Other People’s Children

I’ve tried to sit down and write this for days, and then I’ve thought about not writing it at all. But the thing is, you can’t unsee the image of a precious child dead on a beach, and nor can you – should you – look away.

In a few short days, Aylan Kurdi has become the global image of the refugee crisis and I, like countless others, have covered my eyes with my hands and cried for him. This three-year old child slipped screaming from his father’s desperate arms and drowned in a cold ocean. He died alone while so many of us woke up, drank our coffees and blow-dried our hair, wondering where we should go on our next holiday and what we should cook for dinner.

His tiny body lying face-down on that sand is one of the most harrowing and heartbreaking images I’ve seen in my life, and in the end, all I could see was my own son lying there in his place. That was Billy lying there lifeless on that sand and I, like so many people around the world, wept in despair at how unacceptable it was to fathom.

“This is why I don’t follow the news,” Joel says as he consoles me. “Stop looking,” he tells me when I can barely speak. I understand his ignorance and I see it for the strategy it is but it makes me furious. Ignorance is half the problem and if, after four years of extreme violence and the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in decades, it took a little Syrian boy washed up on a beach for the world to finally take notice and scream THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE, the loss of his life, then, has not been in vain, and I for one refuse to look away and say, “well, what can you do?”. I hope his father knows what a ripple Aylan sent out, how the world held him in their broken hearts. I hope he knows that his precious boy opened so many of our eyes to refugee facts and what families in Brisbane cooking dinner in their kitchens on an ordinary Monday evening can do.

Because take away politicians and people just want to help.

Look, I know it’s a complicated dilemma. I know the world goes round not on love but on dollars. But I swear to God, if Tony Abbott were sitting at my dinner table tonight, I would loudly inform him that I would happily pay more tax if it meant dead children on beaches were just a silly dream and never for one hot second a reality. I would tell him every single person I know would go with a little less, because I know no one with a beating heart who would prefer to buy a new pair of shoes than to witness Aylan’s photo and do nothing. I just know no one who wouldn’t forfeit a night out to do their own small part.

And then I’d ask him what he would do if his family and his home was ravaged by war. I’d ask him where the hell he would turn if he was an ordinary Syrian civilian trying his best to protect his desperate, terrified, hungry family. I’d ask him how he would feel, what the effing hell he would do if the world’s leaders refused to help him because, “Sorry, pal, you are no profit to us. We can’t afford you. You’re on your own. Unlucky for you. Watch those guns, now! Don’t let your daughters get raped! Try not to get yourself killed, now! Drown out that screaming!” What would you do, Tony? Would you cry? Would you cry then?

You know what you’d do, Tony? You’d pray and pray and pray that the world bypassed their politicians and screamed HELL NO. You’d pray that people like me even gave a shit. You’d pray that we’d fight and kick and pound the governments which represent us and you’d pray we’d push aside these ghastly men in suits and scream I WILL HELP YOU. You know what you’d do Tony? You’d pray like fucking hell that we gave everything we could to non-government based relief supports to get you the hell out of there. Water. Food. Clothes. Money. A bed to rest your terrified child on. You’d pray we make room in our lives to afford you. You’d pray and pray and pray that we pushed so hard it made our governments change their minds.  You, Tony, would pray with every drop of blood in your desperate body that someone would come save your children.

In the past couple of days I’ve seen news of billionaires offering to buy islands for Syrian refugees to flee to. I’ve seen images of cash-strapped Grecians sending out food and water to aid. I’ve dug deeper into facts about Nauru and Manus Island and I’ve read articles on how Australians right now can help refugees. I’ve seen rich families running private boating operations six months out of every year to save refugees at sea and I’ve seen media stories flying and an uproar in public outrage, and though I’m trapped under a government that does not represent me, I also believe that public pressure – power in the masses – can hold the potential for change.

In devastation, there are always people who run towards instead of away. We take our cues from the running to-ers: the helpers, the givers, the savers — because a world with no humanity is the closest thing to Hell I can imagine. We fill ourselves up on stories of running to-ers and we copy them. We, with the resources we have, emulate the hell out of the running to-ers. Because as Maya Angelou said: “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere.”

Please copy the running to-ers, friends. “There is no such thing as other people’s children” – Anon

Look at these helpers:


To Aylan’s father: That soldier on the beach? I want you to know he held your son ever so gently. He carried your son’s precious body with the respect it deserved and though you’re probably so blinded by your own pain, I want you to know the world wept. Wept. I’m so sorry we failed you. I’m so sorry it took four years and your son’s lifeless body on a beach for me to even care about what was happening in your country. I know now. I know and I’m doing better by you.


5 Responses to “Other People’s Children”

  1. Mitch

    The last paragraph is very moving. It made me teary-eyed. It’s never too late. I just want you to know that you are a wonderful human being. Thank you for this inspiring read. 🙂

    PS I’m not Australian, but I read a lot about Tony Abbot in the news. The comment section is always full of insults against him. He’s not highly regarded by many. I don’t take it against Australia and Australians. We are so much more than our politicians.

    • The Red Tent

      Thanks for writing in. I can definitely confirm how poorly regarded Tony Abbott is and it’s comforting to know people like you are aware he does not represent the people of his country. I personally hate the man. But in regards to refugees, our opposition is not much better. So all we can do is support non-government relief organisations and try to take matters into our own hands. I love that over 10000 Icelanders offered their homes to Syrians and it made their government rethink its commitment to the refugee crisis. Power to the people!

      • Mitch

        Icelanders are wonderful. It warmed my heart when I read about it. Some governments are really hard in the heart. But ordinary people are doing great things. It is heartwarming. The little kindness will add up and will one day overwhelm the world, to paraphrase a quote from Tutu. Power to the people indeed! 🙂

  2. lifelaughsandchaos

    That image breaks my heart, and so does the thought that tragedy like that is so common for so many people. I like your quote “A good done anywhere is a good done everywhere”, it helps take the enormity out of the issue, the feeling of it all being so big a problem that nothing I can do can possibly make a difference and reminds me that my small part can add up to a larger whole, and that does make a difference.

    • The Red Tent

      I know what you mean – it seems so big and those precious children so small and you – just one person – but everything does make a difference, it really does. Money, your signature on a petition, conversations with friends, anything to build public momentum is a force of good — it makes you feel like part of the solution instead of drowning in helplessness.


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