Part 2 @TEDxVienna: putting faces on refugee crisis, children for sale

There were many moving talks at TEDxVienna.

Some that particularly struck me were on the refugee situation and also one on children who are sold.

Those of us here in America and other parts further removed from the front lines of the refugee situation have not fully grasped the scope of the problem, the humanitarian crisis affecting millions of real people, and its impact on Europe. Several people who presented gave emotionally charged talks reflecting perceptions of the refugee crisis as reviewed from Austria. There are understandably visceral feelings about walls going back up in Europe lately and past events that resonate such as the refugee crises of WWII.

There are many children in the world who are in the middle of disasters or face the most horrible situations in their daily lives.
Olga Murray

Olga Murray gave one of the most amazing talks of the whole meeting on her literally life-changing work in Nepal.

Olga, who is now around 90 years old, has spurred a new movement to get Nepalese children out of poverty and servitude, and onto the path to successfully complete college.

She and her organization have helped thousands of children in Nepal. Remarkably she began this work once she retired proving that one can make a huge difference when we might traditionally and wrongly think of a period of time of life’s impact winding down. I felt moved when she told the story of buying back young children who had been sold by their parents. What was the currency to buy the children back into a life of hope? Piglets? Often it was one piglet for one child. If like me, you are thinking of ways you might do more, consider supporting Olga’s organization the Nepal Youth Foundation or others like it.

As another speaker pointed out, for many of us the way our lives have turned out has been due to astounding good luck…to be born in a certain place, time, and socioeconomic class. Do we deserve some kind of credit for that luck? Don’t feel guilty or bad about that, but use that energy to help out make a difference in people’s lives who weren’t so lucky.

Professor Alexander Betts of Oxford gave us his view as someone working in Africa and dispelled some common misconceptions about refugees such as that they are passive, don’t work, and maybe don’t even want to work. These turn out to be harmful myths. Talk about a guy making a big difference.

Photo credit: Philipp Schwarz
Photo credit: Philipp Schwarz

Salah Ammo told the first hand story of being a Syrian refugee. This was also very powerful. Too often those of us in the “West” think of refugees in ways that stereotype and may not give the full human dignity to them. They are people just like us. Salah is an incredibly talented, award winning musician. He and a musical partner performed some beautiful Syrian music (see image).

This all got me thinking that I need to do more and think outside the box of America.

We are all much closer to being refugees than we might like to think.

During my own talk I recounted a personal story of how my grandparents and my father as a child rather quickly became refugees. It was a very intense experience for me to tell this story because there I stood in Vienna recounting it and it was Vienna that my grandparents and my dad had to leave as they became refugees in the 1930s.

After that they had no stable home for almost a dozen years, moving from one place to another throughout Europe and then finally Brazil. Why Brazil? They had hoped to go to the US, but at that time America was generally not accepting refugees. They lost everything except what they could carry and they lost something more precious: nearly every relative who stayed behind in Europe.

Some of these same themes ring true with today’s refugee crisis.

Consider how your life could change suddenly. To put it as one of the talk titles, What if you were a refugee? Think it is impossible? Think again.

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