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Hip Hop and the Lost Children of Afghanistan: An interview with Shamsia Razaqi

Posted: Nov 01, 2012

It seems like humanitarian aid can include good music. Omeid International and Project Green Light have been busy connecting local hip-hop fans to benefit shows to help children victimized by the war in Afghanistan. After a sold-out show at San Francisco's DNA Lounge and a massive free show in UC Berkeley's main quad featuring f hip hop's greats Immortal Technique, Chino XL, I was able to meet my old friend Shamsia Razaqi, who was speaking on a panel organized by the University of Santa Clara. hip-hop-afghanistan.jpg Shamsia Razaqi is an organizer and long-time figure in the local hip hop scene as a writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug Magazine and a contributor to Cupertino's 91.5 KKUP show Block to Block Radio. She now lives in the East Bay and co-founded the nonprofit humanitarian aid organization Omeid International to raise awareness of the conditions Afghan kids face. She is also working with Project Greenlight to build The Amin Institute in Kabul, an orphanage/school for children left without parents or an educational system. The name Omeid means hope in Farsi. Omeid International is a grassroots organization that came about after Razaqi took a trip back to the land of her parents. Omeid International has been sponsoring concerts, fundraisers and speakers up and down California,and has a film festival in the works. This ambitious project will break ground in early 2009 on the initial facility that will house 20 orphans, three widows and provide medical and psychiatric facilities. Phase two will be a larger facility that will provide services to up 200 kids as well as offer a community health center and job training to those older than 10 years. Doctors will be on site to provide care to the countless children suffering post traumatic stress due to war, famine and lack of medical care. Razaqi took some time to talk about what drives her fight for the kids of her homeland. JC: Where did you grow up? S: I was born and raised on the south side of San Jose, I went to high school at Oak Grove and then DeAnza College. I got my bachelors from Cal State Hayward in political science and pre-law. I am doing my Masters at SF State in international relations with a specialty in foreign policy of the Middle East and human rights. JC : How did you meet Immortal Technique? SR: I met Tech three years ago at Rock the Bells and told him about our cause and that we need help. By the way, we raised over $37,000 with Tech!!! JC: Nice. How did you get your start in the nonprofit world? SR: I started out as a writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug and other local magazines, then I started working as a health advocate for Afghan Refugees out here in the Bay at the Afghan Coalition and also worked on several political campaigns and as a recruiter for the Professors Union- CFA. It all turned when I went to Afghanistan and saw how serious the situation was there. JC : What is Omeid all about? SR: Our organization Omeid International is focused on restoring the hope that has become extinct in the lives of Afghanistan's orphaned children. Over the past few decades, hope has been lost in the struggle to survive and resist the everyday ravages of war. We believe that by restoring hope to the lives of these orphans of war we can begin the healing process, and start rebuilding the country and its people. One cannot happen without the other. JC: What is your title at Omeid International? SR: I am a co-founder, vice president and chief operating officer. I, along with President and CEO Mariam Razaq, and CFO. Mojgan Mohammad, created Omeid International in 2006. JC: Do you have any plan's to write a book and document the cause? SR: I hope I will write a book one day, God willing. JC: What is your goal at Omeid International? SR: The ultimate goals of our project are not only to house and protect orphans, but also to provide all the tools for proper development. These include access to regular medical and psychiatric care, education and nutrition. We deeply believe that the epidemic of violence that characterizes failed states in the Third World is a cycle that can and must be broken. States like Afghanistan cannot be rebuilt solely through infrastructure, but the people also need to be rebuilt. The past several generations have witnessed little more than war crimes and the rape of their nation, in the midst of all this they had to survive by any means necessary, a prime example being the Taliban, which was created by orphans in refugee camps. We want to prevent the rise of another Taliban, by providing another way out, by providing hope and breaking the cycle of violence. JC: Do you think hip hop has a strong undercurrent of activism? SR: Without a doubt, hip hop can be used as a tool for social change. I think Immortal Technique and his supporters are a testament to that. Music can be a beautiful and powerful expression that inspires some of the rawest emotions. Hip hop is a vehicle for truth and for telling your story to the world, a story that is otherwise overlooked by popular standards. Even from its roots hip hop has been about expressing the strife of urban life- the untold story. It has evolved, with the help of Technique and others like him, as a platform not only to speak on it but act on it. Project Green Light is just that. Everyone is listening and agrees that something needs to be done and hip hop is the vehicle. But the people, the fans, the fresh minds that feel something when they hear a song, they are the ones who can mobilize true social change. Hip hop just plants the seed. The response from Project Green light has been immense. The number of donations and people interested in volunteering their time and help is proof that hip hop can inspire social change both at home and abroad. It's been far too long that hip hop has been a sleeping giant, dormant amidst the vacant and vain top-40 rubbish. It's time for a hip-hop renaissance. JC: How do other artists get involved? SR: The needs of Afghanistan's orphans are so dire we do not discriminate against anyone willing to help. It's not about hip hop, religion, politics or any of that hype and divisive rhetoric. It's about finding people with the heart and determination to address such a serious issue. We are willing to work with a broad spectrum of supporters. But the reality of it is everyday people don't have the time or passion to even think about these issues. They are just jaded in their own struggles. It takes passionate people to stand up and fight for these children. JC: What is hip hop's role in connecting young people from across the world? SR: Hip hop already is a bridge between cultures and we have seen it transpire throughout South and Central America, Asia and the Middle East with young kids using hip hop to tell the stories no one else cares to report on. How we will use it is uncertain for now. We definitely want to offer children of the Amin Institute different artistic outlets. Perhaps hip hop can be one. For more information on the work of Omeid International please visit Omeid

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