workers and medical supply crafters

by Melonie Tharpe on FEED

Atlanta has a lot of diversity.  With people from hundreds of different countries converging here every day, so the need for understanding is great.  We sat down with Sana and Clint who are undertaking an interfaith program at MedShare to learn what it takes to bridge the divide religious differences can cause.  They provided us a great tour of MedShare, an international organization that recycles medical supplies before we got down to interview business.

Sana Rahim (L) and Clint Fluker, MedShare's Faiths Act Fellows

Tell us about your project:

Sana:  MedShare is a health nonprofit organization based in Decatur.  We take surplus medical supplies from hospitals and medical manufacturing companies and redistribute them to developing countries.  When you get an operation at a hospital, they will use a specific kit for your procedure. There might be 30-80 instruments for your surgery but they will only uses some of them.  The rest of the instruments, even if they are perfectly sterile, are still billed to you because they are part of the opened kit. They cannot use them on other patients so they are usually thrown away.  We also get products from medical manufacturing companies. When they make a shipment and a load of boxes falls off a forklift, it is cosmetically damaged and not sellable.  Usually they would throw it away.  Instead we ask them to donate it here.  We have volunteers that re-box those supplies. Once these supplies get entered into our inventory, hospitals and clinics in developing countries can go online and make a wish list of all the things they want. We will prepare a 40 foot container with all the requested supplies and ship it over.  They get exactly what they want and need.

We are working with the Tony Blair Interfaith Fellows Program to bring faith communities together to engage in service here at MedShare.  We are also doing a large scale fundraising initiative to send over 2 containers of medical supplies to Sierra Leone.

How did you get started with all of this?

Sana: With the art auction, we noticed that there was an incredible amount of supplies we receive that we can’t use. It is amazing the amount of supplies we save and provide to clinics, but there are still things that might end up in the trash. Things that are expired or not in demand.  We wanted to figure out how to reduce the amount of waste coming from that.  Clint and I came up with an idea to give these supplies to artists to create works of art. We ended up watching the documentary Waste Land.  An artist goes to one of the largest landfills in Rio de Janeiro to learn about people who hand-pick recyclables from landfills. He takes people who do this and draws out their portraits in giant sizes. The people fill in the outlines with the recyclables and then he photographs the images. He uses this art to fundraise for their workers union. It was really powerful.

We decided to do something similar. We have artists use our waste product to create images of our logo, our recipients.  We have had many artists come forward to work on this. It has been really neat.  Art has an interesting role to play in these issues.  There is a very concrete and tangible outcome of this process and this auction.

What inspires you to do this work?

Sana:  I just graduated from Northwestern. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do this year. I have always been interested in international development work. I spent two summers working in Turkey on women’s rights issues, I did a lot of global health volunteering in college. I have always been interested in interfaith work. Although I have never done much of it before, but as a Muslim in the US I can see the need for it.  The 2008 presidential elections and the kind of vitriol that came out against Muslims.  People were accusing him of being a Muslim and he was adamant that he wasn’t.  I kept waiting for a voice of reason. For him to say “I am not a Muslim, but there is nothing wrong with being one”.  And that never really happened.  I think that makes interfaith work very important.

Clint:  First I wanted to return to Atlanta and I knew it was possible through this program.  I won’t lie about that!  Two, I come from a family that has a very strong Christian program.  My father is a Baptist minister, my grandfather was as well.  And I tell everyone in a joking manner, even though it is kinda true, my mother raises money for preachers to go to school. There is a very strong tradition of faith background in my family. I have often struggled with religion myself.  I was a philosophy major. My family has also been involved with marriages in other religions.  My big brother married a Hindu woman.  Going through that process, the 4 days of marriage, was quite something. It was an incredible thing to see families from different parts of the world come together.  We had two weddings- a Hindu and a Christian wedding.  Just seeing that and how it was possible was important for me. I saw people work together. I wanted to explore this idea of interfaith work as a way to bring people together around an issue.  Also, I get a chance to work with artists through this program. I love it.

What challenges are you facing?

Sana:  It is interesting to come to a new city and map out the communities. We are trying to bring together faith communities in Atlanta. Faith is a big thing here. Getting all of those people together at the same table has been a challenge. Although surprisingly there is a big interfaith community here. There is a rich diversity even though you might only think ‘this is the bible belt’. Actually, there is almost too much going on. There is a lot of interfaith programing and we have to find our own space.

Fundraising is also hard.  There are so many worthy causes so convincing people to support you is hard. The economic climate is still tough for people. So for me our campaign isn’t just about fundraising, there are many ways to volunteer.  You can donate, make some artwork, volunteer your time. Clint and I are passionate that contributing to a cause can be in any shape or form.

