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Judah's Story: On Finding 'Home' & Helping Others Find Theirs

This week we hear from Judah Armani. Judah worked closely with John developing strategy for Prosper. He is the founder of Public, a social design agency operating in the space between third sector and private sector.

After leaving the music industry a decade ago, Judah has spent his time working on projects of social transformation, regionally, locally, nationally and internationally. alt

Home

Home is an interesting word, whilst my home is very much where my family resides, it's not really bound to a country. I was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran and although moved to UK when I was a few months old, have never really felt part of any country.

As a child growing up in London, the barriers of perception, stigma and media hype were all the more prevalent for someone growing up in a different land as the revolution in Iran was reaching its height. The Shah had left, and a new revolution had taken control.

My memories of the final few visits to Iran during those crazy times are vivid and painful.

Iran did not feel safe, and so did not feel like home. Equally, never having been fully accepted as a child growing up, UK didn’t feel like home either.

As an adult, I enjoyed a period of time working for an American company nestled within the global music industry. The nature of my work required frequent visits to the States, unfortunately these trips were always accented with memories of my childhood.

I was constantly held in hidden rooms, with homeland security, for a number of hours, without access to my baggage - which would ride around the carousel long after the passengers on my flight had embarked on their onward journey.

Sitting in those tiny rooms, without natural light, offered me time for reflection.

Beyond the normal why and how is this happening, my thoughts naturally would arrive at home. Where is it?

Many of my family members fled Iran during the time of the revolution. My parents and I would arrive for a holiday, whilst my cousins would be flying out for good. It was a strange time. I come from a family where refugee status is not just something to be gained, but also where refugees would come and stay.

Iran has accepted almost a million refugees since 2004 according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR.

Child-Fugee

Why am I telling you this? I guess because for most of my life, I would go to great lengths to deny my birthplace. I would do whatever I could to distance myself from where I came from. I was embarrassed of where I was born. That’s a hard thing for someone to say. As a child you have a natural instinct to avoid getting hurt when possible.

I didn’t want to get hurt by the things people would say. It was easier and safer to say nothing or make up something. The coping mechanisms of a twelve year old, who wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be home.

Thirty years later and I am gradually piecing together a picture of me that makes sense, that is real and that is at peace with the world.

The reason I am writing this is because growing up, I witnessed a handful of dark moments, that was all. But a handful of dark moments caused three decades of confusion in me as an adult.

The Aftermath of Paris

My heart was deeply saddened by the terrible acts of meaningless violence that occurred in Paris last year.

In retrospect, uncontrollably I could not help crying for the many refugee children who would have to face their peers at school, or on the street and endure verbal abuse and hatred manifested from a cauldron of ignorance and anger.

I wept for most of the weekend in the aftermath. If a handful of dark moments had made such an impact on my life, what would be the effect of intense trauma on the lives of refugee children today?

Not simply the horrendous trauma of the circumstances that forced them to leave, but the trauma of their journeys and finally, the stigma and isolation of their resettlement.

From Sofia, with Love

One of the first roles I took when I left the music industry was helping out in an orphanage in a town north of Sofia, in Bulgaria. I was only over there for a few days, but would return as my love for the people grew immensely. It was my first real experience of development.

My assumption of charity until that point was that it was filled with people with golden hearts that decided they were going to live on a shoestring in order to do good, and frankly that wasn’t going to cut it for me, and my children.

However after spending a few days, with children whom when I looked in the eye, could see they knew what home meant, I was hooked. I knew that my passion, had met my vocation.

That helping those who have somehow lost sight of home would be what I would spend the rest of my life doing.

I have spent so many years involved in so many different aspects of development, from creating responses to homelessness to youth engagement programmes, however it wasn’t until I met John Ellison and realised that through Prosper I was able to engage with a full circle project.Working towards creating the environment for refugees to prosper in Europe.

When I met John Ellison, I saw in him someone who knew what home meant, and more importantly what the lack of having a home meant.

This is my Story, Tell me Yours

Using a phrase borrowed from the Manic Street Preachers' album title, this is something I often start with when journeying with any participant on any of the programmes I have worked on.

It’s about listening and sharing. I look back on my life and can absolutely say in confidence that the human response we can offer today to people who have found themselves far from home, is the most life transforming.

I want Prosper to prosper, so that the undeniable resources that are needed can be matched with those who are far from home, and release the profound and limitless potential that is stored in every single refugee.

Judah Armani

Judah is the founder of Public, a social design agency operating with third and private sectors on social transformation projects, both local and international.

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