Who will tell Scisa’s story?
[Editor's Note: In its efforts to enrich professional dialogue on contemporary challenges of humanitarian law and policy, the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University invites experts in international humanitarian law, humanitarian action, and associated fields to contribute their insights to relevant discussions. HPCR is pleased to welcome the contribution below from Ms. Melissa Fleming, Chief of Communications and Spokesperson at UNHCR. She will be one of the expert panelists at the 10 May 2012 Live Web Seminar on "Social Media as a Tool for Humanitarian Protection".]
Scisa, looking into the camera with welled-up eyes dulled by loss, flatly recalls, “it was on the 27th, that’s when they attacked our home and they burned our home, they burned everything. They burned my mom, they burned my papa, my brother, my sister. They burned everything. So after they killed my family I had to run away.”
In a three-minute account my video team filmed for our YouTube series, “1 Life, 1 Story”, Scisa’s story tears at the heart of anyone watching. Because he suffered so much, yes, but also because of his resilience. And because of how one Somali woman in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp took him in and, with her enormous love, calmed his fears and restored his will to live on.
At the end, it is Scisa, the boy who lost everything in a massacre, who shares an insight that should inspire us all: “There is a saying, ‘Never catch the sun before it goes down.’ I mean when you wake up in the morning, don’t say, like ‘This day is bad.’ So I encourage them, never give up, whatever bad things passed through, you should never give up. When you are still alive, still you can make it.’’
Over the past year, we’ve produced and distributed 60 stories of refugees telling their harrowing survival stories in their own words and then revealing to us how they picked up the pieces of their lives. Human resilience is always astounding, and all the more possible when the humanitarian community provides the right dosage of safety, care and opportunity.
But humanitarian agencies are chronically in need themselves. Desperate for funds to ensure even basic care. If a refugee escapes to a safe environment that is one good thing, but if there is nothing more than a tent, a food ration and medicine for years on end? If there is no secondary education? No possibility to work? Or to re-establish a place called home?
That is where my role as communicator comes in – to drive as much attention as possible to the value of supporting survivors like Scisa. He, by the way, is now enrolled in a New York film school. He found his calling when an incredible NGO, FilmAid, which provides entertainment and public service films at the Kakuma camp, gave him a job as a producer. Resettlement to the U.S. last year gave him the opportunity to follow his dream.
But the challenge, in an age where foreign news reporting feels almost extinct, is who will tell Scisa’s story if not us? Before, we could lead reporters to profiles like these and watch as millions of viewers heard the stories. Not always to our liking, but the exposure was and remains critical.
This is where social media is our saviour, giving us the gift of platforms where we can self-publish and powerful outreach tools that allow us humanitarians to reach out directly to thousands of people with our stories. When we offer compelling stories and content, we are finding so many people moved by them and wanting to sign up to our cause. We learn from feedback in these new communities, ask for support in little and big ways, and hopefully change some attitudes along the way.
Examples of UNHCR on social media here.