History

Merhaba grew out of a clear need for information, support, relaxation and activities which take account of the needs of LGBTQIs from ethnocultural minorities where the weight of tradition and/or religion is heavy. Since we did not wish to form a ghetto it was decided from the start to seek collaborative relationships with other organisations and institutions and to be open to all - without however losing our own identity.

Merhaba got going in 2002 with a chat café for men “MerhaBar” and then later with the Arab Funky Parties where culture, leanings and identity could be freely experienced/expressed in the safe environment of friends and sympathisers. Since 2009 Merhaba has organised alongside the now classic “Arab Funky Parties”, also the Souk Del Mundo’s which attract an even more diverse public. By the end of 2010 the annual Souk for Girls had been launched.

In 2003 Merhaba, with the support of Gelijke Kansen Vlaanderen (Equal Opportunities Flanders) and the city of Brussels, started a campaign to make Merhaba's work better known This included, among other things, a poster campaign in the Brussels Metro, the dissemination of posters and folders and the organisation of an information day. This information day was a great success and had a big impact on the number of participating organisations which adjusted their approach to take account of the issues raised on this day. 

Since 2002 Merhaba has offered a welcome and approachable help.. At the end of 2007 we launched the MerhabaPhone (telephone helpline).

With the “Wadiproject” (2007-2008) the organisation became professional and its aims reached a new level. The Wadi project was a pilot project subsidised by Gelijke Kansen Vlaanderen in Brussels with the aim of making a survey an anamnesis of the target groups, the effects and the training opportunities for intermediaries from the help services and the setting up of a help network for non-native holebis via an approachable counselling service.  In this context a digital multilingual brochure was produced. 

The‘L Beb-project (2008-2011), subsidised by theVlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie and the FIM, had as objective to improve the self-image and self-respect of non-native holebis by means of adequate guidance, emancipation and empowerment and to promote the acceptance of non-native holebis. Here we started by addressing their ethnic representative organisations, later in the project we also addressed holebi and transgender organisations, the social sector, the socio-cultural sector and the general public.

In 2011 Merhaba was recognised as a 'movement' by the Vlaamse Gemeenschap.

In 2012 Merhaba will have existed 10 years.. In the last decade, Merhaba has presented views which have contributed positively to the debate and to emancipation. Merhaba has developed its own strong vision, methods and working instruments: various articles, check lists, information packs, brochures and documentaries, and collaborates on these with specialists and other organisations (articles Myriam Monheim, Said Al Nasser, Joëlle Sambi Nzeba; reception brochure and documentary “Rainbow love with foreign roots? Open your mind and your approach!” (ism Alliàge & Cripel), Infopacket “Breng kleur in je onthaal” ("Colour your welcome") (ism çavaria), ….). We organised around 450 activities including readings, training, workshops, debates, film evenings, literary evenings, exhibitions and the biennial poetry competition “Liefde breng ons Dichter” ("Love bring us closer") (2008, 2010). Merhaba also collaborated regularly on initiatives which improved knowledge about the situation of holebis from other ethnic groups and among asylum seekers and helped journalists, students and researchers with their research..

With the motto "Working together towards a positive alternative!",we look forward to a future in which we can build constructive bridges between the different social groups so that together we can combat all forms of discrimination and promote diversity.

 

Nominations and prizes

Early in 2008, Merhaba won the Minderhedenforum (Minorities Forum) annual prize for "Bridge builder of the year". To be awarded this prize by the Minorities Forum - the umbrella organisation for ethnic associations - was particularly symbolic: it meant the recognition by the ethnocultural minorities themselves of our existence as holebis within ethnic groups. And, what is more, it recognises us as a valued partner in the social arena.

In June 2008 the Wadi Project was awarded the title “Gouden Ket van het Jaar”, by the Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie (Flemish Community Commission).

In 2009 and 2010 Merhaba was nominated for the 12de and 13th Emancipation Prize of the Muslim Development and Emancipation Association (VOEM vzw).

In 2011 çavaria awarded the “Mamadouhappening”, ism WISH and Rainbows United, the “Prijs van het Hart Still in 2011, we received the Prijs voor Interculturalisering in the context of the 10th anniversary of Regenbooghuis and a prize for “outstanding contribution to the queer muslim community” (actual title of the prize on the grey box in our office) from The Inner Circle in South Africa.

 

Recognition and support

Merhaba is recognised by the Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie as an ‘allochtonenvereniging’ (ethnic association), is a member of the Brussels Platform voor Minderheden, of the Minderhedenforum, the World Federation of Democratic Organisations (FMDO) , çavaria, the Regenbooghuis (Brussels holebi umbrella organisation), Casa Rosa (Ghent holebi umbrella organisation ), Holebi Overleg Brussel (HOB), Coördination Holebi Bruxelles (CHB), de Brusselse Welzijns- en Gezondheidsraad (BWR - Bxl Health and Welfare Council),The general council of De Markten Community Centre and the general council of the Vaartkapoen Community Centre in Molenbeek.

Merhaba is also a founder-member of “Rainbow Cultures” (2008), “Rainbows United” (2010) and CALEM - Confédération des Associations LGBTQI Européennes Musulmanes (European Confederation of Muslim LGBTQI Associations) (2010).                          

Merhaba achieves all of this thanks to the support of the Vlaamse Gemeenschap, the Vlaamse Gemeenschapscommissie, the Federaal Impulsfonds voor Migrantenbeleid, the Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, the City of Brussels, the Koning Boudewijnstichting (King Boudewijn Foundation) and many other partners in the field, including : Kif Kif, ELLA, FMDO, Minderhedenforum, C.D.F., Regenbooghuis Brussel, Sensoa, Exaequo, çavaria, Casa Rosa Gent, Roze Huis Antwerpen, WISH, BWR, NextGenderation, Caleidoscoop, Citizenne, …