The discussion surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis is cycling through media outlets and political discussions around the world right now. Tuesday, Jan. 21, Elizabethtown College hosted a film screening which catalyzed and continued this conversation right here on campus. The event was co-sponsored by Etown’s Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking and the Christ Lutheran Church of Elizabethtown.
The film shown is called Salam Neighbor. Salam translates “hello” in Arabic, making the explicit purpose of this movie clear from the start, to create a scene where viewers can see refugees as their neighbors, or at least as fellow human beings worthy of help.
The event consisted of the movie screening and then a panel discussion involving multiple experts on Middle Eastern politics and general refugee crises, specifically the Syrian refugee crisis. Ambassador John B. Craig, Ambassador-in-Residence explained that the youth director of Grace Lutheran Church approached Kay Wolf, Program Manager at the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking with the idea of having a collaborative program.
“We thought it was a really good idea to expand the perception of refugees,” Jonathan Rudy, Peacemaker-in-Residence, said.
A student attendee asked the panel why this issue should matter to Etown students.
“Human dignity is a basic need, it’s a basic right of all human beings. If we are to understand the basics of human dignity we need to see films like this to show us how far we need to come,” Craig recalled as a similar response to the one the questioning student received from one of the other panel members.
The film’s website (www.livingonone.org/salamneighbor) explains that the movie documented the plight of refugees in the Za’atari refugee camp. The website states: “as the first filmmakers ever allowed by the United Nations to be given a tent and registered inside a refugee camp, we were able to get a never before seen look into the world’s most pressing crisis.”
Craig discussed that before the war in Syria, many people living there were living a middle class life, and that the transition to refugee camps has been far more drastic than many people may realize.
The trauma these refugees face is portrayed throughout the movie in various situations, including one situation in which a child who is terrified of going to school because he was in his school when it was bombed. The child goes to school with the coercion of the filmmakers, but once the filmmakers leave the refugee camp, the child stops attending due to the continuing effects of the trauma.
This type of situation is not uncommon, neither are dozens of other trauma-inducing situations which these refugees have experienced. However, through all of their struggles though, Craig concluded that refugees want very similar things to what Americans want.
“They want to have a better life for their children,” Craig said.
Rudy said that he felt student opinions towards refugees definitely changed following this movie. He recalled that there weren’t many attendees who didn’t tear up during the documentary.
“Any time we get to that place of empathy, of tearing up, there has been a change of heart,” he said.
The film is currently only available to be viewed via theater or community events. There is an upcoming screening of the film happening on Feb. 20 in Center City Philadelphia, Pa., if students are interested and were unable to attend the College’s screening. A full listing of events hosting this film can be found at www.livingonone.org/salamneighbor/theater-events.
“I’d like to see this movie more widely shown,” Rudy said. “Whenever we put a human face on a global issue, it gives us that ability to reach out and touch someone specifically.”