Stop Stealing Our Stories

19/07/18

Stories are the linchpin of our identity. They tell of past triumphs and tribulations, of faraway celebrations and sorrows. A person’s story is perhaps the most precious belonging one has, something that cannot be lost or misplaced, but regrettably can be stolen.

Volunteering with Refugee Support permits us to engage with a vast array of stories that are more often than not scarred with trauma, grief, injustice and distress. As volunteers, we learn of a resident’s journey and the great lengths they’ve gone to in order to seek safety and escape persecution.

But where do we draw the line between passing on unimaginable tales of hardship and maintaining the integrity of each story with the knowledge that it is someone else’s to share?

An article in the peer-reviewed Human Rights Practice ‘Stop Stealing our Stories’ looked at the ethics of conducting research among refugees and internally displaced people and more specifically, their stories. It ascertained that the duplication and ‘theft’ of such stories:

“places refugees as ‘objects’ of research and denies their agency and capacity to respond to the serious issues affecting their communities”

They raise many questions that need answering:

  • Why is it that stories of harrowing journeys and injustice are often the only motivation for empathy and goodwill?
  • Why is it that physical proof of deprivation and suffering is required to bring such issues to the international agenda?
  • Is it not a reflection on the ambivalence of society that the photo of drowned child, Iraqi Kurdish boy Alan Kurdi, physical concrete evidence, was finally what was needed to spark outrage and change attitudes towards migration?

What remains unique about Refugee Support is our unwavering focus on delivering aid with dignity. As volunteers we are acutely aware of the absolute importance of treating every resident and their story with respect, reverence and humanity, mindful that such tales are not our own.

It is this framework founded on dignity that we believe permits us to ensure that these stories are carried on beyond the confines of the camp; in a way that is reverent of the past but hopeful for the future. Appealing to the humanity of the people with whom we share these stories is important, but maintaining the humanity of the owners of these stories is far more vital.

As volunteers we sometimes have the privilege to be on the receiving end of residents’ stories, lets continue to make sure we receive, and deliver them, with dignity.

A guest blog by volunteer Maggie Duff.