December 10, 2020
EP. 36 — Josie Naughton
This week, Jameela is joined by Josie Naughton, the CEO and one of the founding members of Choose Love – a charity dedicated to ending the refugee crisis. Together they discuss the harrowing journey a refugee makes and the challenges they face in the camps, Josie’s past and how anyone can make a difference, meeting Oprah and the pope, the Choose Love shops where you can buy needed supplies for a refugee, and how to make a change on a personal and a political level.
This holiday season, consider supporting refugees by shopping at choose.love.
For more information, go to https://www.instagram.com/chooselove
36 — Josie Naughton
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil. I hope you’re well. I always do. I do in particular now. And I know I keep bringing this up online and probably on this podcast. I speak so much, but I never remember where I said what. I’m just a very Chatty Cathy. But as Christmas comes closer, I am thinking of you all the time–all day, every day–because I know that this is such a weird time and it’s a time of supreme loneliness. We’ve been so conditioned by capitalism. And I know it’s annoying to talk about capitalism at Christmas and holidays and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I’m going to be that bitch. We have been programmed to believe that this has to be a time of great love, joy, parties, mince pie, tinsel, and fabulous, wonderful memories that we will carry forever. It’s supposed to just be like a fucking montage–a sappy montage of a great Christmas movie that Diane Keaton is in–but it’s often not, in or outside of a pandemic. Christmas is normally shit for me anyway. I spent most Christmases completely on my own–not with anyone. Or sometimes I’ve made the much better decision to just go on my own and work in a shelter, which many people can’t do because of COVID this year, but I hope we find some ways to support others. But I’m not very good at being jolly. I haven’t always been close to my family or sometimes close to friends. And so, if you’re feeling especially lonely right now, I guess I just want to reassure you and let you know that this time is going to pass. I know it’s been such a long year, so it doesn’t feel that way. But vaccines are coming, and we’re having some more responsible people in power, who are being more responsible with their power. And I feel as though we are coming out of this after this next brutal season. It’s going to be one more season of absolute bullshit, and we’re going to get through this together. So, if you are struggling right now, I’m just begging you to hang on. I’m begging you to remember that this is going to pass. I’m begging you to remember that very few people ever have a happy Christmas. And it’s okay if you don’t. And you’re not alone in that experience. You’re not the only one who feels lonely. Everyone feels like shit. And we just want it to be over, we want it to be next year already, and we want to be out with friends living our lives. And so, I’m with you. I’m going to be here on this podcast with you. I’m going to be online every single day, like the obsessive weirdo I am, trying to communicate with you, trying to cheer you up, trying to make you feel less alone. But you can do this. And I’ve survived so many lonely shit Christmases and thought I wouldn’t be able to deal with the pain any longer. And I came through the other side. And so just breathe, just watch Netflix or any other streaming platform that you like, listen to music, listen to podcasts, call the people that you can, and don’t feel pressure to enjoy yourself. Let’s just fucking survive. Another thing you can do if you are feeling lost, isolated, purposeless, and stuck is you can help other people. And that’s kind of why I chose today’s guest. She is someone who I’ve known for over a decade, and we grew up together as two messy English girls, who had stupid, nonsense dramas in our lives. And we were both just sort of struggling to find our purpose in this world. And as of five and a half years ago, both of us kind of stepped into a much more serious form of activism. And she went on to become truly a global icon in the name of helping people. Her name is Josie Naughton. She is one of the founders of Choose Love, and that is an incredible charity that helps support refugees who are being underserved by the countries that they have run away to/from–whichever war torn or terrifying place that they live. She’s the CEO of this incredible organization, and she not only helps people with finding shelter and with finding medicine but also telephones, jobs, schooling, and health care. She sets up makeshift hospitals in so many different countries around the world. She risks her life constantly to go and save the lives of so many others who are so in need. And she spends every single day–all day–educating people with more power and privilege than she has or that anyone has in order to force them to start seeing the refugee issue in this world as a humanitarian problem, not a political problem. And she is going to talk to us today about all of the ways in which this work has not only saved the lives of others, but it’s saved her life and given her purpose and meaning and just completely transformed to a human being–but also ways in which you can maybe join in, and we can all participate in this thing that can only possibly make us feel less alone. This is my favorite episode of the podcast so far. I got well emotional, which is very un-English of me. I’m not even on my period. I am just so in awe of her. I’ve never known, met, or even heard of anyone like her. What she’s done–what she is–what I’ve watched her go through is just so profound. Her story is so amazing. And I really think she’s going to be remembered forever. So, it’s a huge thrill, an honor to have her on this podcast. And so hopefully this might inspire you to a) feel like maybe helping other people even from a distance, even if it’s just a pound or a dollar that you can spare, might add a little something to your day and make you feel as though you have a bit of purpose, you can empower someone else, you can help, and there’s something warm, nice, and humane to distract you with. But also, you’ll realize from listening to her that she’s just an ordinary woman who has chosen to live an extraordinary life. And she doesn’t come from privilege, and she doesn’t come from a huge educational background. She’s not a politician. She’s done this purely from just caring so much. And I think that makes her story even more empowering and inspiring–and it reminds me of how much more all of us could do to just help even one other person. I hope you love this episode as much as I do. I’m so excited to hear what you think. And please message me as you always do. And the message Josie over at Choose Love. Oh, and also–we’re going to talk about it some more in the episode–but I cannot stress enough how much I want you to join me in… Once you’ve heard about it in this episode and understood it, she has an online store called choose.love, where you can buy really vital resources for refugees. And you can buy them almost as if it’s a Christmas present for a friend. So, let’s all join in on this. Instead of stressing out the postal systems and contributing to more and more rich people who don’t help people, get even fucking richer–why don’t we all…? Because that’s all I’m doing this year; no one is getting shit from me. Everyone is getting a donation in their name to choose.love. And the presents are unbelievable. I’ve been buying them for years every single Christmas. I can’t wait for you to see the website, but for now let her explain it to you herself. She’s fucking incredible. I can’t believe she’s real. It’s insane. Anyway, loads of love to you. I’m here with you, and I’m excited for you to meet my friend, Josie Naughton. Bloody hell. Everyone, I’ve gone and gotten an actual saint on my podcast. I have a real-life modern-day saint on the I Weigh podcast with Jameela Jamil. It’s my friend, my hero, and my icon, Josie Naughton. Hello.