First Person

Why we should remember Haris Suleman and #BringBabarHome

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The author, right, and the brother of Haris Suleman, second from right, served in the US Peace Corps in Cameroon together. Here they are pictured celebrating Youth Day with the students at Ecole Samantha de Maryang. Photo courtesy of Krystina Nguyen

The story of my friend’s family reminds me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Every morning when I wake up, I pick up my phone and check the news. Then, like millions of Americans, I go straight to my Facebook news feed. Last week, however, my friend’s status update brought those two worlds together.

In 2010, while I was serving in the US Peace Corps in the Adamawa region of Cameroon, the closest American lived just a few miles away. For a year and a half during my service, I’d ride on the back of a motorbike every week to visit Cyrus in his village. We’d play with the neighbor kids underneath a thatched-roof hut and then spend hours in his living room exchanging stories of our lives back home, our aspirations, and of course our families. Through his stories, I felt like I knew his parents, who would frequently try to find potential girlfriends for him, and his teenage brother, who was living the period between boy and man.

Cyrus’ family shared his commitment to making a difference, which is why his brother and father were recently flying around the world in a 30-day journey raising over $500,000 to send Pakistani kids to school. Last week, the plane crashed off American Samoa, taking my friend’s brother Haris Suleman with it. The 17-year-old would have been the youngest pilot to circumvent the globe. Their father, Babar Suleman, is still missing, and a social media movement, #BringBabarHome, is calling for resources to find him and for the US Coast Guard to keep looking. And it’s working: The US Coast Guard’s protocol is to suspend all search efforts after 72 hours, but the timeline was extended. As of last night, however, the search was suspended for unknown reasons.

Life is tough and often cruelly harsh. In these events, we often ask ourselves, what can we do?  Not only for the people we love, but for the ones that we don’t know? What would make a difference?

As I pray for the safe return of my friend’s father, I ask myself these questions and think about the Sulemans’ heroism. In interviews, Haris said his primary goal wasn’t to break a world record – he simply wanted to provide kids with an education. That’s the thing about heroes – they don’t set out to be heroes. They see an injustice and take an action, big or small, to stand against it.

I’m reminded about heroes that I’ve been lucky enough to meet, like Emelia Amoateng, a Ghanaian activist who stood up to mining companies that came into her neighborhood. I think about those others, like Rosa Parks and Malala, who will go down in history as heroes, because they did something. Others will argue they are extraordinary people. I’m not sure extraordinary people exist, but perhaps they are just ordinary people who end up doing extraordinary things.

Oxfam America recently released our newest video featuring the activist Joanna Manu. Her story reminds us that our everyday acts can contribute to change. Though social movements have their heroes, it’s never heroes alone that make an impact. It takes the masses being led and inspired by these leaders, and actions that occur collectively. Everyday people, which we all are, can sign a petition, vote, donate, get educated, pray, be kind, whatever.

We each can make a difference and let the heroes, like Haris Suleman, inspire us all to take action. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+