“We See Who Pays the Price”: Muzoon Almellehan on War and Refugees

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Hey, y’all, it’s Brittany. It’s been just over a month since Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February the 24th. And like all of you, I’ve been watching in horror as cities have been ransacked and families have been displaced, as lives have been stolen. As NICU babies had to shelter in hospital basements.

So many of us have contributed to relief efforts, have shared news stories from the region and, not but, and in the days and weeks since we have been hearing many raise their voices about clear inequities between the response of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. And well, so many of the other refugee crises that have come before and many that are still happening, the viral humanitarian responses for Ukraine are absolutely the right thing to do.

And it is also the right thing to do for Syria. And for Yemen. The media coverage of the Ukrainian crisis is wall to wall. While stories about what many classify as genocide in the Tigray region of Ethiopia is hardly ever seen. The truth is this, when harm is done to people of color and the refugees are coming from nations across the global south, the response is racist, inadequate, and ultimately deeply harmful. 

And I share those complaints as does our entire team. So, we got a choice to make. We could amplify those very legitimate frustrations, especially about the lack of media coverage for displaced people worldwide. Or we could remember we are the media and just do it ourselves. So, hopefully this episode brings us into the lives of all displaced people. And from Ukraine to Honduras to Syria, deepens our value of one another’s humanity across the board. We are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, I’ll be talking to Muzoon Almellehan, UNICEF’s youngest Goodwill Ambassador about the world’s refugee crisis. 

Muzoon Almellehan: When the war happened, we see displaced children and women who really have nothing to do with what war.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s coming up, but first it’s the news.

So, like I said, this week, we are going deep into what it means to be a refugee and how we can stand in solidarity with displaced people worldwide. So, let’s start here. As of this week, nearly 4 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland with more than 6 million people displaced inside the country. They have joined a particularly afflicted global community.

Dr. Serena Parekh: There are 84 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: This is Serena Parekh, professor of philosophy at Northeastern University and author of the book No Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis. Alongside the terrifying abuses they have faced, Professor Parex says Ukrainians are now being aided in at least one systemic way.

Dr. Serena Parekh: The really amazing thing that’s happened in Europe is the temporary protection directive. And what that means is that as soon as somebody crosses Ukraine into Poland, they are immediately given authorization to travel across Europe, to work in any country in the European union, and they’re given a bunch of help along the way. Access to education, access to healthcare, et cetera. While they’re waiting.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That level of support for refugees is humane and necessary, but it isn’t usually what happens. In the early 2010s, Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis fleeing violence in their homeland were initially tolerated or even welcomed in some European nations. But Professor Parekh says that by 2015, many countries were finding ways to skirt international law to avoid having to host asylum seekers at all, making deals with nations, like Turkey to house people or even funding the Libyan coast guard to intercept migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

And the U S has been very little help. It’s been accepting drastically fewer refugees ever since September 11th and more recently has adopted policies like remain in Mexico for asylum seekers coming through south and central America and parts of the Caribbean. It’s a stark contrast to the displays of generosity that have greeted Ukrainians at Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian boarders.

Dr. Serena Parekh: We should be receiving all children, you know, with Teddy bears and chocolate bars, not batons and pepper spray, and not just of course, refugees who are quote unquote like us, but all refugees who ask for help.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Professor Parekh says the difference in treatment is in some ways complicated. And in other words, It’s really quite simple.

Dr. Serena Parekh: I think it is hard to ignore race, especially when we think about why it was that they were so determined to keep out refugees from other places. So it’s not merely that they’re treating Ukrainian refugees a little better than they treated other refugees. But it is a complex question and I, and I don’t want to reduce it to racism.

There’s many really understandable reasons why people sympathize both with people they see as like themselves, but also as people, they have connections to, they know many Ukrainians and they really see themselves in Ukrainians’ shoes. They think we know that could be us. If they don’t succeed, we could be the next country Russia attacks.

So they want to do everything they possibly can to support Ukrainian. So you can really understand why it is that there’s so much sympathy, but the problem is that human rights and refugee rights are not supposed to be based on sympathy, they’re supposed to be based on being human. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: It’s not just a matter of theoretical rights. It’s a matter of international law, which guarantees refugees rights. According to Caitlyn Chandler, a freelance journalist covering migration and security. 