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:07:39] Hello, Saint Jameela Jamil.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:07:41] Shut up. I won’t have the shit from you anymore. I will no longer tolerate you saying I’m doing anything helpful in the world when you are just… Oh, God. You’re saving the planet. I’m so excited to have you here. I miss you so much. I haven’t seen you in, like, a year.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:07:57] I miss you. I know. It’s crazy. Who would have thought?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:08:01] No, I know. We were tackling what we thought were, you know, as hard as things could get. And then things just got so much harder. And I can’t imagine what in your line of work that has looked like and been like. So, let’s just kick off first of all and explain who you are. You are, I’d say, the founder or one of a few founders of Help Refugees, also known as Choose Love. And will you just explain to us exactly what you do?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:08:27] Of course. So, yeah, the way I describe myself is co-founder and CEO of Choose Love. And we started five and a half years ago in response to the refugee crisis in 2015, which is when a million people arrived in Europe seeking sanctuary mainly from Syria, but also from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, and South Sudan. And we were a group of people who just wanted to do something to help. We wanted to raise £1,000 and one van load of, like, tents and sleeping bags and take them to Calais in northern France. And the links that we set up–they went viral. We ended up raising £56,000 in a week instead of £1,000. And we set up an Amazon wish list of tents and sleeping bags, and we ended up receiving 7,000 packages a day. And then we were like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do with all of this stuff?” We had no idea who we’re going to give it to. And we went to northern France and expected to find a big aid organization taking care of people. And what we found actually was, at that time, 5,000 people living in a field that was, like, mud up to your knees. People didn’t have tents. If they had a tent at all, it was a crappy tent with holes in it. There were families. Children–they didn’t have diapers. People didn’t have shoes on. And you just couldn’t unsee what we’d seen. And we ended up partnering with a local French organization, renting a warehouse, starting a distribution system–a shelter building program–funding teachers and medical. And to cut a really long story short, we are five and a half years later. We now work in 15 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and the US-Mexico border, filling the gaps in protections and services for refugees and displaced people, of which, unfortunately, there are so many. We work with 120 different partner organizations, we’ve reached over a million people, and we’ve raised $43 million.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:31] Fucking insane. And you know what? There are, like, a billion– Honestly, I want to cry every time I hear about what you’ve achieved because I’m so fucking proud of you and in awe of you. But also, I’m genuinely, like, getting emotional because what makes your story even more profound is that you don’t come from this, like, big political background. You don’t come from a hugely connected background. We grew up the same way, and you did not have help. You were working in show business up until that moment. And that was a really bonding moment for you and me, where you were like, “I think I want to leave this industry that feels like it’s just not really, you know, fair enough.” Show business, music, all these different things–they make people feel better temporarily. But you felt like you weren’t really being able to make a difference in the world, and you just abandoned your career overnight, it felt like. And within three months of that first van that you drove to try and help refugees, you had left your entire career–just an ordinary woman with an extraordinary capacity for empathy, love, and humanity, who has gone on to do something that has changed people’s lives. I’ve met people now who have been changed because of the work that you’ve done–who now have a house to live in, who have education, who are going on to, like, receive their doctorates and to be able to qualify to work in other countries. I’m someone, you know, whose parents were able to leave their situation and move over to the United Kingdom and start again. And therefore, my brother and I had opportunities that they didn’t have. I feel so passionately about people being able to start a better life somewhere else. And it means the world to me what you do. And so, you know, it’s a bit more serious than I normally am on my sofa, but, like, you know.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:12:21] You’re making me cry. But, you know, this isn’t just me. This is absolutely a movement. And in that moment in 2015– And there’s a particular moment when the photo of the boy Alan Kurdi, who lost his life– He was three, and there’s a photo of him when he washed up on the shore of Turkey. It caused an explosion of compassion, I think, in people. And it humanized an issue that had been so politicized. And “Oh, no, this is just about people.” And for me, I felt like it was a privilege to end up… Like, life happened. It ended up that I was suddenly in Calais in a refugee camp. And it sounds stupid, but you see numbers all the time. And when I was looking at human beings in the eyes, it’s like it could be my mom, it could have been me, or if I had kids, they could have been my kids. It’s like, “Holy shit, this is just people.” It’s brilliant and amazing to do a degree in this sector and all of those things, of course. But in a way, actually to understand all of this, the only experience you need is to be a human being. And that is what this is all about. This is just about humanity and love–hence Choose Love. But I really feel like this is just a total privilege. And we’ve been very lucky as an organization. And all of the partner organizations we work with–they are the real heroes in the frontline. Indeed, the displaced people–the bravery and the strength that it takes when you have had everything taken away from you, when you have lost family members–to then still push forward and that, like, drive for life is something that is so inspiring. And I feel completely changed and lucky to get to see that every day.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:14:26] Can we talk about that journey? Because, you know, you keep saying that it’s politicized, and it’s so true. And I think deliberately the heroic nature of the journey in which you, perhaps as a parent, are risking the lives of your two, like, sometimes infants, putting them on a boat or in the back of a truck, and having no idea, like, what you’re going to find on the other end if you even make it to the other end. We never talk about the bravery of that story because the government don’t want us to find it noble. They don’t want us to see it as acceptable, even–never mind a mark of complete not only desperation, but, I mean, it’s extraordinary what it is these people have had to do. So, will you break down, like, an example of what people have to do and what the situation would be like? Let’s take Syria, for example. What was happening there that forced people, and what was that journey like for those people?