Struggles of RefugeesFact or fiction, books are a great way to create empathy and understanding of the real-life experiences of other people. An experience that is not uncommon yet unique to each individual who has lived it, is the global refugee struggle. There are many books that tell the stories of refugees and contemporary fiction books are only one example of a genre that can raise awareness through storytelling. Raising awareness about the struggles of refugees through books and literature helps encourage more humanitarian efforts directed at helping refugees.

Kiss the Dust

Published in 1994, this historical fiction book by Elizabeth Laird takes place in 1991. Tara is a 12-year-old Kurdish girl living in Iraq during a time when conflict was high between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Kurds. After her father’s involvement with the Kurdish resistance movement, Tara and her family are forced to flee to Britain, where her whole world changes completely. Though “Kiss the Dust” is more about Tara and her family’s struggles as refugees living in London, there is also a lot of focus on the Kurdish resistance movement in 1991 and the trauma that many experienced because of it. There is also an emphasis on overall trauma from war-ridden areas, something that has lasting effects on refugees.

The Red Pencil

“The Red Pencil” was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and published in 2014. Inspired by a true story, it revolves around 12-year-old Amina living in Darfur, Sudan, in 2003. She nearly loses everything when her village is attacked, and after, she and her family are forced to find a refugee camp on foot. This book describes the struggles of her journey to the refugee camp in Kamal as well as her struggles while living in the camp. Due to the trauma, Amina stops speaking. Eventually, one of the relief workers gives her a red pencil which she uses to begin her journey of recovery. While describing Amina’s journey, the book also highlights Sudan and its prolonged conflicts and wars, showing how many Sudanese people have been forced to flee their homes throughout the years, making Amina and her family only one of many Sudanese refugees.

The Bone Sparrow

Written by Zana Fraillons and published in 2016, “The Bone Sparrow” follows a young boy named Subhi who was born in an immigration detention center in Australia. His mother and sister were part of the flood of Rohingya refugees who escaped their homeland due to the genocide of their people. Because he spent his entire life behind fences, Subhi struggles to curb his curiosity about the outside world. His only access is through his mother’s stories and his imagination. Eventually, he meets a girl on the other side of the fence who contributes to his journey of freedom, imagination and knowledge about the world. Through Subhi’s struggles, the author illustrates the refugee struggle of not having a place to truly call home. The story also shines a light on the Rohingya genocide and the number of refugees created as a result, a conflict still going on today.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles

Enaiatollah Akbari was 10 years old when his mother sent him to Pakistan from Afghanistan, to protect him from the Taliban, portraying the many years the Taliban have been creating conflict in areas around Pakistan and Afghanistan. Published in 2010, the novel by Fabio Gada revolves around Akbari’s five-year journey as he travels through Iran, Turkey and Greece, eventually ending up in Italy at the age of 15. Throughout his journey, he encounters many hardships. This story highlights a refugee’s journey of loss and rebuilding.

The Good Braider

Published in 2012 by Terry Farish, this book is about a Sudanese family escaping war in their homeland and eventually ending up in Portland, Maine, a place with a lot of other Sudanese immigrants. The community of Sudanese refugees in the United States portrayed in this book shows the impact of the current and previous conflicts in South Sudan. The main character, Viola, struggles to balance the differences between her Sudanese heritage and the culture of the United States. By portraying Viola’s struggles within a Sudanese immigrant community, this book highlights the communal struggles of refugees and immigrants living in the United States.

The Unique Struggles of Refugees

Though the characters are fictional, all of these stories are based on real-life events that forced thousands of people to flee their homes. From war to genocide, each book highlights a unique yet similar set of events that the characters experience, based on their history, setting and context. These different perspectives not only allow people to empathize with victims of history but also bring more of an understanding about the lives of refugees and encourage more humanitarian efforts to address this global issue.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

tapestry weavingIn Chile, from 1973 to 1990, systemic human rights violations swept the nation under General Augusto Pinochet, including acts of physical and sexual abuse as well as psychological damage. Consequently, many progressive young students and men “disappeared” at the hands of the regime because of their ideology. While a grim history, hope can be found in the subsequent actions of women. The Arpilleristas were able to overcome such hardships through tapestry weaving.

