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Humans of [World]: Aya's story

Iona Tan

Photographer Brandon Stanton created his blog in late 2010 and initially sought to document New Yorkers through 10,000 portraits. As he embarked on a journey to capture the energy and identity of the city, conversations with his subjects began a collection of small quotes and stories featured in his posts. With this simple but effective format, the blog gained attention and Humans of New York, or HONY, now has nearly sixteen million likes on Facebook and almost 400K on Twitter.

For the past few years, Humans of New York has risen as a widespread- “internet famous”- storyteller with a global following. His presence exists at an intersection of digital media and personal narrative. Recently, HONY highlighted an individual with poignancy and precision, leading the follower through a series of posts that illustrated a human of the current global refugee situation.

Towards the end of 2015, Stanton was travelling in the Middle East. From December 13, 2015 to December 15, the photographer told Aya’s story. A young Muslim woman, Aya has undergone hardships and life experiences that may be unfathomable to many of HONY’s followers. A series of 11 photographs, the short narrative brings to light human rights issues that many people face. We hear of Aya's childhood, surrounded by violence, and the moves her family has undergone to find a safe place to live. We meet her mother, and learn of her strength and courage in difficult moments. We meet her dog, who has been by her side through everything.

In seeking refuge in the United States, Aya’s application for resettlement was rejected. Brandon introduces a petition for followers and encourages us to participate, if we “feel inclined to lend [our] voice[s] in support of her appeal.” He describes the document as an invitation for President Obama to join the initiative in supporting Aya in her difficult situation. The series combats ideas of islamophobia, by detailing a personal, human story of a young Muslim woman seeking a safe place to live. HONY pushes us to develop our perspectives and conversations surrounding the refugee crisis. He reaches beyond storytelling and spreading awareness - he pushes us to take action.

“You allowed a traumatized young Muslim woman to share her story in a supportive environment… So in your own way, you provided Aya with a place of refugee. Thank you for that” –Brandon Stanton

In an intersection of digital media, personal narrative and photojournalism, Humans of New York captures humans in a unique, bare-bones way. In a manner comparable to the curation and display of artifacts, HONY cultivates understanding and empathy among his followers, while making us aware of experiences of hardship and atrocity. The featured quotes act as pieces of narrative and detail the personal experiences of an individual who’s points of views are seldom heard in a global and “Western” media landscape. The voices of every human – you, me, Aya – are often looked over in spaces of public discussion and media discourse. What stories does the News tell us?

By creating a digital space for one person’s story to be heard, HONY spreads awareness – consciousness, even – of a story and current event that authentically represents the struggle of one individual. From here, we gain insight into the many people experiencing hardship and some of the experiences they might have. Though we may not relate to Aya, our openness and understanding allows us to see connections on deeper levels. By staying true to his title, Stanton emphasizes the parts of us that are the same. We live, we suffer, we overcome. No matter the nations we belong to, our governments that often precede us, or the institutions that dictate our powers and privileges, we are all human. Our struggles may be different but our pain, hopes, and laughter are very much the same.

Aya's story begins here

Read about humans here ~ HONY's Facebook

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