Caitlin Chandler: You cannot send someone back to a country where they will face violence or persecution. However, how countries have interpreted these laws depends often on politics, Denmark, for instance is sending Syrians back to Syria, even though it’s not safe to return there.

And that’s something that I think is not just happening in the EU, but across wealthy countries globally. So, you also had Australia who was arresting refugees, trying to reach Australia and sending them to Papua New Guinea, where they were in detention centers. The US has also tried to stop people from crossing the border from Mexico and would like them to stay on the other side.

And this is a big shift in global asylum policy because the law says that you should be able to cross a border and then seek asylum. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Chandler also makes an interesting. Wealthier nations might be turning away refugees now, but we could be refugees in the future. 

Caitlin Chandler: I think we’re moving towards a future in which climate change is going to cause mass upheaval, mass migration, including within the US. It’s also going to be that Americans will be moving and migrating. So it’s absolutely in our best interest to think about how can we make that more humane now? How can we work towards changing these policies today. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Here’s where I want to leave us on this issue. Migration isn’t yet. And we have always known how we are supposed to treat migraine Islamic law states that individuals have the right both to seek and be granted asylum in any Muslim state. Leviticus of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah, instructs that when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him or her or them as yourself.

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Muzoon Almellehan about fleeing Syria as a child and how the world can be more just in its treatment of refugees right after this short break. 

And we are back. It can be hard to put into words what is lost when families are displaced by war or hunger or drought. Families lose their ability to support each other. Workers lose their ability to support themselves. Children lose their friends, their schools, their sense of safety, and young girls risk losing their childhood.

Among Syrians, living in refugee camps in Lebanon, 40% of girls under the age of 18 are married. In Turkey, that number is 45%.  Families who fled to refugee camps often make the very difficult choice to find husbands for their daughters to try to protect them from violence or to stabilize their finances.

With child marriage puts girls at risk of injury or death during childbirth and causes them to leave school, putting them at a lifelong disadvantage. In 2013, when Muzoon Almellehan’s, family fled war in Syria to a refugee camp in Jordan, she was shocked by the number of children who had left school.

So at the age of 14, she began to campaign trying to convince parents that rather than marry off their daughters, they should keep them in school. Her activism and her education has continued even as she’s resettled in the United Kingdom and gone to university. She’s a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador working to make sure children have access to school in emergency situations.

We wanted to talk to Muzzon about what it’s like to be displaced and what her hopes are for the global community of displaced people. 

Muzzon, thank you so much for having this conversation. It’s just a pleasure to meet you. 

Muzoon Almellehan: Me too. It has been a great pleasure to meet you, too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Do you mind introducing yourself to our listeners?

Muzoon Almellehan: Yes, for sure. So, my name is and I am 23 years old. So, I will be 24 very soon next month. I am from Syria. And so I had to flee my homeland in 2013 and they lived in refugee camps for three years in Jordan. And I’m currently living and studying in the United Kingdom. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, happy birthday in advance. First of all. 

Muzoon Almellehan: Thank you so much.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I hope that it’s a day full of joy and that your year ahead is full of abundance. You already talked a little bit about, um, having to flee Syria. Can you tell us about the day your family left?

Muzoon Almellehan: And so basically once the war started, we had really many, many challenges. Eh, our lives were changed upside down.

For example, we really didn’t have access to our basic needs and we lived in the war for two years. But the last days before fleeing, it becomes really dangerous to stay there. So the level of bombing and the level of fighting around us, it increased. Which forced us basically to take this difficult decision and to flee our country and our town.

So, the only option was to go to Jordan because it was really close to my hometown called Daraa, which is on south in Syria. Close to the border with Jordan. So, there was an option to go to the camp, Zachary camp. So my family and also my uncle’s family, basically, they both sat together and talked about it and they said the future is unknown. But we have no choice. 

We want to flee for our children, for their safety, for their education, for their life. And maybe we will stay just for a few days or for a month or so. Because no one expected the world will be extended like this for such a long time. So we thought that is just the short time we will stay there and then we can come back to Syria.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Um, what do you remember about the day that you left? 

