Why a good talk can still make a difference

By Emma Alessandri

Jason Hussein works at Newcastle Law Centre, an independent charity which provides free legal advice to people who cannot afford to pay for a solicitor, whilst also participating in a small project aimed at assisting refugees and asylum seekers. He was invited by Durham University Amnesty International (DUAI) on 23rd February for Amnesty Refugee Action Week. There, he was meant to deliver a talk describing his job and the main challenges he faces helping refugees and those with humanitarian protection apply for family reunion.

Things did not go quite as expected; due to lack of attendance, what was supposed to be a guest speaker’s event became an informal chat at the Swan & Three Cygnets pub. This allowed for a much more direct conversation between Mr Hussein and the members of DUAI Executive Committee. Katie Condon (President), Juliane Thorbjørnsen (Publicity Officer), and Olivia Williams (Secretary) successfully managed to turn a potential disappointment into an interesting and enjoyable evening. In the relaxed atmosphere of the pub, Mr Hussein discussed his professional history, the complex application process of family reunion, and some of the thoughtless policies that have made the process even more complex.

“We have actually been really pleased by the support received from Durham students,” said Beth Anderson, who is Co-President of Durham For Refugees and also attended the talk, “but one thing we do struggle with is [encouraging] people to attend talks and lectures we organise.”

Generally speaking, interactive events, usually involving some fancy food, seem to be more appealing to Durham students and often have bigger turnouts than talks. For example, Durham for Refugee’s A Taste Of Syria event was highly popular, involving newly arrived Syrian families cooking for over 170 students and locals. This is understandable: eating original Syrian food is a more enthralling prospect than listening to a nice guy talking about his hard work with refugees.

“We realise after a full day of lectures, students do not always want to spend another hour in a lecture hall,” Beth added.

Sometimes, though, a talk delivered by the right person can ignite a fire within someone, inspiring one to follow unexpected and satisfactory pathways. Beth, as she recently told Luke Andrews in an interview for Palatinate TV, was inspired by a third-year student who gave a talk about her experience volunteering in a refugee camp in Calais.

“We still have work to do in Durham to explain to people why we care so much about helping refugees,” Beth concluded, “some may disagree with us, but others care and do not act, which is sad.”

People who actively care about refugees should never underestimate the importance of a good talk: powerful words inspire powerful actions. On the other hand, people who disagree should attend just to challenge their own beliefs. With regards to those who “care and do not act”, should they not be considered amongst those who do not care at all? It is perfectly fine, however: we all have different interests and limited time. Society fails us in various respects, and we do need to select our battles carefully. Nevertheless, as Durham students living in a privileged context, we are morally obliged to avoid any form of hypocrisy.

Ultimately, simply liking a Facebook page will not make any difference in the long run; attending an eye-opening talk, perhaps, could.

Photograph: Metropolico.org via Flickr and Creative Commons

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