Clint:  One of the biggest challenges is explaining the depth of the project to people.  We are not just having people come together to pray or to hold hands.  I think that is a very important element but we are also trying to get people to take action and show that people who have faith, people who don’t have faith, people who have different faiths, can come together and do something good.  Explaining that in two or three sentences to people can be difficult.  Our work can be controversial too.  If you use platforms like surplus medical supplies going overseas or artists coming together to create a better world, I think you are able to explain it better and break down hesitations.

Sana:  To add to that, I think interfaith is a scary word.  People think “oh no, I have to talk about my religion”, but that isn’t true. It is more about being in a space and working towards a common goal with people of a different faith.

Clint:  A good example is our interfaith (supply) sorting sessions.  You have these people coming to MedShare all the time. There might be 4 or 5 different faiths represented at a given time but you might not speak to them about it. It is just a microcosm of what happens around the world.  People of different backgrounds are working together all the time, it just isn’t acknowledged. What we do is allow people to have these experiences but allow them to learn from the experience of working together.

Are you guys collaborating with anyone?

Sana:  We work a lot with the Southwest Art Center. They are making our big art pieces.  They have really gotten the word out to artists about the auction and getting people involved. We have worked with many faith communities who have been on board with the initiative.  Morehouse college and their leadership center are helping to spread the word and fundraise.  We are also working with the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta- FAMA. They are helping to raise interest in the faith communities.

What impact are you hoping to have on Atlanta?

Sana:  I think interfaith work gets stuck in a niche.  “All we do is sit around and talk about what we have in common, how we can get along, how there is no need to fight.”  Beyond that, once you have built that basic understanding, there is a need for a next step in those relationships.  What I have been most struck by is the role of faith organizations in international work. There could be a tremendous outcome if faiths worked together.  There are so many resources, so much talent and energy in each group, combined together it is super powerful.  I hope to leave that behind.  Here at MedShare faith communities are coming together to solve a problem.  The impact could be incredible.

Would you like to see your work replicated?

Clint:  That is the hope.  Everything we do, we would like to see it be sustainable. We don’t want anything we do here to be just a “Clint’ or “Sana’” program.  We want to engage people and tell them about our specific interfaith program, but we want them to stay engaged with MedShare.  We don’t want people to come here, talk about our project and then never come back.  It should be a long term relationship.

Sana:  With this project, the first thing we did was ask “who in Atlanta is from Sierra Leone”.  The country is very small so I didn’t think there would be many Sierra Leone people here but every week I get a new phone call from someone from there who is excited to help with our project.  I hope that future projects can engage these communities as well.

That said, my favorite part of this project is bringing together so many parts of Atlanta. We have Emory, Morehouse and Georgia Tech fundraising on campus for this project.  There are faith communities doing the sorting sessions of the supplies and also taking part in a roundtable talk.  We will have faith leaders talk about their interest in this project.  And then there are people of no particular faith who care about malaria or Sierra Leone.  We really want that to be replicated.

What kind of help do you need to keep this going?

Clint:  In the near future, for the interfaith panel coming up and also with the art auction and some smaller events, we need to engage the entire Atlanta community.  We don’t want to just be in the MedShare community or just the artist communities that we already know.  We want to expand.  We really need promotion.  We also need people to volunteer for a good cause. MedShare runs off of volunteer work.

Sana:  We are still looking for donations. Artists who want to make or give pieces of art for the fundraiser.  Or anyone who is looking to donate medical supplies.

What are some of the biggest issues you see in Atlanta?

Sana:  Public transportation!  It is really frustrating. The biggest way to feel like you are in a connected city is to leave your house and get on a train.  Here, I leave my house, get in a car, Mapquest, drive and find parking. That is frustrating.  I come from Chicago, which is one of the most segregated cities, but I still see that in Atlanta.  It is something that needs to be discussed more.  But generally I am impressed with how open that discussion is here compared to how hush-hush it is in Chicago. The food here is really good, so that makes up for a lot.

Clint:  Public transport is really terrible.  We work in Decatur but all of the interfaith networks we work with are in Atlanta near Downtown.  That is a difficult commute.  A strength and a weakness is that Atlanta has some people doing interfaith work, but there are not a lot of people doing it.  When we first came here, it wasn’t like the experience our colleagues in DC or New York were having.  There was not an explicit interfaith network that had been around for many years.  While there are not many people working on it, it does mean that Atlanta is fertile ground for new interfaith projects.

What are some of your favorite organizations or things around town?

