“What would your life be like if you were somebody else? Have you ever imagined stepping into someone else’s shoes and how would you react to a given situation?”
Those were the lines with which UNESCO invited people to participate in their photo contest “If I were…”. Participants were invited to step into the footsteps of another person’s life and express their experience and feelings in one photo by changing their perspective and expressing themselves differently. The idea was to illustrate their feelings if they were this other person, change their perspective and express themselves differently while developing their empathy and leaving their prejudices behind!
UNESCO received over 837 submissions, from over 117 countries around the world. One of those submissions was by FAU-Student Sulaiman Vesal, who ended up being one of the winners. Originally being from Afghanistan he had an encounter with two kids on one of his trips visiting his family, which he could not forget. He was at a cemetery on a cold winter morning with -13 C, when he noticed two kids, who spent the whole morning selling water to visitors. It is custom in Afghanistan to show respect to the deceased by cleaning their gravestone. To do so people need to carry water from the closest dwell to the gravestone, which sometimes is very far away. The kids offered to carry the water and clean the tombstones for as little as 15-20 cents. When Sulaiman asked the kids, who were wearing their schoolbag, why they do this, they answered they work on the cemetery every day before and after school, in order to support their family and be able to go to school. Both motivated to make and work hard for their own future.
Sulaiman was really impressed by how responsible the kids were for their age. Kids this age should not have to go to work, but should be able to focus on their school. This made him think about where he would be nowadays, if he was one of the kids. Would he still be where he is today or would his life have taken an entire different path?
Stories like this make us realize how much some people need to struggle and how some people, especially us in the western world, hardly struggle, but complain the most. Those two hardworking kids in Afghanistan were not complaining about their work. They worked in order to support their family and be able to go to school and create their own future. While we are sitting here, sometimes complaining about going to class at 8 am and therefore not being able to sleep in, we often forget how privileged we are and just how much we take for granted.
Photo contests like this and pictures like Sulaiman’s with the title “Graves make for us money” remind us to see beyond our own noses. We need to acknowledge different realities, in order to appreciate how lucky we are and how relative fate is.
At the end of our talk Sulaiman said something that really stuck with me: “Life is going on – that’s the good thing.” Life is full of possibilities and changes and this is the exciting and positive thing of life. And who knows: Maybe the two boys in the picture will study at the FAU in fifteen years and follow Sulaiman’s footsteps.
Thank you Sulaiman for the very interesting and thought provoking talk!