this time last year I first saw the photograph of little Alan Kurdi’s body on the beach in Turkey. Sadly this was not the first such picture I had seen, and it certainly hasn’t been the last. Children are dying everyday, and it is shocking how many and how much horror has unfolded on my Facebook wall in the year since Alan’s death.
At the time I was pondering the refugee crisis. I had moved from noticing it was happening to engaging with what was going on through news reports and social media. I had the urge to help but not a clue how to do so. I cried a fair bit, I empathised with the mothers, and the fathers, I held my family close and I counted every single one of my blessings daily.
What was different this time was the world’s reaction to it. Everyone suddenly became aware that refugees are not aliens, they are humans just like us, and sadly too many were dying. The media storm began to die down, as it always does, and within days I was left thinking it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t sure how to help, I was going to have a good go.
Obviously since then I know a lot more, I know how to work with others to get aid to where it is needed. I know there are many more people who care than I ever dreamed possible. I have had a whirlwind of a year, during which I have gained so much more than I have given. ,My point is not about all that. It is about how the death of one boy, in amongst the deaths of thousands, that death, that boy, galvanised a grass roots movement the like of which I have never known.
Almost everyone, in the thousands of people I know supporting the refugees, started a year ago. The universe aligned with little Alan on the beach and people said enough is enough. Individually at first,we managed to find each other. This crazy movement crosses countries and continents. People who would never have known each other are now firm friends. The hands that help have stretched from kitchen tables in Europe to the USA, from cafes in Asia to homes in Africa. All of this has been done by people who previously, like me, knew very little of this world.
There is a lesson here. As a child of the 1960’s I was well aware of protest movements of alternative ways of doing things, as a rebel in the 1970’s and 1980’s I cheered the Greenham Common women from my cosy home, I went on marches and I believed I was making a difference. I wasn’t really. Social media has changed the world, I believe for the better. The individuals have become groups and have taken on the task of helping in a way that would have been impossible without the instant communication available on social media.
I am ever more horrified about the lack of action from governments, from the people in power. The lack of will to stop the bombing, to open the borders, to offer safe passage for all. Without this we will surely never be able to help these people to safety. I find myself unable to watch broadcast news any more, I shout at the television far too often. I can feel powerless and impotent to insist on the changes we all can see are needed. I could dwell on this, I could become bitter and angry. I choose not to do so.
Instead I look at all the people who, like me, stopped waiting for the governments to do what is necessary. To those who I now call friends, who have put their lives on hold to go and help rescue people from the sea, to work in camps and distribution aid where it is needed. To the woman who spends her own money to free girls held as sex slaves, the ninety something great grandma who has knitted so many clothes for babies she will never meet, the woman who ran a sponsored race and gave the money raised to help. The people who turn up week in week out to sort socks and pack donations. There are so very many examples of this amazing people power.
It is to their shame that history will show that when governments failed to act, when they chose to arm the bombers instead of broker the peace, when they closed borders and put up fences, they never once saw the refugees as individual people. People like Alan Kurdi’s father, like the mothers of the lost girls, those displaced from a life that before war was not so very different from ours. The powers that be did nothing.
History will also show that in this time another army was galvanised. From kitchen tables across the world people did what they could to help. I think that governments would do well to pay attention to this grass roots movement of people who do, the energy, the skills and the tenacity shown in the last year is moving mountains. Imagine how amazing it could be with any support from those who should and could get involved.
So, Alan Kurdi, the boy who’s name is known, and all the other boys and girls, babies and teenagers, men and women, who didn’t cross safely, who haven’t survived this awful war, we remember you all. We will not stop trying to help in whatever way we can, and while we are sad today we are also angry, and that anger is a mighty powerful motivator. May you all Rest in Peace.