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Leading Change by Example:
Residents Speak at Sunday Supper

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Dotto Mnyadi and Momen El-Husseiny presented at the Feb. 12 Sunday Supper

More than a century ago in New York, a group of scholars from around the world gathered by invitation at the home of Harry and Florence Edmonds for "Sunday Supper," where guest John D. Rockefeller Jr. was successfully persuaded to fund the first International House in Manhattan. In the decades since, Sunday Suppers held at I-Houses around the world have offered opportunities for students from different countries to exchange views in pursuit of the I-House mission: greater intercultural respect, understanding, friendship and leadership for a more peaceful world.

In this tradition last February current International House Berkeley residents Dotto Mnyadi, a journalism student from Tanzania and Momen El-Husseiny, a doctoral candidate in architecture from Egypt, shared their moving personal stories of inspired humanitarian activism with fellow residents and I-House alumni at the second of three Sunday Suppers held annually.

Mnyadi spoke of progress with HIV-AIDS programs in his native homeland and El-Husseiny discussed the form recent campaigns were taking to mobilize oppositional voices in Egypt.

Mnyadi's elder sister died of an AIDS-related illness in 2007. This personal tragedy motivated him to dedicate his journalistic talents to reporting on HIV/AIDS. Accompanied by video clips of people living with the stigma of AIDS who Mnyadi had come to know, he reminded the audience of the role everyone has to play in combating the pandemic. In our interdependent global community, said Mnyadi, "Whatever you do here, it will affect people on the other side of the world."

Arrested 10 days before the Egyptian revolution, El-Husseiny's voice at times cracked with emotion as he shared footage of tear-gassed demonstrations and recalled some of the brutal suppression tactics used by the authorities that he had experienced on the streets of Cairo. "Kazeboon," he explained by way of example, "is a campaign to create an independent alternative media that acts as a whistle-blower on human rights' violations by using simple projectors screening videos and slide shows of the reality censored in public media."

Saluting the residents for their courage and activism, I-House Executive Director said each generation of I-House residents "validates its values" and contributes by example to shaping a world more in line with the principles envisioned by our founders: dignity, mutual respect, and friendship for a more peaceful world.

Full interviews with Dotto and Momen below:

Q1: What do you hope people took away from your “Sunday Supper” presentation?

Dotto: Sunday Supper was a great experience and I believe people learned a lot from our presentations.  It is always hard to inspire people, especially the community that lives day and night surrounded by such high-profile and knowledgeable academics and researchers. However, Sunday Supper confirmed how powerful it is to learn “straight from the horse's mouth."
Momen: You can always make a difference in your community and be a source of inspiration to the whole world! Always reach out to people, listen to people, and learn from their experiences. Keep dreaming and stay hopeful! Never believe that you can't do something. Always break the boundaries and challenge the status quo! Never take things for granted! De facto's are always manufactured; you can always create your own! Think of the values of things more than their prices! "Be humbled! Be different!" And as Steve Jobs says, "Stay hungry! Stay foolish!"

Q2: In less than 100 words, could you summarize your project(s)?

Dotto: My project is an attempt to bring new hope and to, and de-stigmatize, people living with HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. One important breakthrough that scientists have made is making HIV drugs that can prolong life for people infected with HIV accessible and free. What has not been achieved is getting people to deal with AIDS victims in a positive manner and this has widened the stigma gap that prevents a lot of people from knowing their true health status.  For most people in Africa, AIDS is still a death sentence. They would rather avoid knowing the truth in order to live a “normal” life, and avoid being subjected to discrimination or stigmatized by people in their families or societies.

Momen: The Egyptian Revolution is a people's project and that's why it inspired the whole world as part of the ongoing Arab revolutions. It is a collective action where the youth's main goal is to empower people. Many grassroots movements aim to make people's voices heard until their demands are met! The idea is to expose the regime's atrocity via non-violent campaigns—open a crack in the public sphere for people to think, talk, and express themselves!

Q3: How optimistic are you about the future of Egypt | curing HIV/AIDS in Tanzania and globally?

Dotto: I believe HIV/AIDS will be history pretty soon as many researches have shown positive results. The fact that people who got the virus can not infect others if they are in effective drug therapy opens the door for more people to get tested early and assess the magnitude of the problem. Tanzania is doing great in terms of reducing infections; however, one remaining issue is to discourage the idea that AIDS is a “sinner’s disease.”

