We spoke with director Danny Boyle and musician K’naan about their personal connections to the refugee crisis and what it means to be a humanitarian.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) holds an annual dinner to celebrate individuals who have made exceptional contributions to those less fortunate around the world. This year former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has been honored with the Freedom Award for his commitment to philanthropic work with his organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies. Swedish actress Liv Ullmann has also been honored for her extensive work with the IRC and with UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
The IRC was founded in 1933 at the insistence of Albert Einstein, and provides help for refugees everywhere. Its aim is to help anyone displaced by war, natural disaster, or persecution. Past honorees for the Freedom Award include Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Winston Churchill, and Václav Havel.
During his speech, Bloomberg offered words of encouragement about the refugee crisis. “It is a crisis of so many causes and no easy solutions, but we can’t sit back, throw up our hands, and do nothing while people suffer. I think that as Americans, and as New Yorkers, we have a special responsibility to lend a hand.”
We spoke with Danny Boyle before the dinner, who came to promote Dramatic Need, an organization which sends arts professionals to educate underprivileged children in Africa. It also provides many types of art equipment to African schools, so children can express themselves.
We also spoke with K’naan, himself a Somali refugee, who has used music as a way to express his experiences.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a humanitarian?
A: Well everybody is. I mean, everybody should be, because we share a planet. And what you find by travel, and I’m lucky to travel — it’s one of the fortunate things. Médecins Sans Frontières took me on a trip to Uzbekistan about ten years ago, because of a crisis there — a multi-drug resistant TB crisis that was going on there. And you learn so much about traveling. And that’s all you can do to people. If you’re moved by appeals like IRC’s appeal, then give, if you can afford to give. If you can’t afford to give, then lend support vocally, you know, [through] social media. If you can, travel. Because then you’ll share what we all share, really, which is one planet. There’s so much that connects us, when it appears that so much disconnects us. So if that’s what it means to be a humanitarian, then yes. I’d be ashamed not to be.
Q: It’s being part of the world.
A: Yeah, and recognizing that everybody’s story is valuable. You can’t help everybody, but when you can help, you should try and help.
Q: Why are you passionate about aiding refugees?
A: I myself was one. I came from Somalia when I was thirteen. But not only that — I’m an artist and so I have a lot of empathy for human beings as you tend to if you’re like an artist, and you hope that more people are that way.
Q: And what brought you to music in the first place?
A: Having something to say. It was inevitable. Also my family are musicians — my grandfather was one of the great poets of my country. When I myself came to this part of the world, and learned English, I had a story, and music was the thing that helped me navigate.