Writing by Elizabeth Thayer
Photography by Kirsten Rogers
The Impact Hub Seattle is hosting the show “Their Story is Our Story: Giving Voice to Refugees,” in its gallery space from June 1 to June 28, 2017. The show includes portrait photographs and paintings by TSOS artists along with brief introductions to each subject. Kirsten Rogers, an Impact Hub community member (and Social Media specialist for TSOS), Garrett Gibbons, and Elizabeth Thayer opened the show with a lunchtime presentation on June 1. The presentation focused on two stories that have been featured on the TSOS website, and also included some background information and suggestions on how the community can help the current refugee crisis.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at the end of 2015 there were 65.3 million displaced people in the world - one in every 113 people. Of those, 21.5 million are considered refugees (someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence). Over half of those refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia. Despite statistics that are higher than at any time in recorded history, mistrust and misunderstanding are widespread.
This truly is a worldwide crisis that requires help from all sides. As stated on the Impact Hub website, “Impact cannot happen in isolation. It requires collective action.” World citizens have varying degrees of closeness to the crisis as well as various options for helping. Opportunities range from volunteering in a camp, to befriending a relocated refugee family, from offering specialized services (e.g. legal, educational, etc.) to lobbying political organizations to sharing stories in person or on social media.
The organization Their Story is Our Story (TSOS) was formed in April of 2016 when professional artists and volunteers came together with the goal of sharing stories of individual refugees on a worldwide platform. Artists from the group traveled to Europe in 2016 to meet refugees from the Middle East and collect their stories in the form of filmed interviews, photographs, sketches and paintings. Realizing that one of the needs of humanity is to have a voice, that face-to-face meetings breed understanding and empathy, and that many people in the world will not have the chance to personally visit refugee camps, the group has produced stories to be shared in person, in galleries, and digitally around the world. Their hope is that giving a voice to displaced persons will not only help them preserve their dignity and hope, but also will increase understanding and empathy in others. The show at Impact Hub Seattle is one of the first gallery presentations for the group.
“Their Story is Our Story: Giving Voice to Refugees” has had a positive reception in Seattle so far. As one lunchtime participant commented, “I didn’t expect to cry at lunch.” The show was put together by Impact Hub community member, Kirsten Rogers. It will be available for viewing in the lobby of the Impact Hub Seattle building through the end of June during normal business hours.
Their Story is Our Story is an ongoing project and can be followed at www.tsosrefugees.org and on social media @tsosrefugees.
To me, the label “refugee” is a badge of honor. I invite you to honor and celebrate refugees and welcomers with me this month and to meet some of these heroes at TSOS's Virtual World Refugee Day event on 17 June.
As we strengthen our relationships with resettlement agencies, friends, and community partners, we are discovering that the work doesn't have to be big to be important.