Muzoon Almellehan: So, I remember it was a fairly sad day. It was like a dream because when you live in a place, since you were a child, you have all your friends, your relatives, your school, your neighbors, all the people you know. And suddenly all these things will disappear.

And you flee to a place which is brand new. We don’t know anything about the camp. It was such a new experience. And also we saw in the news how the situation is really difficult in the camp. So, we were afraid to flee and also sad, because we leave many people behind. I remember everyone was crying, but, uh, I remember we woke up really early in the morning. We had to pack, eh, just the things that we need them the most.

So, of course we couldn’t really bring everything or everything we need. We just had basically, to take the things that we think it is the most necessities and essentials for us. For me, I remember in that day, I just thought about what is the most important thing to me. And I immediately thought about my school books because I was in grade nine and I was studying very, very hard for that year.

It was a national exams for grade nine in Syria. So, I was sad, also to leave my school and all the efforts that they have made during that time. So, basically I just packed my school books, even though they were really heavy. But I thought that they were what I needed and what will give me hope to get back to my journey.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So you’re in the ninth grade, you pack up your school books. You pack up your sadness and you make that journey to Jordan with your family to a refugee camp that you’ve never seen before. You don’t know what to expect. What was that first day in the camp like for you in Jordan? Do you remember what your first impression was?

Muzoon Almellehan: Yeah. So, the first impression was getting really disappointed why we came. We started to blame ourselves, eh, we were saying just, we want to go back. You know, we don’t know this place. It’s something get really weird to live in a tent. To have such a basic life, which was really challenging. And to start everything from nothing like to start a new life, which was super challenging.

So, the first impression we decided to go back. So, basically who started to ask how we can go back to Syria. Even it is was, it is much better than staying in the camp, it is much better. This situation, no matter what is going on in Syria, even if we are going to die, we want to go back. But then actually we saw some relatives who actually went to the camp before us.

They assured us, they said that it’s difficult at the beginning. Of course it is not the perfect life. It is not something we want, but we can basically deal with the situation and just live in this situation until we see what’s going on in Syria. So, yeah, we suffered a lot at the beginning, but then day by day, eh, we started to know new friends and new people, new neighbors, eh, the school, which made me really hopeful.

And no matter what the challenges that were facing us, at least I had school and found hope through that. Because I believed through my education I can face the challenges. I can follow my dreams and I can do something, which I feel for myself is valuable and really gives me the strength to be the person that I really want to be.

So all these factors help us to deal with the current situation. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So you may do, in the camp, you, you did what you had to do. You stayed for a while, and then you went to the UK, which is where you are now.  

Muzoon Almellehan: So basically,  all of this, uh, while by chance, we were expecting to come back, by somehow to our country.

But in 2015, I was told by the organizations there, eh, there is an opportunity if you want to resettle to, uh, an European country, if you want. So basically sat with the family and we discussed that, eh, and we thought it will be the best option in the current situation because the situation in Syria is still very difficult.

It is very bad. The things get worse, they don’t get better. So no, um, hope to go back to Syria in the short time. And also I was in my last year of education in the camp, which was the Jordanian curriculum. Uh, so it was like year 12, which is the last year of education in Jordan. And then we can go to the university.

So I thought, anyways, maybe we’ll leave the camp to study if I got like a scholarship or so basically we thought that is a good opportunity. And we agreed. And then the process started and we have to choose in the UK and came here. But I’m so thankful for this opportunity. And they feel now that the UK is my second home. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: So, I want to know a little bit more about your activism in the camp, right?

Because everybody’s not making that choice. That’s an incredibly difficult choice. It’s hard enough to survive in that situation. And yet you choose to take that time. To engage in activism for the sake of everyone around you. Tell me a little bit about your activism while you were at the camp. 

Muzoon Almellehan: Yes. This is really such an important question because it was the beginning against something I’m so proud that they have done.

So, basically in a situation like the camp, we have two choices. One is to just give up. Or to choose to be hopeful and face the challenges. And I didn’t allow those challenges and this situation to basically defeat me. So, I have chosen to fight and to defeat the challenges, to be stronger than them. And don’t allow them to make me lose hope or to lose that, eh, the belief in myself, or to believe that I deserve to reach my rights.

