You cannot sit with us” the well-known Mean Girls’ phrase that we often repeat jokingly, but is certainly more serious than it appears. In a world where everyone’s seeking validation, life becomes a hundred times harder when they end up with the opposite: bullying and humiliation. It works on all ages and it can make or break individuals, especially through teens and early adulthood. This is why an organization like Advice Seekers emerged in 2014, to raise awareness and install school interventions. We’ve talked with the Founder and CEO, Mostafa Ashraf, to share his insights after five years of operation.
Why and how did you start Advice Seekers?
I started Advice Seekers because I knew how it felt to be hated on and to be bullied every single day of your life. I also had a friend that unfortunately committed suicide. She was my only friend who not only stood up for me, but did everything to see me smile. I started Advice Seekers solely on my own, on Facebook, just so I can be there for the people that don’t have anyone to stand up for them.
Can you tell us more about your projects?
We have yearly campaigns in more than 100 schools around egypt that rely on nintey- minute-sessions involving activities, presentations, talks, videos and stories. Another project we’re currently working on is the Facebook videos on our page through which we try to entertain our audience, but at the same time educate them on mental health and anti bullying. The videos can be challenges with influencers, or videos of interviews with celebrities and so on. Our third –and newest– project is our annual conference that will be held on the 21 of June of this year, and will include many talks and performances.
Since you’ve been operating from 2014, how prominent have you found the issue of bullying in schools?
Bullying has been in schools since forever. However, before we started, there wasn’t really an organization or entity that came out and explained what bullying actually is. Some schools used to turn a blind eye to the fact that bullying exists. Yet I personally believe that bullying impacts all schools, and we need to come together as a community to spread more awareness. There was absolutely no awareness of bullying in 2014, but now through our movement and UNICEF’s help, it’s getting better.
Based on your experience with the intervention programs in schools, what are the common reasons that lead to the formation of a bully?
It always comes back to the background of the person: who he’s hanging out with, whether he was a victim of bullying at some point, whether he has problems at home, and so forth. It’s not always the bully’s fault to actually bully someone else, it can be about peer pressure.
How efficient do you think your interventions have been? And how do you measure it?
Our interventions are effective because we don’t just do one session or one campaign, we always return and do more. We measure our success through the feedback from schools: they help us know which points we need to work on.
What can you tell parents to avoid raising a bully?
Always be in your children’s lives; know everything about their days. Always listen to them, and never look down at your phone when they are telling you their stories. It all goes back to the home setting, so watch out for keywords and violent actions.
What can you tell parents whose child has been bullied?
To be there for them at all times; talk to them. Always have their backs. Go the school and demand they help your child.
How many schools have you worked with so far?
We have worked with 210 schools so far, and we’re still aiming for more.
Why do you think teenage bullying is that prominent?
Teenage bullying will always be an issue across the world. You have kids that are jealous, or want to show off in front of others. Kids that are always mean, or kids that want power in their hands, will always exist and it is more common in their teenage years.
What are your future aspirations and expectations?
The future is more awareness not just on bullying, but also on mental health. We want to include more topics in the future for on-ground campaigns and our Facebook page. We also have thirty volunteers, twenty five of who are women. We would love to have more. The more people we have the better we can spread our message.