Sarah Wayne Callies speaks out on World Refugee Day
June 20, 2013 by The IRC
|Actress and IRC Voice Sarah Wayne Callies, speaking at a State Department event in Washington in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. She told the audience that she is, "proud as the granddaughter of a refugee to be doing what I can to support refugees around the world." Photo: IRC|
WASHINGTON, D.C. -
At a special World Refugee Day event at the U.S. State Department in Washington this morning, actress and IRC Voice Sarah Wayne Callies spoke of her trips with the International Rescue Committee to Iraq and Jordan to meet refugees fleeing Syria's civil war. She was introduced by Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard:
Thank you Assistant Secretary Richard for your kind introduction and thank you to the State Department for inviting me to speak on World Refugee Day. Today we have an opportunity to acknowledge the struggles that refugees face around the world and celebrate their resilience, bravery, and hope.
I should acknowledge that you all know more about the global refugee status than I do, have done more to alleviate the chaos in the world, and dedicated more of your precious lives to it than I have. But I am grateful to be here with you, proud as the granddaughter of a refugee to be doing what I can to support refugees around the world, and eager to lend my voice to the cause of empowering refugee women and girls.
I may not need to tell you how dire things are at the camps teeming with Syrians. I could tell you some of the horror stories I’ve heard first-hand from women and girls living as urban refugees in Mafraq. I could share the frustration, shame, and rage of Muslim women having to share latrines with strange men in Domiz camp. I could tell you that we are laying track in front of a moving train as we scramble to address the vast and growing needs of the fleeing Syrians and that the steel is pressing against our spines.... But you know all of that, or something like it.
I could point out that there are brilliant success stories we can look to as beacons of hope. I could tell you about my time in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp near the Myanmar border, where the homes are clean and mostly free of disease, the prenatal care is comprehensive and excellent, and women’s empowerment and protection programs are flourishing. But I imagine everyone in this room is well aware of the dignity and humanity we are capable of manifesting with enough time and resources.
So I will tell you that coming back from Jordan and northern Iraq this February I had something akin to an ontological crisis. For the first time in my life I was utterly at a loss – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally – at how to process the pain and suffering I had just encountered. But through that mire, the one thing that remained clear was my sense of awe for what aid workers do in the field and gratitude to all of you who support such work. And of course I found myself astounded at how resilient refugees become in the face of hardship -- how powerful women become in the face of danger.
Looking for a source of that kind of power myself, I found these words I want to share with you today. They are not mine – they were written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, an American poet who tried to make sense of World War One in some of her sonnets and they capture both the darkness and the light that seems to come hand in hand with working for refugees:
I must not die of pity; I must live;
Grow strong, not sicken; eat, digest my food
That it may build me, and in doing good
To blood and bone, broaden the sensitive
Fastidious, pale perception: we contrive
Lean comfort for the starving, who intrude
Upon them with our pots of pity: brewed
From stronger meat must be the broth we give.
Blue, bright September day, with here and there
On the green hills a maple turning red,
And the white clouds racing in the windy air!—
If I would help the weak I must be fed
In wit and purpose, pour away despair
And rinse the cup – eat happiness like bread.
So thank you for your work, your wit, and purpose, and here’s to doing better for all of us so that we fully serve and celebrate our fellow global citizens on this most poignant of days, World Refugee Day.
Read Sarah Wayne Callies's blog posts about her visits to IRC programs in Iraq, Jordan, Thailand and the United States.
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