Because I didn’t make the war and I didn’t choose to be a refugee, but I still have hopes and still have dreams. I also still deserve to reach what I want. And also I have pride in particular, my education. So for me, I don’t accept to lose my rights and that’s what they wanted for every child in the camp.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: I mean, I don’t think anybody could blame you or anyone for, for making the choice just to make it through and survive. And yet, you made the choice to be an activist, then you’ve continued to do that work. You are now an advocate for other refugees as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Here’s, what’s powerful about this.

You’re the youngest ambassador. You’re also the first former person who’s been a refugee, to have this particular role. So, I want to, I really want to tap into your expertise as someone who has just such a clearly global view. I think that it’s easy sometimes for us, especially in the west to get caught up only in what’s happening in our community, on our doorstep.

Can you help our listeners understand the range of experiences that refugees can have? 

Muzoon Almellehan: Basically, before maybe like I have become a refugee. I thought maybe to become a refugee to something could be shameful.  Something people could label me, like I said, somebody who’s weak or unable to do something.

Somebody who just needs basic care things like food and shelter. I know these things are really fundamental and we need to provide people with like food and shelter, but refugees have things beyond that. They have dreams. They have rights. They have expertise. They have also contributions that they can offer to the word.

The only difference is that their circumstances, like war. So now maybe I think after what’s going on in Ukraine, people have started to see, what’s happening here basically, which is something really sad. But I think when people really start to see it in different places, they realize we are forced to do so. It is not our choice.

So, people of Syria, people of Ukraine. Many countries when they are forced and their lives at danger, they have no choice and all of them, they really want to stay in their countries. But when their lives at risk, they need to migrate to another country or to cross borders. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about what refugee is and unfortunately, most of them, they are really, really negative, but I just want to assure people that refugees, we all need a better life. We need safety, we need peace and we have good and bad people at the same time. 

So if just the media, for example, sometimes says, refugees are making our life at risk or eh, they are stealing our jobs or our opportunities, I think this is just the propaganda that is not based on facts and evidence.

And that then we all live human beings and we have the same feelings there. And we have many similarities. I know we have differences, but we definitely can learn from these differences. And we still have many things in common because when we feel compassionate about each other and support each other, we can really move forward. But once we discriminate each other and then we become racist towards some groups of people, I think we go back.

And the great thing about differences is to learn from them not to, eh, just become enemies or to fight each other, or just to have hate on each other. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: The points that you’re making are so salient in part because it’s the humanity of it all that matters. It’s one thing to think about the contributions and the expertise that people come with, but even without all of that, displaced people are human and it could happen to any of us. Right? 

Muzoon Almellehan: Yes, definitely. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: And so the kind of peace that all of us deserve in the, in that moment is what you seek. 

Muzoon Almellehan: Yes. At the end, we all could be in the same situation. So Syria, for example, before 2011 it was such a peaceful country. We had peace, we had safety. So the rise of refugees coming from Syria becomes a clear just after the war. Before the war, there was no Syrian who really lived to seek refuge in any neighboring country. But it is just the war, the factor of war, which drive people like me and like millions to flee their homeland.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Uh, you know, I think some people might get the impression that if someone is leaving a place where there is war or where there’s hunger, whatever the circumstances are that have driven someone to migrate to move that the camp that’s run maybe by a relief agency or an NGO, that that life is automatically going to be better and safer than what people are fleeing.

And sadly, unfortunately that’s not always the case. Can you talk about some of the stressors that come with being a displaced person and that you might experience in a camp setting? 

Muzoon Almellehan: I think in, if it is in a camp or anywhere when somebody actually leaves their country of origin, they will be in a vulnerable situation, especially children and women.

So, this is the case and the camps is not such a perfect environment all the time. Not all camps are safe. Most of the camps also people suffer and they have insecurity, but it is less threatening. It is less violent than the ones that you are fleeing. And we have of course, to make sure, eh, women and the children who most likely will be vulnerable in this situation, to make sure they are safe, but I still feel it is better than the direct risk on people’s lives. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Right. One of the insecurities that you, uh, have really advocated around in the refugee camp setting has been around education. Can you talk a little bit about what you were seeing in the refugee camp that made you want to take action on this particular issue?