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:15:21] So there are different stories from different countries, but in a way it’s all the same story. But in Syria, the regime began turning against its own people–bombing people also with the support of Russia and Iran. And I mean, we’ve all seen the footage. We’ve seen things like the White Helmets film that people can watch on Netflix. But I mean, towns decimated. Chemical weapons have been used. People have been put in prison–tortured. I mean, the number of detainees is just heartbreaking. I mean, the situation–the war–has been going for years and years. And, you know, even the word “war” is a complicated thing because this is a government turning on its own people. And what do you do? You have a child, you can’t stay. What is going to happen to it? It may not survive. So, you have no choice but to risk your life. And now, actually, in Idlib, in Syria, the borders are so hard closed that there are millions of people–a million children–who are just stuck there. And there are bombs still falling, and they’ve got nowhere to go. And we’re very lucky to get to work with organizations who are there, trying to keep people alive.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:16:39] I mean, you literally fund ambulances that pull children out of the rubble, and they pull families out, right?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:16:44] Right. We have done, yeah. We were very lucky to begin working with the White Helmets in 2015, who literally–when a bomb drops, rather than run away–they go in, they pull people out of the rubble, and they save people’s lives. But you imagine people are leaving on foot–they have to just pick a few of their belongings if there are belongings left–and they are making these journeys. Some people don’t have any money at all. I mean, it’s going through countries after countries on all different forms of transport, a lot of walking, a lot of not having food, a lot of not having water. There’s unfortunately a lot of exploitation that happens to people.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:22] Like what? What do you mean?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:17:24] Well, I mean, it’s difficult. Those people are forced to do jobs that they’re not being paid properly for in order to get the money that’s going to get them to be able to travel further on that journey, and different things happen. There’s a lot of very heartbreaking stories and unfortunately, a lot of sexual violence.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:17:44] I was going to say, like, I’ve heard a lot of stories of girls and boys–people who are forced into kind of prostitution that wouldn’t even be paid for. They’re just what’s essentially sex slavery. Yeah.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:17:57] Yeah, there’s awful stories. And particularly in Libya, there’s the prisons and slavery. You can’t ask people sometimes for these stories because it’s too traumatic, so yeah. I probably wouldn’t want to share examples, but we can all imagine the kind of things that are happening. And families get separated. There are kids on their own. Something I didn’t know when this all happened was what an unaccompanied child was, but that’s a term. And in the sector, there’s an acronym U.A.M. But no, these are children on their own. And I’ve met kids who are eight–completely by themselves–who have lost their family, they’re doing this journey, and it’s just heartbreaking. And people have gone through Turkey, then the only way to get to Europe is on a boat. These boats are obviously not legal because people’s passports have been told, “No, your passport doesn’t count anymore. You are not a human being in the same way as everybody else.” And so, there are smugglers. These boats, they’re like dinghies. And often the smugglers will put double the amount of people on these dinghies than the dinghies would be safe for. And people are given lifejackets. We’ve seen lifejackets that are not even real lifejackets. They’re, like, made with fake polystyrene, and they actually can hold the water, so people sink more. There’s not anyone on the boats to drive the boats. You have to drive them. There’s so many different things of why it can go wrong. And then people are on these boats, doing this journey. It’s so dangerous. And then we see people losing their lives because the boat sinks, because the boat gets into trouble, because of the weather, because of the life jackets. Anyway, we work at the crossing between Turkey and Greece and also Libya and Italy, supporting amazing organizations like SOS med and Refugee Rescue, an organization who we’ve worked with for a very long time. But yeah, people drown. I get lost for words in thinking about the things that people have to go through and how lucky we are that we haven’t been dealt that hand of cards.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:25] Hundred percent.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:20:28] You know, there’s a saying that gets talked about a lot–but I think it’s really true–that you wouldn’t put your child in the water unless it was safer than the land. And you just wouldn’t. People just wouldn’t. And as I talked about, you know, lots of people will say, “Oh, well, there’s no war in Turkey.” But there is a lot of human rights abuses. And if you haven’t been given your legal status, well, then the only employment you can have is not employment at all. That’s exploitation. They have no choice. And then they arrive in Europe, and you would think–and I’m sure they probably think as well–that there will be some form of welcome and they are absolutely within their rights to claim protection, to claim asylum. But unfortunately, over the last five years, we’ve seen the environment become so much more hostile. If we take the Greek islands as an example, you arrive, and you are put into one of the camps on the islands. But the camps are so over capacity. So, you’ll be registered and then put there–you’ll be given a geographical restriction, so you can’t leave the island. And you’re put into a camp thanks to grass roots partners. If there wasn’t any space available, which there won’t be, you’ll be given a tent–perhaps a pallet if you’re lucky so that your tent isn’t directly on the floor. There’s very little in the way of access to water, to toilets. Again, as grassroots organizations who we work with, who work night and day–volunteers who are, you know, trying to find solutions, putting in toilets, putting in showers, trying to find ways for there to be hot water, leveling the land. Often in these places, it’s, like, on hills. And it’s so dangerous. People don’t have shoes; they don’t have clothes. If they get sick, there’s not proper access to medical care. And you could be there for years. And then COVID on top of this. Now, you know, we were very lucky to work with amazing community centers and women’s centers who offer some respite from that camp where people are living. But of course, because of COVID, they’re not able to be open. And everyone’s incredible, adaptive, flexible, and trying to take services online and do distributions in a different way. But people have been on lockdown in camps. They haven’t been able to leave. They’re not able to follow the rules that we’re being told we need to do to protect ourselves and protect our families. You can’t isolate, you can’t self-isolate. You can’t, you know, isolate the vulnerable because you might have ten people, four generations, in one tent in the winter. It’s freezing cold. We’re coming into winter now, and this is going to be our sixth winter since we began. So, it’s really bleak. You might be desperately trying to reach your family, who you got separated from them. And they’ve managed to reach another country, but you need to get a lawyer. The process is bureaucratic. It’s complicated. Like I said, we talked about unaccompanied children. There are unaccompanied children living here.