This is a very personal post and reflects my own personal opinions and feelings on the growing daily news headlines surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis which is being played out on our global news channels like some surreal documentary which unthinkably is very real.
I woke up the other morning to possibly the most horrifying image I have seen in recent years of the washed up body of a young Syrian boy, couldn’t be more than 4 years of age, who had drowned in the ocean whilst attempting to escape with his family to Europe for a chance of a better life free from conflict. How bloody awful is that? Imagine if you can grabbing your most precious children and a few bits you can carry and getting into a boat in the dead of night terrified and not knowing what will happen but that anything has to be better than waiting to be killed…I cannot comprehend the enormity of how that mother felt as she stayed calm and cuddled her children to reassure them all would be well. Sadly this little boy, his brother and mother all drowned on the journey…and they are not alone.
Something just snapped inside “seeing” this image which was all over the social media channels and newsfeeds in between adverts for hair loss and whatever celebrity gossip stories are happening. Yes, I understand the refugee crisis is not new, it’s been an ongoing humanitarian disaster for a long while but something about the combination of seeing this image firstly as a mother and secondly as a photographer has hit me hard into doing something, taking action, not allowing myself to be one of the silent majority who have become de-sensitised to the horrors of conflict and displacement they see on an almost daily basis. There wasn’t a choice about what I was seeing, reading or watching. It was very much real, very now and very upsetting. But as I turned in that night unable to get that image out of my head I pondered on how one person could make a difference when I don’t fully understand the complex issues which have brought these communities to the brink of destruction? What would one photographer who lives in Singapore so far away from Europe possibly hope to do that would make one iota of change? And this was how I eventually fell asleep.
So why now? Why was this different? Why had it take this awful harrowing image to make me take note? Perhaps it’s the realisation that I have been living in my own little bubble and watching and hearing news thinking “that’s terrible” but then returning to my daily life. I’m honestly really disappointed and quite ashamed in myself for having lived like this. So yesterday morning with the better late than never principle, I decided to take action. Hovering over the post button for a good 10 minutes, I wrote a genuinely heartfelt post on my private Facebook page yesterday basically calling myself out on doing something by asking others to join me in a charity auction of our work. The response has blown me away. From private messages to comments on my post of support. I feel like I have tapped into a collective feeling of what do we do to help these people? It’s hard to put into words but the compassion we can generate for raising some funds and showing that people care is a real thing. Yes, throwing money at the issue is not going to change the overall complex issues that have led to the current refugee crisis but sitting back and doing nothing is no longer an option for me. The image below is the one I have chosen to auction from a trip to Bangkok recently.
Do I think we will make a difference? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m speaking to people working at the major charities who are at the camps, on the rescue boats, setting up the medical facilities on the ground and all are saying whatever can be done is only a temporary solution for a much bigger issue. Where can we provide safe housing, food, clothing, medical care on the mid-long term after the camps fill up? How can we create a situation where they are safe to return to their communities? What are our governments doing to help them in the meantime? So many big questions with no easy solutions. And let’s be honest, it’s not just Europe which has these issues. Asia does too. Only last week, 14 Indonesian people were killed making the treacherous crossing over to Malaysia in a boat packed to 70 full. Earlier this year thousands of Burmese and Bangladeshis were left at sea by people smugglers with Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities turning them away. My heart breaks and I feel such sadness that this is life for many. Somehow for children it seems particularly cruel. They should be at school, playing outside, being children and yet all this is taken away in an instant as they flee for their lives.
I’m not a politician, not an economist or someone who can get their head around the situation but I know this, when I tuck my daughter into bed tonight I realise how bloody lucky I am and hoping enough momentum can be gathered that things will change for so many in need. I’m “seeing” what is happening properly for the first time and there’s no going back.
If you feel compelled as I have to do something, you might want to check out this useful article by the Guardian and The Independent for further information about how you can make a difference.