ASU student blogs 'through the eyes of a refugee'

October 3, 2017

Change isn’t always grand or sweeping. Sometimes something as simple as a blog, can open people’s eyes to a global issue that needs our attention.

For Arizona State University global studies major Natalija Staletovic, this is where she started. A spray-painted wall that lined the "barracks" where refuges lived. Download Full Image

Every year, global studies majors within ASU's School of Politics and Global Studies enroll in the Global Experience program. Staletovic is one such student, and in early 2017, she earned the internship of a lifetime: working with UN Women in Belgrade, Serbia.

Staletovic began her work in the United Nations House in Belgrade. After becoming acquainted with her supervisor and coworkers, she was given several folders filled with documents on the UN’s mission in Belgrade and its goals for the refugees who stayed in the camps there.

She remarked that, while she understood that women and girls face much abuse, the statistics shocked her. Staletovic decided to dedicate her time with the UN towards serving women and girls who had become victims of violence in the region and abroad.

Once she had familiarized herself with the statistics, Staletovic began working with female refugees in the camp, engaging with them in the “Women’s Corner” where they made crafts. She also taught some English classes, and in general communicated with those who knew some Serbian or English. From them she heard — and in some cases, saw — the abuse they had suffered and baggage they carried with them as a result. Staletovic said none of the statistics did justice to the personal and horrific experiences these women had faced.

Natalija Staletovic

After working for the UN for some time, Staletovic began a blog titled “Through The Eyes Of A Refugee” on Tumblr. The original purpose of the blog was of a personal nature; hearing the stories first-hand from men and women who had suffered so much, Staletovic was moved, coming to the conclusion that it was necessary for their stories to be shared with the world. In a style reminiscent of Humans of New York, a popular blog also started on Tumblr, Staletovic began to record the experiences of the many refugees stuck in Serbia.

A common theme found throughout the refugees’ stories is hope in the face of all odds and the endurance of the human spirit. One story follows a young man whose name is redacted at his request; he is referred to as “Dglesh,” which means “Flash Fire” in the Kurdish language. He spoke of starting work at only eight years old, helping the family make ends-meet until he fled to Iraq at the age of thirteen to make more money for his family. The way in which Staletovic describes the young man’s battles with depression and suicidal thoughts, to eventually having dreams of reaching Germany, are uplifting.

Staletovic explored the humanity of the refugees and what could be characterized as “frustrated desperation.” Her blog features images and a video from a bundle of abandoned warehouses commonly known as “the barracks.” Here, young men make home as they prepare to illegally enter other nations which are known for being extremely hostile to refuges such as Hungary. 

The barracks are filled with “tents, makeshift beds, and smoke from fires of the food cooking.” Amidst the “unhygienic conditions” are spray-painted walls, home to pleas for help and reminders of their humanity; one reads, “Refugees are Not terrorists,” while another, in bright orange, states “Please Help Us.” It is a stark reminder of their fate and the horrific conditions they face, conditions easily forgotten when thousands of miles away.

Staletovic’s supervisors saw her blog as a unique project; it became her main project for UN Women, and was eventually shared by UN Women Serbia and plans to be shared by the UN Women Europe and Central Asia website.

By May 31, she had finished her project and ended her internship with UN Women. However, that does not mean she is done. Staletovic hopes to one day return and work again with the UN House, possibly even working with the United Nations Development Programs (UNDP) in Syria.

“Even if [I] made an inch of a difference to the world, at least it was an inch and its one inch closer to making this world a better place,” Staletovic said. “The world won’t change overnight; it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of patience.”

office assistant, School of Politics and Global Studies

Libraries still essential to cities, concludes ASU panel in Mexico City

October 3, 2017

Libraries are an essential part of a city’s social infrastructure and of its information nervous system, as people affected by the devastating September earthquakes in Mexico City are well aware.

This was the topic of an Arizona State University-sponsored event last Thursday held in Mexico City’s iconic Porrúa bookstore on the edge of Chapultepec Park. people sitting in a panel Veronica Juárez (center), a former librarian at Mexico City’s prestigious Biblioteca Vasconcelos turned independent consultant, speaks during the latest Arizona State University Convergence Lab event in Mexico, titled “Are Libraries Obsolete?”, alongside Heriberto Hérnandez (left), manager of Mexican book publisher and book seller Libreria Porrua, and ASU librarian Jim O'Donnell (right). Photo by Zayda Avila Download Full Image

“It’s at times like these when we appreciate more than ever our shared cultural urban spaces,” said Andrés Martínez, ASU Professor of Practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, at the opening of the latest ASU Convergence Lab conversation in Mexico, titled “Are Libraries Obsolete?”

Jim O´Donnell — ASU university librarian and professor of historical, philosophical and religious studies — postulated that the need for libraries has never been greater, while acknowledging that he wasn’t sure which of two competing scenarios would be true by 2100: we might have 3 million libraries in the world, a number he gets by globally extending the density of libraries-to-population in the U.S., or one networked central library for all humankind. 

There will always be a need for local, unique materials — such as Sen. Barry Goldwater’s papers at ASU to be archived — O’Donnell said, though a more rational access to such resources as digitized scholarly articles will need to be developed. 

O’Donnell added that while libraries are far from obsolete, they do need to rethink their design and purpose for a new era, as opposed to continuing to assume that their end-all, defining metric is the number of physical volumes in their stacks (4.5 million at ASU). He also joked that coffee is a new element that needs to be incorporated in all library redesigns. 

But if there is one thing that will not change, ASU’s librarian insisted, it is that libraries will always be discrimination-free spaces, facilitating the discovery of new ideas.

“That to me is the social value of libraries,” O’Donnell said.

During the panel, Veronica Juárez, a former librarian at Mexico City’s prestigious Biblioteca Vasconcelos turned independent consultant, said that at a critical period of social and political change for Mexico, “libraries should become the ‘third space’ in our lives — a place where we go to read, think and relax.” She also described ongoing efforts by libraries and other cultural organizations to bring books and public reading to those displaced by the Sept. 19 earthquake.

Heriberto Hérnandez, the manager of Libreria Porrua, a Mexican book publisher and book seller established in 1900, said that his company remained committed to being a part of the broader ecosystem that encourages making reading a lifelong, affordable habit.

“Whether it’s here in our bookstore, in a library, or on the metro, you see people eagerly reading physical books these days, belying the notion that Mexico is not a nation of readers,” he said.

When asked how ASU’s commitment to be a public university that is deeply embedded in the community affects its academic library, O’Donnell cited as an example the current archiving of oral histories and other documents pertaining to a wide cross-section of Arizonans. 

“We don’t merely want to compile the paper of business and political leaders,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell was heartened by the presence in the audience of fellow librarians from several of Mexico’s leading research libraries, as well as library science students.  He told them they were the information Jedi knights of the future, arbiters of truth and facts in a world conspiring against clarity.

Imagine a world without libraries and librarians, O’Donnell said.

“What if the number of libraries in 50 years is zero and we all become dependent of whatever information we get from whatever devices we have in our hands?” he asked. 

For her part, Juárez answered that would be a dystopian future.

“Libraries have always been a response to censorship in favor of truth, in favor of discovery, in favor of the kind of social good that comes when human beings have access to the best of other human beings,” she said.