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:23:50] Who are so vulnerable, by the way, just to the worst possible people with the worst possible agendas, who would massively benefit from funding an unaccompanied child. The things that we’re reading–even just out of what’s happening at the border in the United States–the people that prey on the vulnerable in those situations is just terrifying.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:24:08] It’s really terrifying. And there are people with disabilities. What kind of world do we live in where someone who has lost their legs in war is being asked to live in a tent on a hill? I don’t understand it. And actually, these numbers–they aren’t as big as everyone thinks. And sometimes you start to think– Like, in the UK at the moment there’s been a lot of talk about the channel between the UK and France. And some of the things that the government has been talking about to stop these crossings is, like, putting wave machines in the sea, taking people off to other islands thousands of miles away and keeping them there. At what point does just thinking about what a human solution might look like become the easier option? Something has gone so wrong. And then we keep talking about protecting borders and building walls but never talking about protecting human beings.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:25:09] Yeah. And I think a really important conversation to have this year of all–and we’ve seen even some of the worst human beings on public British television admit to this–it’s been fucking immigrants who’ve come through and saved people’s lives this year. Your frontline workers, your NHS workers, your nurses, the people cleaning up all of the dead bodies out of the hospitals or looking after your grandmother–those people are very often immigrants.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:25:42] Yeah. 100%. I have a great, great friend called Hassan Akkad, who is from Syria. He did the journey himself. There’s actually an amazing documentary you can watch called Exodus. He filmed his journey. So, if you want to see what the journey is like, you can literally see. And he did that crossing between Greece and Turkey, and he nearly drowned. And you can see it all. And he was in Calais. He and I actually ended up meeting on the news in 2015, and he became an amazing spokesperson and advocate. He won a BAFTA, actually, for his filming of his journey in Exodus. But when COVID happened–I remember so vividly–he texted me and said, “I want to volunteer. I want to help.” And he ended up working in frontline ICU COVID wards, cleaning the ward every day. And he did a video, and it ended up going viral. But he was literally risking his life every single day–saving lives–working in a COVID ward. People politicize this word “refugee.” Well, here is an example of, like, literally a hero. There aren’t many people like him on this earth. That is who a refugee is.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:27:04] I mean, just the strength of what it would take to be someone who can make it over to the other side. Again, when I read the news and the ways in which they talk about them and they make them sound like these– I mean, it’s classic. This is rhetoric that’s been used back in, like, Nazi Germany. This is so old fashioned and so archaic. But they will convince the British public–who they have not exposed any of the empathetic or humane side of these people in their stories to them–that these people are parasites who are coming over to steal your jobs, to rape your women, to bring up crime in the streets, like, they’re coming over here to trouble. No, they are escaping trouble. And yes, a minority of any fucking group of human beings, however marginalized even they may be, may be responsible for some sort of crime or bad behavior. But there’s no group in the world that is responsible. But we are all prone to some sort of bad behavior. And then on top of that, especially when it’s a marginalized group, what was the system that pushed them into a situation where they needed to steal, or they have been so dehumanized themselves that they go and do something that is dehumanized in itself? We never think of the cause, just the symptom. So, what we do is we take those minority of offenses, right? The five or six cases, maybe even, that happen. And we pummel the news with them. And we put them fucking everywhere and repeat the same story again and again and again and again to drum up fear against these people. They think that all Syrians, all people, all refugees from all over–especially if they’re from a Muslim country–they’re all here to try and, like, radicalize the West, steal, cheat, lie, and attack. We see it with the trans community. I’ve seen it happen to Muslims since 9/11. They’ll take the minority of us and use it to… I’m not a Muslim now, but, like, you know.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:29:04] Yeah, it’s really fucked up. And you can see how thought through all of this is. That’s what I think is also so scary. This, like, shift in politics that we’re seeing–you can see the same narrative and the same language being used. It’s, like, a tried and tested thing. And then they’re going to write, “That worked. That will get us into power. No worry about the human cost, what that does, or–I don’t want to say radicalizing–how we’re kind of changing mentalities and how people are treating people.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:29:39] It’s brainwashing. We just saw it happen with Brexit. We saw them fearmonger people into leaving Europe.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:29:52] Yeah, it’s insane. And, you know, just on that point, I always feel like I’m in such a privileged position in my job because we get to work with so many amazing organizations in so many different countries and have this kind of, like, umbrella view. But the themes that are just everywhere–every community center that we work in–you walk in and you just see the art that the community is doing. There’s just so much talent. You go into the informal education spaces, and the kids are desperate to learn. And I’m always like, “Hold up. When I was a kid, I was so uninterested in school.” And these kids are like, “I want to be a doctor. I want to be a teacher. I want to be a CEO.” And you walk in a camp, and you are like, “This is hell.” And you hear music. And someone will invite you into their tent or shelter for tea, and they’ve made some amazing way of cooking. I can only just cook pasta, and they’re cooking, like, incredible feasts. Just the humanity and the love that you feel everywhere–this is this is not what is being talked about in the news. It’s actually like a different world.