Emigration is a familiar one to us Irish. At so many different times in our history many thousands of Irish men, women and children have had to leave our shores to escape poverty, hunger, eviction and unemployment and go in search of work and the hope of a better life .In their search they have known great hardship and challenges and many have created prosperity too as they spread out across the globe. So many of us Irish have made new lives and made amazing contributions to the building and development of many countries all around the World.
This is what the displaced people from war torn countries are now seeking as they risk their lives trying get to Europe. We call them ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’ , but labels such as these can so easily run the risk of dehumanising or ignoring the individual lives and stories of people. Labels can ‘whitewash’ and ‘paint everyone with the one brush’, which is never the reality, as there are so many individual circumstances and experiences that go to make up each life.
If only Political European Leaders making the decisions, and so much of the media reporting, could drop the labels and really engage with the human face and story of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding and becoming more and more desperate each day in camps dotted all across European borders and beyond… Perhaps doing this may influence the leaders to make decisions consciously from a place of humanity and compassion, rather then so often from a place of fear, lack of humanitarian engagement and apathy.
Lost in the midst of political wranglings and number counting are the human stories, experiences and individual lives of the people caught in the crossfire of these conflicts. Lives torn apart from all they know as home. People who find themselves at European borders or in refugee camps, tired, sick, injured, but not just in body but also in heart and mind.
I’ve read of such stories before, indeed we all have. Here in Ireland we read them in our history books about the people who had to leave because of oppression, starvation, eviction, famine. We Irish for sure know all about being ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’.
When I stood in Ellis Island in New York a few years ago, I read such stories. Of the Irish men, women and children who landed there and because officials could not understand the language they spoke or the accent they spoke with, registered them with names by what they thought they heard. Thus taking away their identity even before they started to build a new life in that new land. Those who were deemed to be sick were refused entry and were turned back on the ‘famine ships’- left to die and to have watery graves, somewhere in the great oceans between America and Ireland.
If this sounds familiar, it is because it is what we are hearing and seeing happening everyday to people fleeing from war torn lands in which they can no longer live, many thousands drowning in their efforts and thousands more now living in camps, or left at borders or turned back.
When we make the connection again with our own histories and with the human face and stories behind the numbers and behind the labels. We can begin to engage with our own humanity with compassionate awareness. Because there is great power in an individual story which has the capacity to touch us.
This is what the amazing photographer and photojournalist Giles Duley does through his photos in war torn countries. I had the great privilege of hearing Giles speak last year about his incredible project ‘Legacy of War’ at the ‘Writing and ideas Festival’ in Borris, Co Carlow. I was so touched by Giles own story and by his wonderful humanity, love and compassion for the people that he photographs.
Giles recently gave a Ted Talk at TEDxExeter about his work. What he shares will touch you deeply and may move you to want to do something, to help. There are so many ways we can do this, listening to his talk today I sat down and thought, I can do what I do best right now, I can as a writer, write about it and share it with as many people as possible. As we connect and meet in oneness, in our humanity may we take time to see the human face and listen to the human stories behind the conflicts of war.
So here is Giles Duley’s inspirational TED Talk. Listen to it about ‘The Power of a Photo, the ‘Human Life Story’ it can tell and the Power and Strength of the Human Spirit. And please share this with others.
Bernadette Phillips is Founder of NEW INSIGHTS FOR CHANGE and a Social Scientist, with experience over many decades as a Motivational Speaker, Conscious Educator, Social Activist, Social Entrepreneur, Poet and Writer, and with over thirty years experience working with and in, Community, Business, Leadership and Education.