Nurjahan Khatun is an East London Muslimah who dared to dream. Hailing from a family where going to university seemed unlikely, Nurjahan is now working for central government, and she’s the woman behind the I Dare U foundation. Meeting with me at her local premises in the East End, Nurjahan tells me what, why and how the foundation came about.
To start off with, Nurjahan says that I have to understand her story in order to be able to grasp the foundation. Listening, I can tell the foundation is very much an evolution of herself and very much a part of her own dream. Having escaped from a difficult home environment, she informs me that drug abuse and violence were a part of ordinary life while she was growing up in Tower Hamlets. She was a young, confident individual who couldn’t quite understand why she should be held back from pursuing an education, and she managed to secure loans from her local community in order to able to go on to further education. In a time when university is common candy, her motivation and drive is quite eye opening.
Nurjahan informs me that she found resolve and motivation in her faith when she was down, and that she received much support from local churches and other religious groups. Currently in Tower Hamlets, the masjid is extraordinarily active and plays an incredibly significant role in its community, but in “her time” this wasn’t the case. Realising that religion and the motivation it can instil is crucial to people’s development, the idea to set up a foundation based upon religious principles of support, proactivity and encouragement started to take shape whilst she was in university. Graduating in London and determined not to abandon her home, the Tower Hamlets native started her dream right there.
Tower Hamlets has been poverty ridden for many years. With one in four children below the poverty line, it stands as the second most deprived borough in London and third nationally. With high rates of unemployment and drug abuse, the educational achievements of recent generations just isn’t enough; success stories from within the community and the giving back are what’s making the difference. And this is exactly what I Dare U seeks to do. Nurjahan tells me that your journey doesn’t end when you’ve “made it”; it’s succeeded when you “continue to make it happen.”
The I Dare U foundation works with groups of women from the borough of Tower Hamlets to encourage them to dream big and supports them to realise their potential. Officially running for two years, I’m told that Nurjahan is known locally as the “unofficial social worker.” She is someone who works out of bounds, without constraint and with a motive and drive to include the excluded and propel them forward. The enterprise works in the East End with groups of women of various races and creeds taking them through the different I Dare U stages, ending with the women taking on and motivating a group of their own. Nurjahan insists that this is certainly not a one woman show. “It’s a long term project, you don’t just come along and leave – it’s a journey and we’re in it together.” Those who come to the workshops receive advice, support and training in leadership skills, tools and techniques so that they can then add value to their communities. Local individuals successful in various fields partake in assisting the development of this motivating enterprise.
I Dare U works with various organisations, such as homeless shelters and participates in initiatives, such as soup kitchens, so that it’s continually active within its community. This is key to the way in which the initiative runs; it plays a role in the community and is about establishing long running support networks, assisting and holding each other up. I’m told to be assured that the initiative is always going to be inclusive and will branch out to ensure this continues.
Nurjahan says that there are five steps that the foundation has established to realise people’s goals, beginning with identifying the challenges the individual is facing and the ways in which they can be overcome. It is after this that they “explore their potential, find their niche… and unlock that potential.” Continuing onwards, she feels that the pattern for success is uncanny amongst women, and the domino effect always follows. Having worked with groups of women who are already now feeding back their success, there are high hopes for this initiative; with its growth and success cycling back into its development, there’s difficulty in seeing a cloudy future. The principal value of I Dare U is to inspire positivity and “positivity” is certainly what I have taken from it.
Visit www.idareufoundation.com to learn more about their empowering program.
Yasmin Khatun is a London based freelance journalist and producer at Islam Channel.