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The Flame that Never Dies
Abdullah Arfa is one of Ideas Beyond Border’s brave translators who is dedicated to making knowledge more accessible to people around him.
It was a rainy afternoon in a remote village in northern Egypt, and I was getting ready to go home after all the patients were gone. As I was collecting my belongings to leave, a young man entered the clinic with a ticket for consultation. Little did I know that what I thought was just another patient visit would end up being an interaction that would change my whole mindset.
After telling me his complaints and symptoms, the patient told me that his friend advised him that the cure for his case lies in cupping therapy that is performed in a sophisticated center for the price of 500 USD. “Cupping therapy” is a form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin with the application of heated cups. It is meant to relieve muscle aches and pains. The patient told me, “This was too expensive for me, but I had to! I have had enough of this pain!” Before I could begin telling him that cupping is a pseudoscientific farce, he continued, “But I googled it and the first thing to pop up was a Wikipedia page that said it’s pseudoscience that doesn’t work so I didn’t!”
I was speechless. I myself edited the Wikipedia page he was referencing two months prior as part of the Bayt Alhekma 2.0 campaign against pseudoscience and misinformation. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that my work could actually impact people’s lives like this. Just one line in one article could affect thousands of lives. Thousands of people who otherwise may have been infected by HIV or Hepatitis C from cupping are now healthy, all thanks to one article.
Sometimes I lose hope amidst all of the propaganda, disinformation, and pseudoscience that is so easily circulated in the Middle East. I once thought that no matter what we do, the region won’t change. I thought the possibility for positive change died a long time ago. The young man who walked into the clinic that night completely changed my perspective. Our work does affect people. Our work reaches people in even the most remote villages. Our work matters.
Ideas Beyond Borders and Bayt Alhekma 2.0 are up against much more than just battling disinformation. When Covid-19 brought the world to its knees, disinformation was rampant. Anti-vaccine campaigns were everywhere on social media encouraging people not to get vaccinated. That’s when we stepped in. We launched a campaign to get true and accurate medical information about the virus to as many people as possible. We translated over 500,000 words worth of medical information, and we didn’t stop there. The Middle East does not only include Arab countries, so we translated the texts into Farsi, Kurdi and Urdu as well. Everyone in the world deserves access to knowledge. What they do with that knowledge, is up to them.
Despite our efforts, there is much more work yet to be done. Information and media systems in the Middle East are still inundated with propaganda. Our brave translators still face death threats and are often interrogated by the police. Some of them live in the middle of warzones and translate texts while listening to the sounds of explosions and fighter jets right outside their doors.
It is important to remember and to remind those who risk their lives to make information more accessible in the Middle East that their work matters. The knowledge that their work touches the lives of millions of people is not one to be glossed over. The Middle East has been associated with violence and instability for many decades. Ideas Beyond Borders is working to bring knowledge and awareness to the region once again. Teaching people in the Middle East about critical thinking and making more materials accessible to them is more effective at fighting terrorism and extremism than bombs and rocket shells. Ideas Beyond Borders is changing the Middle East one article at a time.
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