After rescheduling twice, I thought Mostafa would either cancel the phone interview or become frustrated. Neither happened. In fact, I got the nicest, most understanding voice responding to all of my questions. Mostafa is one of those people to whom you never want to stop talking. You always want to hear more of what he has to say.
Q: Talk to me a bit about Advice Seekers. What prompted you to start this organization?
A: My best friend committed suicide because of bullying. One of the major reasons for starting this was that I wanted to be there for people who didn’t have anyone. I personally was bullied and depressed and there was no one there to help me as I couldn’t open up to anyone. Not even my friends or family because of the fear of being judged. I wanted to do something. I was always thinking of suicide and everything was just going downhill. A friend was checking up on me when I told her that we needed to do something to help people.
Mostafa Ashraf tells me that originally, the organization wasn’t called Advice Seekers. An ambitious sixteen-year-old version of him took charge of the situation and started a page with a best friend of his from school in 2014. Giving Advice had originally gotten around fifteen likes (all by family and friends, he mentions). The name officially changed to what it is today after someone messaged the page asking for advice. A while later, the page started receiving messages from all around the world. Even the Philippines! His friend left shortly after but he continued with it, which prompted me to ask:
Q: What made you inspired to keep going even after a lot of people left the organization?
A: This girl was my best friend and she was bullied at school and at home. She couldn’t take it anymore so she just gave up. But then, a guy from Spain had messaged the page that he wanted to kill himself. I had no idea what to tell him. I’m not a psychologist, but I couldn’t not help him. I started messaging him as a friend and little by little he started feeling better, and to this day he still talks to me. That’s what pushed me and made me realize that I wanted to keep doing this. It’s all about who we reach. If I made one person smile, then it’s all worth it.
Q: What was the first project you worked on after starting Advice Seekers?
A: I remember I was in high school and my psychology teacher approached me saying she wants me to work on a campaign in a university with her. “It was terrible!” He says with a laugh. I got emotional, and it was my first time speaking in front of a thousand people about my best friend. It was the first time I spoke in front of a thousand people at all!
There’s silence on the phone while I jot down Mostafa’s answers.
“I’m eating chocolate now, I read somewhere that chocolate makes you happier so I’m eating chocolate” Mostafa says with a laugh
Q: Tell me more about the sign-up process for people who want to volunteer, and what it’s been like starting all of this in Egypt.
A: I got 300 applications when I asked for volunteers. It was really cool that so many people wanted to help. Though, it’s interesting to note that only girls were applying. I literally had two guys apply and one of them asked, “So, how much am I going to get paid?”.
Now, my team is made up of forty-two girls and only two guys. That’s why I always stand by the fact that ladies are just awesome. I love doing this. It’s not my job, it’s my hobby. Egypt has come to a stage where people want to help and this attitude is keeping on growing. It’s also super hard to do. We recently got licensed as a company and there’s a lot of legality to it. We needed a lawyer to prove to the government that Advice Seekers is a non-profit organization.
Q: That sounds like it must be very stressful for you. How are you coping?
A: I used to go to a psychologist, but I stopped going because I don’t have the time anymore. I’m currently running off of two hours of sleep and I dropped out of university to work on Advice Seekers. When it gets to the breaking point, I pack my bags, leave my phone and travel anywhere. I breathe that fresh air until I get stressed again and start all over.
Q: Do you have any other plans for the future?
A: Well, we’re working on projects in Canada and the Middle East. We would also like to tour Egypt. It would be a two-months tour where we would campaign and try to get sponsors. We want to specifically leave our mark on the Middle East due to the stigma around mental health we have here. My team hates it when I speak about this stigma because I always say things I’m not supposed to say.
Advice seekers has been a safe house for people from Egypt and from all around the world since 2014. It changed so many lives and is still impacting many more. When Mostafa started it, he never knew it would reach the otherworldly reach it has. But we’re for sure glad it did.
Ever heard about Advice Seekers before? What do you think about this great step towards improving mental health? Let us know in the comments!