Monday, November 10, 2008

How Publishers Can Help Refugees

After Hurricane Katrina, McSweeneys, an independent press created by author Dave Eggers, published "Voices from the Storm; The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath." This book gave the people directly impacted by the floods from the levee breaks in New Orleans a chance to tell their stories, stories that were terrifying, hopeful, angry, and affirming. With so much death and damage caused from the storm, and the likelihood there will be more catastrophic storms in the future, why would anyone want to come back to New Orleans? The answer is simple: it's home.

Home really is where the heart is. Home is where we feel connected to our family and friends, to our history. It marks where we come from, even if that place is newly adopted. It is where we BELONG, regardless of whether or not we were born there. As a species, we humans need a tribe and a shelter where we can feel safe and supported.

Katrina gave Americans a glimpse into what being a refugee is like. In our sheltered country, free from internal warfare, the idea of being driven from our homes for more than a week or two is unimaginable.

What if those refugees were driven out of their homes by a war? What if they could NEVER go back? What if they were persecuted everywhere they went, starved out of camps, driven away by neighbors who are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the refugee's need? That is exactly what is happening in places like the Sudan.

Again, McSweeney's is helping refugees be heard. In the book "Out of Exile," edited by Craig Walzer, stories from Sudanese refugee and abductee survivors have been collected in the hope those stories will help raise awareness of the plight of these people. The stories are powerful and terrifying, yet also life affirming. The people survive despite starvation and warfare. They do the best they can for their children and family and hope for the future, that one day they may go home.

Simply by sharing the stories of people who are so powerless they are homeless, publishers can help change the world, one story at a time. We can offer our expertise to those who are not heard, but should be; to those who's voices have been gagged. We can spread awareness of the problems refugees face and work toward reuniting families so that one day they can return home. If not the home of their birthplace, then at least a new home for themselves, free from persecution and slavery, where they can rebuild their lives in safety and know their children will have enough to eat.

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