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:19] And something I love about what you do with Choose Love is that–we’ve spoken about this before, just the two of us–you don’t play into the kind of white savior role. It’s all about empowering these people who you consider to be incredibly brave, strong, and dignified–who you know, from experience, to be brave, strong, and dignified. We’re going to get into this in a minute, but there are so many ways in which, like, Josie, her team, and the whole organization are encouraging you just to further empower these people–not to save them, not to rescue them, to empower them to save themselves. And you walk into one of the Choose Love stores, which again, we will explain in a minute. But you walk into any of those or any of the exhibitions that you guys have put on, and you will see pictures of happy children, you will see pictures of children at school, children laughing, children smiling. It’s this very humane, happy… You know, you rarely walk into any kind of charitable institution, and you don’t see kind of, like, poverty porn or distressed trauma porn. And they’re using these incredibly extreme and sad images in order to try and provoke empathy. Whereas, what I feel like you’ve done is made the decision to choose love and to promote hope. You’re showing people the future rather than the present.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:32:34] Yes. Well, it means that you can feel that and see that. I don’t think we need to show those poverty porn images in order to invoke empathy. And actually, they can do more harm than good. And it’s really important to show people with agency, with humanity, smiling, and–like you say–with hope. But we’re also not perfect. And the very concept of aid and humanitarian support–there’s, like, a power imbalance. There’s so much that needs to be looked at. You know, we called ourselves Help Refugees when we began. And actually, after Black Lives Matter, we, like everyone, had a real moment of reflection and reflected that it was a problematic name for an organization. The word “help” is problematic, and so that’s why we’re moving over to “Choose Love.” That is a much more inclusive, unifying name and reflective of the equal world that we are trying to work towards. Our mission is a world that chooses love and justice every day for everyone, and Help Refugees didn’t really reflect that. But I also think that the only way that we’re going to move forward, and the progress is going to happen is if we, like, have love for everyone, we give people the benefit of the doubt, we have conversations, and we make people think hope is possible. There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t care–but people can just find it too much. And I think you need to make people believe that change is possible. And not everyone can give up their whole lives, fly to another country, and volunteer on the front line. But they can donate £10, $10, and actually that makes more difference than they can imagine. And we need to empower people to believe that, I think.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:34:42] 100%. And before we get into exactly how my listeners can engage with what you do, where does this come from in you? We were two party girls. Like, you know, we were just in the Holy Arms at four o’clock in the morning. You know, we didn’t used to speak like this. Is it okay that I’m saying this?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:35:03] Yeah!
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:35:05] It’s just that it’s funny. Like, we had that same kind of call to arms at the same time, in, like, 2015, in different areas. Mine was towards mental health. Yours was towards this incredible fucking cause that’s changing lives in ways I can’t even conceive of. But we both had that sort of turn around. And the reason I like talking about that is because I think there are a lot of people out there who either think you have to be a famous actress, like me, to be able to start to make a difference. Or you have to have always felt this way or always been this person. You can never have been problematic. You can never have been a mess. You can never have been selfish. We’ve both been problematic, selfish messes in our lives. Like, we’ve both come out of an immense amount of trauma in our own personal lives that we had to work our ways through in order to get to this place of clarity where we can now start to give to other people. You and I have both fallen the fuck apart before in front of each other. We went through a lot in front of each other. I think we always cared about people. I think we always had that empathy. But we didn’t care the way that we do now. We didn’t inform ourselves the way that we do now. I listen to you talk, and I fucking love listening to the way that you talk and listening to how much you expand my mind every time we speak. But it’s so funny to me how different this is to the conversations you and I were having ten years ago.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:36:26] I mean, it’s hysterical.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:36:28] It is hysterical. Before, I feel like I would, like, come and see you and be like, “I love someone, and they don’t love me back! What am I going to do?”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:36:40] I know. And I’d just be sitting there, covered in ships, unable to leave my house.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:36:45] But I do think that’s important. Like, you know, I didn’t even finish my degree. I dropped out. I dropped out of university because I was really struggling. And I worked in a bar.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:36:57] I don’t even have GCSE. I just go on.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:37:02] But people think that in order to make a difference in the world or in order to be allowed to be in some spaces, you have to have done X, Y and Z and you have to have X, Y and Z degree. And of course, that’s amazing to have those things. Education is everything. But also, I think we just have to be human. And just talking with normal words is really important. And you know, I said that thing earlier about when unaccompanied minors are talked about as “UAMs,” you can see how the whole system starts to forget that they’re real people because UAM doesn’t make you think of a child by themselves. And it’s actually sometimes I think kind of an asset to just come at this with an element of naivety and have just had to learn on the job. And I’m very lucky to work with so many incredibly knowledgeable people here, who I still learn from every day. But it is important that people know that anyone can do anything, and anyone can make a difference.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:10] And you don’t have to be in power to be able to empower another human being. I think that’s something that’s just really, really important. And, you know, people watch me fuck up constantly. I make mistakes publicly and this, that, and the other. But the reason I keep going is because I think it’s really important that you can see that I’m just an ordinary, fairly ignorant woman, who’s just fucking determined to try and help other people. Even when people are like, “We don’t want your help, you’re annoying,” I’m like, “I don’t care, I’m not going to leave until I can break down this system, shut down this law, or this, that, and the other.”
