Conversation with the 2020 Aurora Humanitarians

Conversation with the 2020 Aurora Humanitarians

The 2020 Aurora Dialogues Online event titled “Conversation with the 2020 Aurora Humanitarians” took place on August 19, 2020, the World Humanitarian Day, and featured the 2020 Aurora Humanitarians Angelique Namaika, Sakena Yacoobi, Sophie Beau and Ilwad Elman. Marking the global celebration of people helping people, the discussion focused on the work of these selfless individuals, especially in a situation exacerbated by the global pandemic of COVID-19, and was moderated by Salpi Ghazarian, Director of the Institute of Armenian Studies of the University of Southern California.

The event was organized in cooperation with the Futures Studio discussion platform. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Aurora Dialogues have gone online in 2020, allowing people from across the globe to join the discussion and contribute to it.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Founder and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, who was one of the first people to open schools for women and girls in refugee camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, talked about the impact people can achieve by standing in solidarity: “As one individual, you could not really do that much, but when you have the power of people behind you, and when you work with those people, and when you really try to account for their needs, to respond to them, to listen to them – that is the time when you really believe that the future is going to be changed. You do not give up. Day after day, you keep doing it. Yes, it’s not short-term, it’s long-term, but you are patiently working towards your goals, and I’m sure we will reach them.”

As the discussion took place on the World Humanitarian Day, the panelists tried to encourage the audience to engage with humanitarian causes. Speaking from personal experience, Sophie Beau, Co-founder of SOS Méditerranée (SOS Mediterranean), brought up the importance of even the smallest deeds for changing the big picture: “Every life that is saved is a message of hope. You cannot give up, you cannot let people drown in front of your eyes, at your doorstep. Of course, we will not solve all problems, we will not rescue everyone with just one ship – it’s impossible, unfortunately, because there are dozens of thousands of people who cross and perish at sea. But if you can make this little difference of [saving] one life, you should do it. There is an obligation, a moral duty of action, I believe, and by doing so, you can show that there is something to be done.”

The event featured an all-female panel, and this prompted a conversation of the women’s role in addressing the most pressing global issues, including the latest outbreak of COVID-19. Ilwad Elman, Head of The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia, highlighted the input of women when it comes to taking a more efficient yet humane approach to problem-solving: “If there’s anything that we’ve seen during this global COVID-19 pandemic right now is that the leadership of women, the quick response that women leaders have taken around the world in isolating the pandemic, in taking very bold measures, in putting their countries on lockdown, in the social services they provided to their people, was the demonstration of the capacity of women. When women lead, they show strong leadership but also, I think, compassion. In Somalia we have been fighting for very long for the role of women in political processes. We have many male allies, but we are in a textbook, dictionary definition of what patriarchy means.”

When talking about her work, Sister Angelique Namaika, Co-founder of the Center for Reintegration and Development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, focused on the challenges the at-risk youth are facing and her way of dealing with them: “In my work, I’m guided by the following principle: always help if you can help. There are people who are willing to support me, to fund the organization’s activity and so on. But you should always act yourself, first and foremost, to give an example to the society and all its members. We are striving to give formal education to as many children as possible, so they could get an official diploma. We understand the importance of it, so that in the future, they wouldn’t face the same problems as their parents did. We are trying to attend to each person and to nurture each person’s talents.”

In conclusion, Salpi Ghazarian, Director of the Institute of Armenian Studies of the University of Southern California and the event’s moderator, thanked the speakers for their inspirational message, drawing a parallel between modern atrocities and the tragic events of the 1915 Armenian Genocide: “As Armenians, when speaking about the Genocide, if not our first or second sentence than the third one is “And the world just stood by and watched.” That is one of the things we say most frequently about our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories. And so, what you are saying to us is, you shouldn’t be that guy. We shouldn’t be that person who just stood by and watched. And Aurora gives us this opportunity to do much more – not as much as you’re doing, but to do more.”

You can watch the full video of the discussion below (in English).