Muzoon Almellehan: I’m about the children who dropped out from school. It was so huge. So many of them, they thought we are just living here for a short time. No need to go to school. Even though I was seeing people, basically, we don’t know when we will come back. And until now, we didn’t come back to Syria. Like if we imagine a child who fled Syria in 2013 was born there.Now they must be in the secondary education or maybe in last years of a primary education. So losing like 10 years, 11 years of education, this is a disaster. 

So as long as we have an opportunity, we have to use it. Because we really don’t know what is ahead. So we must get education, learn as much as we can. So at least we can do something for our country in the future. 

So when I saw the huge numbers of children who don’t go to school, this made me really sad and I realized I need to do actions. I need to do something. I need to use my voice. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Some folks have called Syrian youth a lost generation because this access to education that you’re talking about has been so completely disrupted by war and by displacement.

And you know, when we talk about that with you it’s not esoteric. Right? These are people that you know, these are your former classmates. These are people that you know, that you knew and loved before the war broke out. How can the international community really show up in solidarity and support for people of your generation. And what really needs to happen in the future when crises like these happen to prevent that kind of loss from occurring?

Muzoon Almellehan: So I believe the biggest thing that we could do to really solve the root cause is basically all of what’s going on. Like for example, in Syria, the war has been 11 years, which maybe seems for us just numbers, but it is many years of suffering. Many years of children cannot go to school and disruption of education, many families in Syria now live in the poverty line.

So it is easy to destroy a country, eh, but it is so, so difficult to build it. Syria was destroyed by enough in years, but I’m sure we need hundreds of years to rebuild what it has been destroyed. So I think once the conflict happens, we need to work together in order to, eh, stop it because, eh, war is the worst thing I believe it could have been, uh, for us, uh, to any human being.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Like we’ve kept saying, this is personal for you. You’ve lived all of this. And I have to imagine that these images and stories that are coming out of Ukraine and the 6.5 million people that have been displaced by this particular war, they have to be affecting you. This is these, aren’t just numbers for you. These aren’t just faceless people.

How are you personally doing with all of it?

Muzoon Almellehan: To be honest, I was super shocked when first that what had been like when I was checked, when the world had been in Syria, because that was something we didn’t expect.  the started as a revolution and then transformed into a war and conflict. 

Now, unfortunately what breaks my heart is people just know war about Syria. They know it’s a country, which has no safety. It’s a country, which just has war. Even though Syria has a great history, has talented people. It had good education. It had the beautiful cities. It has a really bright side. So, it’s sad to see another war happening, more children become vulnerable and in need. More children have been displaced and the refugees. And as a Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, I must talk about these things and highlight them and keep pushing politicians to save lives and to stop war and to make peace because it is between their hands.

But sometimes I decide not to watch because I felt lately this has started to really affect me. But sometimes, unfortunately I feel I only have my voice, but there are many who have power and have all the tools to stop war and they must do so. Of course, as an activist or as a person who had the personal experience, I can only relate to that and feel sad, then react with what’s going on.

And when the war happens, we see who pays the price. Basically those innocent people, children, and women, and who really have nothing to do with war. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Yeah. Dealing with the emotions of watching people be harmed and displaced and terrorized in ways that you can unfortunately really relate to. You’re also watching the world, I would say response, to the crisis in Ukraine, very differently than we have responded to crises and other parts of the world. i\In Syria, across the global south, where black and brown people are concerned. And to be very clear, the aid and humanitarian efforts around displace people from Ukraine are correct. They are righteous. They are justified. 

But we know that there’s a pretty stark contrast between that and what we’ve seen, um, in terms of the world responds to what’s happening in Africa and Middle Eastern countries with their refugees and migrants. Um, what are some of the differences that you have observed? 

Muzoon Almellehan: So, I believe this is such a great question and I think recently, started to make me think why sometimes we become biased. For me personally, I believe if I am a just person, if I am a person who believes in justice and a person who really wants to help people in need, I must forget anything else. I must forget the nationalities. Races, color of his skin, religious and so on. If I am a person who knows what’s going on in Syria is wrong. When innocent people are dying, I must believe so in Ukraine as well. 

