“Creating Room for people is not only doable, it is a moral imperative,” said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last night at the United Nation’s World Humanitarian Day Gala in New York.
August 19th, 2016 was World Humanitarian Day and as such there were many events held around the world inviting delegates, ambassadors, media outlets and the public to unite and create change. The United Nations headquarters in New York held a gala featuring several talented writers, activists, actors, performers and creatives to come and share their experience and work in creating one humanity. With so many esteemed and talented people there was undoubtedly one star of the evening, Hala Kamil. Hala and her family were the subjects of Marcel Mettelsiefen’s documentary Children on the Frontline. The documentary depicts Hala and her family’s journey from Aleppo to Europe. Today Hala is a spokesperson for refugee rights and shares her story in hopes of creating solidarity for those who have been forced to leave their countries. Throughout the night various parts of the documentary prefaced each speaker, constantly reminding us of the ongoing struggle in Aleppo and the reality of refugees.
Filmmaker Andrew Jenks, from MTV’s World Of Jenks was the evening’s MC introducing the notable speakers and performers throughout the night. Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones, is a well-known women’s rights activist and the face of the “Because I Am A Girl” Campaign. Dormer spoke about the necessity of education for girls and how they are more likely to be subjected to sexual violence during war. Dormer gave a moving speech as did actress Yasmine Al Massri, best known for her roles on Quantico and 2007 film Caramel. Al Massri was a refugee herself and came out to speak about the pain and call to action. Al Massri even translated for Hala and was brought to tears as she reiterated Hala’s’ thoughts. Hala described how her beloved Aleppo is burning and how she hopes to alleviate the pain and suffering of her people. Hala was overcome with emotion as the entire conference gave Hala a standing ovation.
The night featured performances by Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf who the United Nations has also designated as the Regional Youth Ambassador for Palestinian refugees in the near east. Assaf was a refugee himself and has firsthand experience of the good the United Nations Relief and Works Agency can do. He hopes to spread the message of humanity through his music and help refugees like himself. Other performers included Alisan Porter, winner of season 10 of The Voice, who dedicated her performance that night to Hala Kamil. As a mother of two, Porter felt empowered and overcome by Kamil’s courage and perseverance as she made many sacrifices for her children’s safety. The Tony-Award-winning Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton also took the stage to serenade the crowd. The final performance of the evening was by New York’s own Harlem Gospel Choir.
Keynote speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a renowned author, gender equality activist and 2008 MacArthur Fellowship recipient. She began with an anecdote about how her family had sought shelter at their neighbor, Emmanuelle’s house and if it had not been for his generosity she might not be here today. When Adichie’s father knocked on Emmanuelle’s door it was apparent that room was sparse and yet he said, “we will make room.” In conditions so harsh, with barely enough necessities for his own family, Emmanuelle welcomed Adichie’s family and that’s what she’s urging us to do today. She also described how her perception of Mexican immigrants had been warped by American media and how it wasn’t until she visited Mexico herself that she saw how wrong the negative portrayal of Mexicans truly was. Why was this so relevant? Because we need to make room for Syrian refugees or any refugees to that matter, but most importantly realize the humanity we share regardless of what the media depicts.