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:38:44] You’re just my hero.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:38:45] No. I mean, let’s not do this again. We do this in my kitchen every time we see each other. You’re my queen, my God. But my point being is that I’m determined to show people that you don’t have to be super educated, you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to get everything right all the time, you don’t have to have never made a mistake to still be able to go on and make an effort until the day that you die to help other people.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:39:09] Yeah, no, it’s true. Every life is a work in progress. You know, the first time that I went to Calais, and I went to a refugee camp, I took sweets. I gave the kids sweets, and then someone said to me, “You can’t do that. There’s, like, so many reasons that’s not appropriate, one of which is that they don’t have toothbrushes and toothpaste. You’re actually fucking up their teeth.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:31] Oh my God.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:39:34] And as we’ve developed as an organization, we now have safeguarding policies. Do no harm is an absolute bottom-line principle of humanitarian work and for us as an organization.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:39:50] Can you expand on that? What do you mean by “do no harm”?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:39:54] Well, “do no harm” is like you might think that you were doing good, but are you actually doing harm? So, you might think that you’re doing a nice thing by giving kids sweets. But actually, you’re not helping their diet, you’re going to rot their teeth. You know, you need to think about the long-term consequences of something. We ask ourselves a lot–when we are giving people tents and shelter in an area where the police will come and evict them from those tents and shelter–“Is it still the right thing to do to give them those tents if it could lead to, like, police violence?” These are really hard conversations that our partners have to have about what is right, what is wrong, what does love look like, what does justice look like. It’s a really complicated area to work in.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:48] And ever updating.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:40:50] And this is it. It’s ever updating. And it’s so important to hold others accountable, to hold ourselves accountable, and then–I think you’re the best at this–to not be afraid of learning and criticism. And, yeah, the person that I was five years ago, who knew literally nothing about this, has only been able to get to this point by trying our best and by working with others.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:25] And taking a lot of criticism on the chin and just carrying on.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:41:28] Taking criticism on the chin. Yeah.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:30] So how can people out there now–someone who’s sitting in their bedroom, they’re 17 years old, they’re hearing this, and they’re galvanized by it. What would you suggest are steps that they could take? Somebody that’s like, “I have no idea about the refugee crisis, this is my first time really hearing about it beyond a terrifying fear mongering headline in a right-wing media newspaper. What can I do?” What are some things that they could do?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:41:54] I mean, there are so many things. The first thing that I would say to do is to read up on it. I would suggest coming to our Instagram page and our website.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:06] Great
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:42:09] Something that we always do is we talk about our partner organizations because it is our partners who are actually doing the work. And then I would suggest clicking through onto those organizations and learning more about their work and people working in different countries.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:23] And what’s your website?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:42:25] It’s choose.love.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:27] Yes. Perfect.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:42:29] That’s nice and easy to remember. And @chooselove on socials. And then you can click through. And then, you know, I think if people want to volunteer again, you can find that information out through our platforms. During COVID, most of our partners have had to really work on a skeleton team. So, there’s not as much volunteering, but I imagine, you know, later next year hopefully that that will be able to happen again. And I think volunteering in people’s local areas–even at food banks, at refugee welcome communities–you can just find that on Google. And then is this a good time for me to talk about the Choose Love Shop?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:43:06] 100%. Truly what I’m gearing towards.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:43:08] Great. Amazing. Thank you. I didn’t take the push. So, in 2016 our organization was very lucky to be the charity partner of The Guardian newspaper, and it raised three quarters of £1,000,000. And that went out in days and weeks on tents, on firewood, to keep people warm during the winter. And the following winter, we just were freaking out about how we were going to meet the needs again in all of these camps. We’d seen how cold winter is. It never even occurred to me–imagining being a human being, sleeping outside in the snow, in a tent. I mean, all of your stuff gets wet in the rain, you have nowhere to dry it, and you can’t get dry. I mean, it doesn’t bear thinking about. The work our partners are doing is so important. And we were thinking, “What would be a cool, creative way to fundraise?” Refugee crisis wasn’t in the news anymore, and we thought about that Amazon wish list that we’d done in right at the beginning. A friend of mine actually had the idea on his honeymoon. He was like, “What if the Amazon wish list was actually a physical shop?” And we opened a shop in London in Soho called The Choose Love Shop, where you come in and you see the items that we’re distributing on the ground–like a child’s winter coat, a child’s winter boots, a hygiene pack that has toothbrush, toothpaste, sanitary products for women, a tent, a sleeping bag, or items that represent the services we provide, like a school bag or a life jacket that represented search and rescue. The school bag represented education programs. And you come in, you buy those items, and you leave with nothing. And then we distribute them in the different countries that we’re working. We always buy locally to support local economies. It’s better for the environment. And you can get gift cards. This year we have amazing ECards. We have an online version of the store as well. Last year we were in LA, New York, and London. But because of COVID, we’re not in the States. We’ll be back next year, though. But if you can go on to choose.love–or if you’re in the U.K., we also have a store on Carnaby Street–and you can browse through. You can buy clean and safe water for someone for $30. You can buy warm winter clothes for $25. You can buy a COVID pack that has support for medical care, PPE, and masks for people for $40. You can buy hot food for $15. You can buy a tent for $25. And I can tell you, hand on heart, that that money is going to go straight out the door–the full amount that you donate–that item or something incredibly, incredibly similar within days and weeks.