Meet Jaz O’Hara, the Human Rights Activist Building a Global Community and Celebrating Differences

Meet Jaz O’Hara, the Human Rights Activist Building a Global Community and Celebrating Differences

Human rights activist Jaz O’Hara founded The Worldwide Tribe in a bid to highlight the humanity behind world issues and inspire positive social change. We chat to her about uplifting refugee voices, celebrating differences and how we, as travellers, can help fight the good fight.

funny how drastically life can change in such a short time.
Just ask Jaz O’Hara. Five years ago, her parents decided to take in
an Eritrean refugee living in the Calais Jungle. Little did she
then know that her new brother, Mez, would inspire her to launch a
pioneering human rights charity, The Worldwide Tribe – a platform
for refugee voices that too often go unheard and a fundraising
organisation that’s bettered the lives of countless refugees across
the world.

The Worldwide Tribe’s origin story is thoroughly 21st century.
Inspired by her brother’s stories of life in the Calais Jungle, Jaz
visited herself in 2015. Outraged by the inhumane conditions of the
camp, she hastily scrambled together a heart-felt Facebook post and
a well-meaning Go Fund Me page. Needless to say, her post tugged at
heart-strings and raised thousands of pounds in the process. What
started as a Facebook post is now a fully-fledged human rights
charity dedicated to highlighting the humanity behind the

Aside from the obvious (providing clothes, food and shelter),
Worldwide Tribe
has helped to install Wi-Fi in refugee camps in
France and Greece, run art projects in Jordan’s Zaatari camp and
helped to launch a search-and-rescue scheme in the Mediterranean.
We caught up with Jaz, fresh off a flight from Beirut, to talk
about motivation, inspiration and how we, as travellers, can help
fight the good fight.

Uplifting refugee voices and celebrating human differences with
Jaz O’Hara

What are you working on at the moment?

Well, I’ve just returned from Beirut
where I was connecting with some victims of the explosion earlier
last year. We released a podcast the week after the explosion
looking at its impact but now, three months later, I’m looking at
how we can tell the stories of the people living there today.
Getting out there was tricky. I spent about a month fundraising,
getting some logistics in place, and then had to navigate Covid
tests and pricey insurance policies before I could actually step
aboard the plane.

Who is the most inspirational person you’ve met on your

For me, the person I always come back to when I need inspiration
or encouragement is my little brother, Mez. My parents have taken
in three more refugees since then, all four of whom are hugely
inspiring to me and have suffered through realities we could never
even imagine prior to coming here, but Mez was the first to join
our family.

We give talks together on a daily basis. He’s very keen to share
his story and to bring some awareness around the situation in
Eritrea. He crossed the Sahara desert, he crossed the Mediterranean
Sea and he lived in the Calais Jungle, all by the age of 13. I
think hearing the story from his perspective is life-changing. It’s
simply not the same when I try to tell it.

What is the most rewarding part of your work with The Worldwide

I love giving talks in schools. Some of the terminology that we
use is complicated – even some adults don’t really understand the
difference between refugee, asylum seeker and illegal immigrant –
but none of that really matters. With kids, it’s all about bringing
it back to basic feelings of empathy and kindness. They floor me
with their questions sometimes. “Why can I go to France but they
can’t come here?” they’ll ask, or “why can’t anyone just live
anywhere?” They’ve got a point.

Which elements of the global refugee crisis are most
underplayed by the media?

I think that we’re missing many portrayals of resilience and
overcoming adversity, and of people adding to our economy. This
narrative that “people are coming over here to take jobs and
benefits” is a very inaccurate representation, and when I put that
to people I meet in refugee camps they’re shocked that people would
ever think in that way. I remember being in Calais one time and
somebody had found a newspaper, read one of these headlines and
questioned me: “Is this what people think in the UK?” This idea
that people are coming for economic reasons is very quickly
unpicked when you arrive in Calais or Lesvos and you realise there
are no economic conditions that could be worse than those in the

How can SUITCASE readers easily help refugees, beyond
circulating content on social media?

At The Worldwide Tribe, there are a few tiers of involvement.
You can donate, you can volunteer on the ground, you can listen to
our podcast or you can share a post depending on whether you have
the time, money or resources to give.

Beyond the bigger human rights issues, I believe that each of us
has a set of unique skills we can share with the world. Perhaps
you’re a graphic designer? In that case, you can help draft a CV or
flesh out a website. Maybe you bake? Why not whip up a cake for
your neighbour who needs cheering up. The concept of The Worldwide
Tribe is recognising ourselves in others, building a global
community and celebrating our differences.

Where would you recommend SUITCASE readers visit, once travel
restrictions are lifted?

Travel restrictions pending, everyone should visit Beirut. It’s
terrible for people who are living there and trying to survive
right now. They’re in an economic crisis and need external money.
As a city it has an indescribable wealth of culture – delicious
food, great music, an exciting art scene – and right now there’s a
feeling of incredible resilience with people coming together in the
wake of some difficult times and rebuilding the city. Beyond the
city, there are beautiful mountains and the Mediterranean sea, of
course. It’s the dream. I could go on.

How and where do you find joy when things hang a little

I find headspace through regular yoga and meditation practice.
Sorry if this is a little cheesy, but I get a lot of joy from
hanging out with my brothers. They have this really funny dynamic
going on as none of them speak the same language. They’re all from
different cultures, different religions, completely different
backgrounds, but somehow it just all works.

They’re in Kent and I’m in south-east London which means I can
see them fairly easily. My youngest brother’s 13 and only joined
our family this year, but he’s doing amazingly all things
considered. He started school, joined a local football team and
he’s just been scouted by Crystal Palace F.C. which is really

Your favourite Instagram accounts?

One of my favourite accounts is @bluebaglife which tells the stories of those
struggling with addiction and poor mental health. It’s very
insightful. Also, @dosomethingfornothing which is actually run by my
partner, Josh. He’s a hairdresser who cuts hair for people living
on the streets. It’s all about sharing diverse life stories and
encouraging followers to help those in need.

What podcasts are you listening to at the moment?

Ear Hustle is brilliant. It’s a podcast produced by a former
prisoner of San Quentin State Prison, California. Each episode is a
one-on-one interview with a different prisoner in which they
discuss how they ended up there and what life is like for them.
You’d expect it all to be done over the phone but each episode is
recorded in an audio booth inside the prison.

What are you reading right now?

Well, I’ve just finished reading Man’s
Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
. He was interred in Nazi
concentration camps including Auschwitz during the Second World
War, and afterwards wrote this incredible meditation on people and
suffering. In brief, he writes that having a purpose in life will
help you to endure almost anything life throws at you. Even if you
have no material wealth or poor health, a sense of purpose is
intrinsic – it can’t be taken away from you.

What’s next for The Worldwide Tribe?

Season four of the podcast is coming out at some point between
now and Christmas; expect some really interesting interviews and
themes there. I can’t wait to share some of the stories I’ve been
rooting out over the past few months. I’m heading back to Calais
too. We’ve been fundraising for Mobile
Refugee Support
and the plan is to deliver 200 tents to the
camp, but it will also be good to just check in on how things are
going over there.

A lot of people may think the refugee crisis is over because it
isn’t receiving so much press coverage and the camp doesn’t exist
as it once was. It’s important to keep reminding people – through
powerful and inspirational storytelling – that the problem is far
from over and there’s still plenty of work to do. That’s the

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