I saw in media, unfortunately many people say these are not serious, which is the really big words, which affect us emotionally in a bad way. Because Syria, I feel in recent history, no country suffered like Syria. So basically if a country wants to welcome refugees from Ukraine, this means they must welcom fugees from Syria and from anywhere from the world. If they don’t want, then they don’t welcome anyone.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s right. You know, you’ve continually spoken out about the racism and discrimination that you have experienced and observed, um, happening with, with specific groups of, of migrants and refugees. I know that you recently posted about this on, on Instagram, and you talked about how that kind of discrimination really has to stop. The Ukrainian crisis and Ukrainian refugees are just one part of a much larger global community of displaced people.

I’m curious to know from you what you would like to see, taken from the response to Ukrainian refugees and applied to all displaced people.

Muzoon Almellehan: The countries, which suffer for years also need attention, need people to speak out for them and in a positive way, not in a negative way. And this shows when Syrians actually have become refugees in many countries in the world

The positive impact they made, they have become successful in terms of education, in terms of businesses. But, eh, we need to read history before Labeling this as good or bad, especially saying that people who come from the Middle East, we don’t know their background. They are so dangerous. 

If there is no evidence and link, for example many tourists attacks that happen. No one of them is the Syrian. So there is no link. We try to refer to those people as dangerous. They are not educated in order to make people hate each other. And unfortunately, there are some people who believe that.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: That’s right, and that propaganda is sadly very effective. 

Muzoon Almellehan: Yes, unfortunately. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Living in America, I am quick to remind people that all of the data shows us that the greatest terroristic threat in America are domestically born and raised white men. Right? And so this propaganda, this rhetoric about it being folks from Central America or South America, or the Middle East or Africa, it literally is a lie. Right? 

And this is part of what we get when we have folks, that to your point, are not educated on the facts. You’ve continued to emphasize education in this conversation, but really throughout your whole life. Muzoon, I cannot get over the fact that you are just 23. I was not doing this much when I was 23.

I’m not doing this much and I’m 37. You’ve lived through just so much. And you’ve, you’ve managed to give so much to other people through your activism at that camp through the way that you’ve supported your family, through your work at UNICEF. Before I let you go, what do you hope your life looks like at 33, 34.

And, and what do you hope the world looks like then? 

Muzoon Almellehan: So, on the personal level, I really don’t know through my experience. Basically, I learned to work hard to do as much as I can, and to be hopeful, like to just look in a positive way. Of course, uh, I hope we see a better role, the free from war, free from discrimination and also suffering.

And I hope, one day we can see all people can at least have access to their basic rights, including safety and peace education and so on. I hope that it can happen and in order to do so, we need to work now because in 10 years time, if we still supporting wars and making worse, then I don’t know how can we make this world a brighter one. So, we’ll see.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Well, I’m very sure that what we will see will be not only great things from you. But I agree with you and I have the same hope. I fully believe that justice will reign supreme in the end. And so I appreciate all that you are doing to make that happen for everyone around the world.

Muzoon Almellehan: Thank you so much.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Thank you so much. 

Muzoon Almellehan: Of course. Thanks for the great opportunity. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham: Muzoon Almellehan is UNICEF’s youngest Goodwill Ambassador. 

Among the many, many things I’m walking away from this conversation with Muzoon with is deep gratitude for her precise clarity, that it is easy to destroy, but difficult to rebuild. I mean, my God that’s, that’s it. That’s everything. Governments drop bombs and fly drones and drive tanks with little regard for the human cost measured in lives and dreams and futures. In an instant, it can all be gone.

Meanwhile, the recovery will take generations. For far too long the narrative has been that underdeveloped nation, which is really just a comfortable euphemism for some other racist words, that they are the only places where this happens. The truth is that unprovoked or unexpected invasions, like the one in Ukraine, genocidal behavior in Tigray, even severe climate and infrastructure disasters like hurricane Katrina can cause crises of displacement and severe harm. 

So for Ukraine, Syria, for Tigray. for Honduras, Palestine, for Haiti. For every person forced to flee for their safety and security. No matter the reason, showing up is not just the least we can do, it is the most human thing we can do. At the very least, show the kind of pair that you hope is shown to you one day. Because one day each of us may need it. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 


Our lead producer is Rachel Ward. 

Our associate producers are Alexis Moore and Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, and Ana Adlerstein.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.