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:45:53] And you guys think of everything. I swear, last year I was buying, like, satellite phones. That was one of the bundles that you had. Or nappies, or women’s hygiene and sort of sanitary care. Like, there are all these things that we just don’t even fucking think about. I was walking around looking at all of these utter basics–toilet roll, etc. I was like, “Fuck me. These are the very basics of what human beings need.” You have little tooth care kits. You know, you’ve thought of everything. And I love the idea that I’m not donating just a random sum of money, which also people can do and should do because–fuck me–this company is so clean. I mean, listen to her speak. Listen to this fucking woman. Every single penny makes it to the people who need it the most. But also, it is so amazing to physically, tangibly look at what you are buying for someone. There’s also school equipment. You really just kind of cover everything that someone could need to just basically start their life.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:47:00] Yeah, and it’s really important. I think something that we really always want people to think about is that an individual has so many needs and we as human beings have so many needs. And it’s not okay for someone to just, you know, have a tent and a sleeping bag. People shouldn’t live in refugee camps at all. And that’s why we have “accommodations” as one of the items. It’s slightly more expensive, but for those who can afford it, that’s an amazing thing to buy–to support people to actually start their new life. But, you know, think of all the trauma. We’re all talking about wellbeing and having therapy. But imagine if you’ve been through all of the things that these people have been through. It’s really important that we’re also funding mental health support. And it’s really important if you are separated from your family and you are living in a refugee camp that you have a legal right to be with your family member in another country. You need a lawyer, so legal services is something that we have in the shop. And we really want to also take people on a journey in thinking about these people as whole human beings. And it’s really important that we support them the whole way through that journey. And they need all the same things we all need for ourselves or that we would expect for our families. And that’s something I feel so grateful for about the stories. We get people messaging in, you know, saying that their family is sitting with their kids and they’re spending time talking through it. It puts them in the shoes of someone else. Or today in the physical store in the UK, apparently a Syrian family came in who are now, like, resettled here. And they wanted to come in and support those who haven’t been able to make it as far. It’s so inspiring to me that people respond well to the shop and people care. And, you know, I know it’s been a hard year for everybody. And not everyone has money that they can give away, so just, you know, read up about refugee crisis, talk about it to your family. But if you are able to, we are so, so grateful. And I can’t express how great the needs are this winter. It’s getting so cold already, and COVID is really breaking out. And yeah, like I said before, I promise you that the money is going to go exactly where it’s needed, and we will really honor our responsibility of your trust in us.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:34] There are hundreds of thousands of you who listen to this podcast. And if all of us just gave, like, $1 each or £1 each, we would make such a significant difference to so many people’s lives, even if it’s just that–even if it’s just a pound or a dollar. If you’ve got that to spare, then join me in this. And, you know, I’ll be donating. I don’t just feel passionate about it, but also, it’s one of the few charities I’ve met where I know–through to the bone–it’s good. And I trust you. And I’ve seen what you do. And I have known you for such a long time. And I know where your heart is. And I know how many times you have gone without sleep or without food or traveling and sobbing, you know, in the middle of a camp somewhere because you feel as though you’re still not doing enough. I know how big your aspirations are. I’ve watched the way that you hold some of the most powerful people in the world. I mean, Jose is fucking shameless. It’s unbelievable. And she does it with the sweetest– She’s got this, like, beautiful angel face, she’s so smiley, and she uses the word stunning all the time. It’s disarming. And you don’t realize that she’ll just, like, get in your face and be like, “Hi, can you do this thing because you’ve got loads of privilege and power? So can you use it to help these people who are being discriminated against unfairly?” And it is the most fucking boss shit I have ever seen. And the people that you end up meeting… I mean, you met the fucking Pope, for Christ’s sake. And you managed to wear your Choose Love t-shirt in the picture.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:51:20] It wasn’t a bet, but someone said to me… I found out that Oprah Winfrey was going to be in London, and I, like, forced myself to be invited to the party. I had a bag ready for her. And I, like, made a beeline and was like, “Hi, I just have to introduce myself for one minute. I have to tell you about what’s happening in Greece in these camps and what’s happening in the Middle East right now. And here is a T-shirt for you. And if there’s any way that you’d wear it, I’d be so grateful.” I got her assistant’s email, and I sent an email about what we do. And then I didn’t hear back. And then Oprah wore the t-shirt on Instagram, and I literally nearly died. And it resulted in so many t-shirts being bought, that message being spread, and so much funding being available for the grants. I will be forever grateful to her. If I ever meet her again–if I’m ever in the same room and I accost her again–I will tell her how grateful I am.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:22] This work requires. And I know that because I spend my life getting in the faces of people, sometimes screaming at them in public or on Twitter and Instagram or going to powerful social media companies. You have to not feel embarrassed because what you’re doing isn’t embarrassing. What they are doing or not doing is embarrassing. And it’s so important that we start to look at that. Our generation is kind of shifting our collective consciousness towards looking at capitalism as ugly, looking at hoarding of wealth as disgusting, looking at celebrities as pointless and fucking gross–all of these things that make complete sense–the things that we aspire towards are now things that we find tacky and grotesque. I think that we are moving towards more of a collective understanding that these people in power, who are in the trillions now or billions and billions, have all this ability to change the ways in which algorithms send information our way or to hold media giants to account–they’re not doing it. That inaction is an action. It’s an action of giving no fucks and maintaining the pain and suffering of these people who are innocent.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:53:41] It’s a choice. It’s a choice. These policies that are being put in place–that wall that has been built between the US and Mexico and the ICE teams–that’s a policy. That’s a choice. The police that we see on the French UK border that tear gas refugees–that is somebody’s choice. It is somebody’s choice that there are camps on the Greek islands where there are–at some points last year–20,000 people in a space for 3,200 people. That is someone’s choice. It is a result of somebody’s choice that kids are drowning in the sea. And we have to start talking about this. And everyone has to really remember that we all have a choice. And it’s, like, another kind of cringe saying, but I do think it’s true–if not now, when? Like, if there was ever a time for us to all stand up, it’s now. And that’s why I’m always so inspired by you, Jameela, because it’s always now for you. Incredible.