Clint:  To start, MedShare is our favorite place. Also, FAMA has been so great to us. The people that we talk to have been very welcoming.  We have been working with universities.  Morehouse, Georgia State, Georgia Tech.  Emory.  And groups like Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation, Youth Universe. These people have really come out and supported us.  For the art auction, the Southwest Arts Center has been fantastic.

Sana:  The mosques here are the coolest mosques I have ever been to.  I hadn’t been to Friday prayer yet so I went there and I was the only South Asian person.  Everyone was African American.  It was so awesome with a different style and culture.  The Imam was giving a sermon but in a very Christian preaching style. It was really neat for me to see.  People are really kind and warm here.  I think the Clarkston scene is really cool. People should explore it more. I have been impressed with the NGO and nonprofits working there on refugee issues.  RRISA and Fugees Family are really cool. There is a lot of cultural and ethnic diversity happening in Atlanta.

Where can interested readers find you?

They can find us on our project website or on the MedShare website.  They can also come to our interfaith panel discussion or our art auction.

What FEEDs your soul?

Sana: I FEED my soul with Turkish cuisine.

Clint: I FEED my soul with origami.

I feed my soul with...

To learn more about FEED Atlanta, visit their website or become a Facebook fan.

Thanks for the wonderful coverage, FEED! We appreciate it.

 

Commemorating MLK’s Legacy as an Interfaith Leader

Commemorating MLK’s Legacy as an Interfaith Leader

On January 16, volunteers from Morehouse College, Emory University, YouthUniverse, and the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation will converge for a Day of Interfaith Service at MedShare

Keynote reflections will be offered at 9:15 AM by Rev. Robert H. Hughes, Founder of the Generator Development Group and YouthUniverse

Rev. Robert H. Hughes, M.Div. seeks to live out his faith in God through direct action and service, everyday. Rob has made a lifetime commitment to invest in growing spiritual, ethical, sustainable, and moral leadership in urban environments and organizations. In 2007, Rob founded the Generator Development Group, LLC and YouthUniverse in Atlanta, Georgia to build capacity in local community leadership and to serve youth and young adult development through producing live events, educational media programs, cultural training and neighborhood quality of life projects.

In his faith community, Rob was ordained for pastoral leadership in Christian ministry in 2009 by Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. He currently serves as an Executive Committee Board Member with Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, as a General Board Member with the Faith Alliance of Metropolitan Atlanta and with the Future Foundation. In summer 2005, Rob traveled to Jerusalem with the Atlanta-based World Pilgrims, an interfaith group of clergy and community leaders seeking common ground.

Rob is currently a doctoral student in Urban Ministry at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. He is a 2005 Master of Divinity degree honors graduate of the Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. He completed his practical ministry experience with the United States Congressional District Office of Congressman John Lewis. In 1996, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

For more information, please contact MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellows, Clint Fluker (cfluker@medshare.org) or Sana Rahim (srahim@medshare.org). 

Islam, Light, and Diwali: A Reflection (No Pun Intended)

By Sana Rahim, MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellow

Tony Blair Faiths Act Fellow Sana Rahim (L) and Clint Fluker

It is profound to see how people across various faith and non-faith traditions alike seek light in their spiritual endeavours. Whether it is ethereal guidance from a deity or the simple joy of living a contented life- human beings gravitate towards to the notion of light. In Islam, noor, or light, is both an attribute of the divine, and a characteristic of an upright believer.

As people around the world celebrated Diwali last week, I couldn’t help but to connect the images of illumination in the Hindu tradition to the notion of noor within the Qur’an. In Verse 35 of Surah Noor, Allah is described as “the light of the heavens and the earth.” The light of Allah is analogized to a lamp within a glass, from which “light upon light” emanates. Some scholars interpret the light to be the Iman, or faith of a believer and the “glass” as a means of reflecting the light of God, to shine even brighter.

As a Faiths Act Fellow this year, it may seem surprising that I seem to find this notion of noor in 33 other fellows that come from all different faith backgrounds. My friends in the Faiths Act Fellowship are bringing light to the world through service, and in some way or another, reflecting the light of the divine through their work this year.

Verse 35 also describes that the oil within the lamp seems to glow itself, as if no fire had touched it, making the glass around the lamp shine “as it were a brilliant star.” As people lit oil lamps around the world to celebrate Diwali, I couldn’t help but to feel that all of the Faiths Act Fellows are brilliant microcosms of the light described in the Qur’an.

As a Muslim, I couldn’t find more meaning in Diwali and its celebration of light. Eric Farr, one of the Faiths Act Fellows shared this quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with me: “The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light.”

This year on Diwali, I hope and pray that Allah helps me to polish my mirror one day at a time, and that He continues to guide my path with His light. If that isn’t an interfaith prayer, I don’t know what is.

