Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Gulwali Passarlay: The Lightless Sky #refugees #afghanistan

Emily Powter-Robinson writes:
‘I want to give a voice to the voiceless and a face to the masses.’

Like many, the only knowledge I had of refugees had been fed to me through the media; endless facts and statistics about nameless people fleeing war-stricken countries to find safety in Europe. Hearing Gulwali Passarlay tell his unimaginable 12-month odyssey from Afghanistan to Europe helped to humanise the endless media stories broadcast over the years about the refugees, and had a profound impact on everyone in the audience.

Many audience members spoke out about the heart-wrenching effect Gulwali’s story had had on them, admitting that their perspective on the refugee debate and the manner in which the UK treats refugees had changed, with many getting actively involved in changing the government’s response to the refugee crisis.

Gulwali spoke of the impact that just one individual in the UK could have on a refugee’s life, saying that ‘Britain is at its best when it leads and shows humanity.’ He spoke of the importance of getting involved with charities who help refugees to transition into British society, of getting in touch with local MPs to encourage local change in the treatment of refugees, of getting involved in protests, and even of simple acts of kindness such as showing a refugee where the nearest supermarket is.

One of the most admirable and inspiring qualities of Gulwali was his genuine gratitude for the people who had helped him along his journey, and ultimately saved his life. He is extremely dedicated to helping others, wanting his experiences to help newcomers and encourage them to open up about their stories. Gulwali’s hope and faith which remained with him through even the darkest of times really put everything into perspective. His hope for future peace, his love for his home and family in Afghanistan, and his altruism for others ignited a change in everyone in the room. ‘The Lightless Sky’ is a book that can both give something to the reader, and can encourage the reader to give something back to society. Faced against all odds, Gulwali’s triumph over adversity and his extraordinary determination to give back to society is well worth reading.

Emily Gibbons writes:
‘110,000 words, 15 years of my life’. This is how Gulwali Passarlay summed up his incredible memoir, The Lightless Sky. It seems impossible that his tortuous 12,500 mile journey from Nangahar in Afghanistan to England can be condensed into such an average sized book, but each word on the page is deliberate and evocative, chosen carefully as to describe the emotional horror of the journey and keep a consistent pace to hold the reader on edge.

Passarlay began the session by providing us with a blow-by-blow of his journey, and despite the horrors he faced, the most compelling thing upon listening to him was the nostalgic love for his birthplace, where he was brought up in the kind of beautiful rural idyll coveted by so many of us. This would have been complemented by a reading from the book, in which he sets the scene of his rural home with a nostalgic reverence. However, Passarlay’s account at the event was incredibly engaging and thought-provoking, as he provided a native perspective of Afghanistan’s history and political climate to those of us whose understanding of it is simply spoon- fed to us by a biased media.

It was a testament to The Lightless Sky to hear so many of the audience members speak up about their own actions after reading the book. Some of them had visited Calais and mounted their own campaigns to support refugees. As Passarlay explained, so much change could be brought if more people were to become active, by speaking to their MPs about the refugee crisis, or volunteering to help refugees navigate this alien country. Simple acts of kindness like this make all the difference, and can help empower each other and build a stronger community. One of the main things to take away from this discussion was never to underestimate the power of literature, because it really can bring about change and help to build understanding and community in any situation.

Appreciation for our two Leeds University students, Emily Gibbons and Emily Powter-Robinson, who turned up to help with all the set-up, clearing up and blogging for us.  Thanks girls!

Audience Reactions

We are so lucky to have Gulwali visit Leeds and speak first-hand about his experiences.  He spoke with such wisdom and passion, it was an honour to be in the audience.

Interesting, informative

Amazing!  Extremely helpful, mind-changing experience.

Fantastic event!  Great insight into the author's journey and good discussion involving the audience

A very inspirational, thought-provoking and motivating event.  Hope to become involved with asylum seekers now.

Gulwali made it real in terms of the journeys refugees make to get here.  His positivity in the face of current political climate was impressive and encouraging.  Also his encouragement to do personal acts of kindness as well as campaigning.

A fantastic evening.  It was inspiring to listen to Gulwali talk about his life in Afghanistan and experiences as a child refugee.  Humbling to listen and depressing to hear how western governments are acting.

Very good talk.  Very good motivating speaker.

A very interesting talk: informative, educational, inspiring.

Gulwali the writer spoke about the difficult experiences of making the journey from Afghanistan to the UK.  He had awful experiences but by stressing the positive he has inspired many to be actively involved in supporting refugees.

Having read Gulwali's book and being so moved and also incensed by it I felt compelled to come and hear him speak.  An inspiring man and an incredibly relevant story.  We need to act on the issue of unaccompanied child refugees now, with one voice.  Thank you for a great event.

Hugely informative.  A speaker well worth listening to.

Very inspiring talk and discussion by this author.  I will definitely read and encourage others to read the book.

An inspiring talk and fabulous conversation opportunity.

My first Headingley  LitFest event and it was brilliant – enlightening an moving. Thank you.

Very eye-opening.  Giving a different outlook on refugees.

I suspect so many of the British population think that the refugee crisis is not their problem – this type of event needs to get to a broader spectrum of people.

Excellent, thank you.

Unconventional presentation, insomuch as no reading from the book.  However, a lucid account of the book's narrative. Q&A somewhat one-side and the political analysis somewhat simplified, but overall a worthwhile and thought-provoking evening.

Thoroughly fascinating and enthralling.  Thank you for writing another book that can be put on the pile of bigger and better books that enlighten the government and worry the people in power.  Mark Twain: “Those who can read but don't are no better than those who can't read.”

Amazing opportunity to put a human face on a news story which denies that real people are involved and concentrates on the numbers.  Inspiring.

A really interesting and uplifting event

It was fantastic to  have this event – really important for refugee voices to be heard and an encouragement to keep campaigning for refugee rights.

Interesting evening.  Maybe one thing the libraries could co is encourage others to write about their experiences.

An inspirational story and speaker showing great humanity;  inspires action and hope!

Very interesting talk from Gulwali Passarlay about his time as a prisoner and his travels across the world trying to escape (from Afghanistan's war zone).


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