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:54:48] I’m very intense. So, you mentioned earlier in the podcast that you guys can provide aid forever and that can just be what you do. But if we don’t change this on a fundamental political level, we’re not really going to make any tremendous progress–we’re not really going to be able to change the system. What does that entail? Huge question, I know. But it is important because I think people need to know, like, what fundamentally needs to change. What in this world needs to shift–not just in our psyche, but also just in our actual systems? What needs to change?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:55:31] I mean, it’s a deep question. And I’ll try my best to answer it in a kind of concise way.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:40] Is there hope for change, really?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:55:41] There is 1,000% hope for change.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:55:43] Right.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:55:45] I really believe that change is coming. And I believe that a shift in consciousness is happening. But it’s only going to happen if people stand up, if people fight, if people are peacefully fighting. For us, this is our sixth winter since we began. And very much there can be a feeling of like, “God, we’re not making anything better.” We’re giving our sleeping bags; we’re giving out tents–or our partners are–but it’s exactly the same as it was six years ago. It might be different people. It might not be different people. But it’s the same shit, different day. What are we doing? Why are we doing this? Are we part of the system? Are we just facilitating the system? Are people making money from all of this? I mean, you do start to sometimes have a bit of existential crisis. But I firmly believe that while people–human beings–are in need, while they are cold, while they are hungry, we have to meet those needs. But we also do have to make that space to look at why are they there in the first place? And that’s very often because of foreign policy. It’s because of root causes. It’s because we sell arms. It’s because of profiteering. I mean, there are so many foreign policies that are what causes war. It’s because of systems of oppression. It’s because of colonialism. I mean, we need to unpack all of these things. And it’s amazing that those conversations are happening now. But then also, you know, in the kind of real day-to-day terms, for us, especially in the camps that we are working in there, there are policies that exist right now that are making that happen. And sometimes there’s international law being broken. And so, for us as an organization, we need to really make sure that we’re looking at strategies to hold governments to account–where possible, litigate against those governments, fund lawyers. It’s really important that, I think, wherever we’re funding humanitarian work, we have to also be funding that legal work. People have power, and we do have to remember that. And the populations that we work with are very powerful individuals, but they don’t have that power in the system right now. And we have to use our power to rebalance everything and to make everything more equal.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:07] So petitions. So, gathering the clothes, sheets, and belongings of your neighbors who are throwing everything out during their big COVID spring cleans–doing any small thing you can. All of this started–how much did you raise? $45 million.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:58:22] 43.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:22] $43 million. Well, it’s not as good then. No, but this started with a girl, who worked in the music industry, who got a van, drove around, and picked up people’s clothes, sheets, and belongings. You joined forces with other people. You just got up and decided to do something. And it was something small. And that’s something small has turned into–with the help of so many other people, other organizations, other politicians–something huge. And so, anyone listening to this right now who feels helpless, who feels isolated, who feels that they’re not doing enough, or they don’t know how to join in–just know that you are capable of more than you could ever imagine. And the reason that you are not told that more often is because people in power don’t want you to change anything. They don’t want you to disrupt. They don’t want you to interrupt their cash collection at the supreme cost of human lives, human happiness, and just general, you know, humanity.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:59:16] There’s work to be done all over the place. And everyone can be a part of that, even if it’s just writing an email to your elected representatives or, you know, tweeting them–whatever it is, we can all do something.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:29] That’s exactly the message of the day. We can all do something. So, thank you so much for all of your time. I know you have to go and literally save lives now. So, before you go, can I just ask you, Josie, what do you weigh?
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:59:41] Oh my gosh. I just find this really hard. I guess I weigh courage, I hope.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:51] Yes.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:59:53] it’s really hard, isn’t it? Determination?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:55] Yes.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [00:59:58] A capacity for love.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:00] Yes.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [01:00:01] And I don’t know. It’s the smiling.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:00:10] Capacity for growth and millions and millions of lives saved. I’ll finish it for you. Thank you for everything that you do. I’ve watched you give up truly the last five and a half years of your life. You have lived, eaten, slept, and breathed this cause. And I spend a lot of time with politicians, with activists, and with grassroots organizations. I have never in my life come across someone as dedicated as you. And it is a massive, massive honor and privilege to know you, you ridiculous person. I am amazed that I ever got to meet a human being like you ever in my life. And I talk about you all the time like this, where I just can’t believe you’re real. And we should protect you at all costs because this isn’t something that has been easy for you, and you have been in constant turmoil and struggle with such powerful people. You’ve risked your life so many times. You’ve gone as a beautiful white woman on her own to places that are dangerous in order to try and help those who are in need. And you have put your own life on the line to do these things–often unaccompanied or not accompanied enough–because you believe in this so much. And may we all live our lives to be a bit more like Josie Naughton. You are my hero. And so, thanks.
JOSIE NAUGHTON [01:01:33] I don’t really know what to say. I love you.
JAMEELA JAMIL [01:01:35] Love you lots. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela, Jamil, Erin Finnegan, and Kimmie Gregory ry. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music we are hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. I really appreciate it, and it amps me up to bring on better, better guests. Lastly, at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543 or email us what you weigh at email@example.com. It’s not in pounds and kilos, so please don’t send that; it’s all about your– Just– You know. You’ve been on the Instagram. Anyway. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our listeners.
I WEIGH COMMUNITY MEMBER [01:02:29] I way. Being a first-year teacher in a pandemic, I weigh my grief for the recent loss of my sister. I weigh the beautiful relationship with my partner. And we’re helping people. As a profession and as a way of life. And I way. Just trying my very best to be a good person.
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