Chilean Women Unite

Mothers united and responded to the oppression and torture that was inflicted upon their loved ones with methods of protests that defied masculine logic, such as publicly banging pots and pans, singing and dancing to songs with political messages and weaving tapestries. These actions challenged the societal norms in Chile, which were embedded with machismo ideology and male superiority.

Tapestry Weaving as a Form of Resistance

The weaving of tapestries was an especially impactful form of resistance that was founded in 1975. Once unified, the Arpilleristas began to construct patchwork tapestries, or arpilleras, that depicted scenes of hardship and violence that people experienced under Pinochet.

The hand-made arpilleras portrayed shantytown community kitchens, which were often families’ only means of feeding themselves, women’s laundry and bread-baking subsistence-level cooperatives, arrests and soldiers beating protesters. It was through the crafting of the arpilleras that women were granted a voice to tell their individual and collective stories.

Economic Empowerment

However, the crafting of the arpilleras was more than just an act of protest and storytelling, it was also a way to generate income. The women weaving arpilleras was a form of advocacy and also a livelihood. The Arpilleristas transformed conventional visions of secluded motherhood and domesticity, all the while eliminating submissive and passive associations regarding women.

With the return of democracy in the 1990s, the oppression f the Pinochet dictatorship has since been eradicated. All individuals are able to enjoy democracy. The women, “do so now, however, with a different consciousness. Women have not forgotten the empowerment they gained when they learned they could change things by taking to the streets and protesting the dictatorship.

It is this confidence that continues to inspire women as they face problems in Chile, however, they do so in a different manner now.

A Return to Democracy

It was only through the opression of the dictatorship and conservative gender ideology promoted by the dictatorship, Chilean women mobilized as feminists to demand a return to democracy. Though they were not self-identified feminists, the collective act of women uniting in order to defeat oppression has altered and expanded women’s rights in Chile today and recharacterized the very definition of motherhood.

The Arpilleristas’ tapestry weaving has served as an inspiring example of fighting against injustice while empowering women through economic development. By employing an accepted tradition of weaving, the women were able to capitalize and in many cases negate extreme poverty and additional hardships.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, nonfiction and short story writer sets the stage for African literature and young women everywhere. She is both a prominent feminist and one of the most prominent authors of African Literature, as reported by Vogue and The Times Literary Supplement.

Ten Facts About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. Adichie was born on 15 September 1977 in Enugu, Nigeria, the fifth of six children to Igbo parents, Grace Ifeoma and James Nwoye Adichie.
  2. Adichie’s father, who is now retired, worked at the University of Nigeria, located in Nsukka. He was Nigeria’s first professor of statistics, and later became Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University. Her mother was the first female registrar at the same institution.
  3. At the age of nineteen, Adichie left for the United States. She received a scholarship to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia for two years, and she went on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University.
  4. Adichie completed a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, as reported by Harvard.
  5. During her senior year at Eastern, Adichie started working on her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was released in October 2003. The book has received wide critical acclaim; according to Adichie’s personal site, it was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.
  6. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun is set before and during the Biafran War. It was published in August 2006 in the United Kingdom and in September 2006 in the United States.
  7. Adichie’s third book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of short stories.
  8. Her latest Novel Americanhah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named on of the New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.
  9. Adichie’s 2009 TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” has had more than eight million views.
  10. Reported in Vogue, Adichie loves teaching, and claims, “I want to make it valid, to dream about books and writing. Because in Nigeria it’s very hard; people will say to you, what do you mean, ‘writing’? Nigerians are a very, very practical people. And while I admire practicality, I feel we need to make a space for dreaminess.”

Megan Hadley

Photo: Flickr

Girl Rising
Girl Rising is a campaign to both improve and bring awareness to global education for girls. One of the primary ways they attract attention to this issue is through storytelling in the form of film.

In 2013, the film “Girl Rising” was released. It follows the stories of nine girls from impoverished countries around the world: Haiti, Sierra Leone, Peru, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Egypt and Cambodia.

