“You have the most difficult choice […] and that is whether you are going to submit to prostitution to get the money you need to feed your younger brother or not.”
Sitting in my class last week, A-816 – Education in Armed Conflict, I broke the promise I made to myself and I felt my eyes welling with tears. This class was particularly heavy, both in content and the fact that it ran from 4 to 7 pm on Mondays, and I soon realized that I needed to learn to control my emotions to be able to get through the rest of the semester. But the short video we were watching about Mari Malek’s story about being a refugee from South Sudan hit too close to home. Being Sudanese, it was hard for me to remain removed from the story and as a Northerner, I carried the shame the civil war brought on the country of Sudan.
The end of the video sparks a compelling discussion about the ethics of using another person’s story and I’m amazed by my classmates’ commentary. One friend argues that although we take the risk of objectifying protagonists by telling stories on their behalf, it shouldn’t deter us from doing so. A sentiment Professor Dryden-Peterson echoes and builds on; she reminds us of the importance of narratives and their potential power to influence someone’s life and she asks that we seek input from those we are interviewing on how they want their story to be told and how they envision it to be utilized.
And on the subject of stories, it was time for my favorite part of the class when Sarah reads a children’s book to us, a tradition she upholds at the end of every class. This time it’s Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson. Though I heard it a million times, Madiba’s journey from anti-apartheid revolutionary to president never seizes to inspire me. Particularly moving was the last page of the book, showing an illustration of the newly elected president with a fist up in the air and the following text:
“Awethu!” (To us!)
It all made sense. Power did indeed belong to the people – it came from their incredible stories.
Hibatalla Ibrahim is a Master’s in Education candidate in the International Education Policy Program. Transitioning from marketing to international development, she has special interest in girls’ and urban refugee education. She loves cooking, writing and exercising (OK maybe not).