To read other Tony Blair Faiths Act Fellows blog posts, visit their website here.

The Intersection of the Local and Global at MedShare

By Sana Rahim, MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellow

Sana Rahim

Contemporary discourse on globalization continues to emphasize increasing interconnectivity between national economies, popular culture, and individuals. While people may never meet in person, through tweets, blog posts, or Skype calls, ideas and information have never been so rapidly communicated and shared.

As we can all attest, this heightened availability of information has made us profoundly aware of global poverty and inequity, and the role we can play in addressing these problems. The idea of helping our local neighbor has now extended to a global family.

Working at MedShare for only 3 weeks- I have repeatedly witnessed the all-encompassing definition of who our neighbor truly is. Volunteers throughout metropolitan Atlanta come to MedShare to sort medical supplies for communities that they may never meet. Although volunteers rarely get to see the face their service has impacted, they feel a very real sense of responsibility and accountability to bridge the gap between surplus and need. While leading tours at MedShare, I often tell volunteers that every medical supply they touch has a life attached to it. The more stories I hear from recipients of MedShare containers, the more I can see the tangible global impact that local communities here in Atlanta are making.

Just today, we received a letter from a Nigerian sponsor who visited the recipient hospitals that MedShare most recently shipped to. It is clear from her account of bare shelves and lack of basic biomedical equipment that the supplies sent from MedShare are meeting a need that is otherwise not being met. Similar to the volunteers at MedShare, the individuals receiving the supplies feel a powerful sense of solidarity with people across the world who have donated their time and effort to send supplies.

I can only imagine how powerful it would be to unite the community at MedShare and the communities all over the world that are connected across lines of ethnicity, language, faith, and nationality in the fight for a more equitable world. Although MedShare is a non-profit based in Decatur, GA – the volunteers and staff are part of a global community that goes far beyond Georgia.

With a community like that, it’s hard to determine where local ends, and global begins.

To read other Tony Blair Faiths Act Fellows blog posts, visit their website here.

Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta (FAMA) 10th Anniversary of 9/11 Inter Faith Gathering

By Clint Fluker, MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellow

Sana and I stood side by side at the crosswalk watching silently as dozens of people from all directions trickled into the Decatur Hotel Conference Center in Decatur, Georgia. When the traffic light turned red we joined the crowd into the lobby of the hotel where over 600 people representing six different faiths (Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs) gathered to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Clint Fluker, MedShare's Faiths Act Fellow, at a 9/11 Interfaith Gathering in Decatur

As we moved through the lobby toward the main hall two lively women hopped in front us bearing quiz sheets. Wide eyed and smiling, they welcomed us to the interfaith gathering, introduced themselves, their religions, and through hysterical laughter held up their sheets to ask, “Are you Muslim? Because we really need some help with some of these questions?”

I stood mute shaking my head. The onlooker’s eyes glazed over me and focused on Sana. Sana nodded. The two women jumped for joy and presented their sheets which were filled with bingo-style questions stemming from all the religions represented at the conference. Sana answered their questions about the prophet Muhammad; the women thanked her graciously and moved on to the next set of unsuspecting arrivals.

The interfaith questionnaire was one of several mechanisms used throughout the evening to help foster interfaith dialogue. Consequently, when we entered the main hall we saw hundreds of colorful faces glaring at us ready to pounce with interfaith questions. We answered questions about Islam and Christianity respectively as we made our way to two open seats.

The ceremony began with a welcome and introduction by a representative from the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta (FAMA) who brought our attention to the beauty of the diversity in the crowd. Next, he pointed to a painting by Norman Rockwell, “The Golden Rule,” that was projected prominently on each wall. The speaker then yielded the floor to religious leaders from all faiths present to recite their interpretations of The Golden Rule according to their religious texts.

This presentation was followed by several musical performances, prompted interfaith discussions, and poetry readings. However, perhaps the most powerful moment of the evening was a reading by author Carmen Agra Deedy. Deedy retold a story from a man on the ground in New York City who witnessed the World Trade Center buildings fall. During this story she urged everyone in the audience to face the memory of 9/11 head on, take the lessons we have learned from that day, and apply them to the future in the spirit of peace.

The evening came to a close with a candle light vigil. The silence in the room during those few moments was only broken by quiet tears and prayerful whispers. When the bell rung to mark the end of the gathering, I surveyed the dimly lit room to see newly made friends and strangers alike embracing each other. Baring witness to the bonds of unity formed through the sharing of faith traditions, I opened my arms and joined in.

To learn more about MedShare’s Faiths Act Fellow, click here and here.