Each girl’s story has a well-known narrator. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the cast includes Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett. Many of the actors involved do separate philanthropic work related to educating and empowering women.

The film was directed by the Academy Award-winning director Richard Robbins, who also came up with the idea for the film. He made sure that the focus of the movie remained on the stories of the protagonists.

To help the girls communicate, Robbins told Huffington Post, he implored the film’s writers to spend time with the girls in order to effectively tell their stories. While the film “Girl Rising” came before the current campaign to spread awareness for girls’ education, Robbins says, over the course of making the film, it became “clear that we needed to build an organization that was capable of working in all the ways the film alone could not.”

Girl Rising now partners with NGOs including CARE and Room to Read in their mission to bring education to girls globally.

In collaboration with the Pearson Foundation, Girl Rising also offers a curriculum that educators can use to bring awareness to the issue of education for girls who have difficulty accessing it on their own. Factors that contribute to this lack of access are poverty, a reaffirmation of a cult of domesticity for women and foregoing education in order to get married and have children.

Girl Rising is also currently carrying out a campaign called ENGAGE, or Empowering Next Generations to Advance Girls’ Education. ENGAGE is a “USAID-supported public-private partnership” which is “working in India, Nigeria and The Democratic Republic of the Congo, pairing storytelling with local social action campaigns.”

The website for Girl Rising offers multiple options for those interested in getting involved in the cause, be it anything from donating money, to using Girl Rising’s curriculum in their schools, to raising awareness by organizing a viewing of the Girl Rising film.

Katherine Hamblen

Sources: Girl Rising, LA Times, Huffington Post
Photo: Vimeo

Lynsey Addario
With cameras and bravery as their primary tools, photojournalists risk their lives to raise awareness about global suffering, far removed from the headquarters of organizations that award them for their efforts.

Lynsey Addario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American photojournalist, has dedicated her life to covering conflict, war, and poverty around the world.

Featured in The National Geographic Society’s “Women of Vision” exhibition, Addario is one of 11 female photographers that have been selected to showcase the female version of “National Geographic storytelling.”

Addario has been kidnapped on two separate occasions whilst covering war-torn places – the first of which was in Iraq in 2004, and the second in Libya in 2011.

According to an article co-written by Addario, she and three male journalists were kidnapped in 2011. Addario’s first comment to her colleagues during the ambush that initiated their six-day long ordeal was, “God, I just don’t want to be raped.”

Gender did not stop the soldiers from beating Addario.

These experiences and acknowledgement of gender vulnerability are evident in the photographic collections available on Addario’s website. They range from documenting breast cancer in Uganda, to rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the refugees of Syria.

Each photograph is captioned with the names and stories of each subject, highlighting humanity amongst chaos in poverty and conflict-ravaged locations.

Within the patriarchal societies in which she has worked, Addario believes her gender has allowed her access to places and people that her male counterparts would be denied.

The motivation that drives Addario’s work is the importance of telling these stories of suffering to the American public, as well as the daily life that continues against the backdrop of conflict.

With a similar objective, Hazel Thompson, an award-winning British photojournalist, immersed herself in the red-light district of Mumbai for 11 years to produce “Taken.”

“Taken” is an e-book and photo documentary that Thompson hopes will address what she describes as an “emergency” on the streets of India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

By capturing the daily impact of sex-trafficking on young women and children, Thompson has created “a body of evidence” that cannot be denied or ignored by policy makers who, according to Thompson, have historically taken an apathetic approach to the problem.

“Taken” is also an educational opportunity and a prevention tool that Thompson is working to share with children living in poor villages, who are often targeted by sex-traffickers.

The profits from the project are donated to the Taken Campaign for Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of the victims of Mumbai’s sex industry.

“Women of Vision” can be seen at The National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. October 10, 2013 – March 9, 2014.

The exhibition will go on to be featured at various venues across the U.S. until 2017.

“Taken” by Hazel Thompson is available on ibooks.

– Zoë Dean

Sources: PBS, New York Times, Lynsey Addario, Women News Network, Hazel Thompson
Photo: MacArthur Foundation