Momen: I am hopeful things will change, but not without a price. If we were on our own with no foreign interference with our revolution, we would have accomplished our goal, as in Tunisia. But since Egypt has a pivotal weight in the Middle East due to its geography, a lot of foreign players still back up the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) despite their fascist practices of killing civilian protestors. The same world leaders that supported Mubarak still support Mubarak's appointed generals currently ruling the country.
The American administration supports SCAF to maintain the so-called "stability" of the region and peace with Israel. But this stability is illusory; it’s built on injustice and blood, and it’s unsustainable. It will create only hatred rather than peace.

Q4: You are an activist and a leader – in your view, what makes a good leader?

Dotto: I don't want to consider myself a leader or activist. I believe to be good at anything you need to be willing to learn and show the way for others to walk towards success. My role as a journalist is to translate information into a language that anyone can easily understand. The information on AIDS is not new, it has been there for 30 years, but by translating it into simple terms, I’m making it easier for more people to understand. If a person can be innovative and at the same time make things easier for his/her followers then that person deserves the title of a good leader.

Momen: As I mentioned earlier, as an activist you should work on empowering people, work in teams, listen closely to people, and learn from street practices, the everyday politics of survival by ordinary citizens. If you want to be a good and just leader, lead "through" people.  Rule "through" them, and not "over" them. There is a huge difference between these ways. Another important aspect is to acknowledge minorities and include them in ruling the State. True democracy has never been the rule of the majority but the inclusion of the minorities and of them acquiring their rights.

Q5: Do you have any opinion on the pilot initiatives on intercultural leadership that I-House now offers student-residents?

Dotto: Interaction between people, societies, and nations is an important instrument in today’s development. We need to know each other and our differences.  This initiative is essential especially at this era of science and technology where the world is not a huge place anymore. This means interaction between nations is even greater compared to previous years. I think it is great that this initiative is starting here at I-House, which is the host of nearly 600 international students from diverse cultural backgrounds.


Q6: What is the greatest hurdle to you achieving your personal and professional goals?

Dotto: I think education is still a challenge in Tanzania. I struggled to pay my education expenses all the way to college. We don’t have a good financial aid system to fund poor people and those who struggle end up spending every penny they have. However, I have been very optimistic all my life and I still believe my professional goals are to close to being achieved.

Momen: "Ignorance of the educated. Poverty of the rich." These are the greatest hurdles to be acknowledged. Too often experts dictate solutions as “strangers from outside” even if they are natives, without immersing themselves in the fine-grain complexities of life from within. And so it is the same case with the rich, who often believe that by donating money they will solve the world despite the fact that many of the problems are structurally embedded and must be solved through an even distribution of resources and wealth. This class is materialistically rich but poor in envisioning the solutions.

Q7: What is (has been) the best aspect of living at I-House?

Dotto: The uniqueness of this place is that people are always friendly and welcoming. What I liked about I-House is how easily you can make friends. You meet someone at the dining hall and exchange a few words then the next day you become friends. It is as if everyone is looking to make friends. I know I have more than 15 people from different countries that I can sincerely call my friends.

Momen: Dinner Talks..! And knowing the political realities of every country as if an insider. Because culture is usually celebrated in a fetishistic manner of costume or traditional rituals, while in fact culture is a practice that is dynamic and reflects people's ability to adapt to political, economical, and social contingencies and crises. It is very important to debate and think critically to discover one's prejudices and challenge them. This is reflexive sociology, the journey to explore one's internal “other”.

Q8: What plans do you have for your immediate future?

Dotto: I want to go back to my country and use these skills from Berkeley to do more projects before I come back to do my Ph.D. I never considered a Ph.D when I arrived in Berkeley because many people with that level of education are age 45+ in Tanzania, but I was impressed to see my peers with such a position, so I would love to come back for my Ph D in Berkeley.

Momen: Finish my Ph.D. Help in the development of an "intellectual revolution" that challenges the status quo locally and influence the world systems from there, especially those multilateral institutions that are malfunctioning and aging in their mindset of envisioning the world, such as the UN, WTO, IMF, and the World Bank. Though my work is concerned with the chronic diseases of the built environment, it can never be detached from the political, economic and social structures we inherit.