A man was on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was set upon by robbers. They beat him, took his clothes and money and left him for dead. Various people passed by, including teachers and priests, but each one refusing to stop and help, each one pretending not to see him. Then one man, a foreigner, came upon the man. He stopped, bandaged the man’s wounds and took him to an inn where he could look after the injured man. The following day, this man paid the innkeeper to continue to care for the man and promised to make good any further expense on his return.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is told by Jesus in response to the question: “Who is my neighbour?” It is a 2,000 year old parable, but as relevant, truthful and meaningful now as it has ever been. Last evening, we were treated to the final in our series of this year’s Nightingale Lectures. Dr Georgia Cole, Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellow at Oxford University, spoke to the Sixth Form about her career and work. Georgia was the first Embley Head Girl. During her time here, she was inspired by a concern for those who were less fortunate. After completing her undergraduate studies, Georgia began her work on understanding refugees and their motivations. In a fascinating talk, she set out the competing motivations, the misunderstandings and the media headlines that can so often leave us passing by. The numbers she shared are staggering, the human costs I think are often lost amid the vastness of this issue.
She set out that there are 22.5 million refugees, 10 million stateless persons and a staggering 65.6 million people who are displaced. In each case, the definition of who fits in which statistical pile can obliterate the individual stories. The weight of all of the pain and suffering of those who, simply put, do not want to leave their country, do not want to go to another but are – through circumstance – forced to flee persecution, is hard to comprehend. Georgia showed us images of refugee centres of up to 300,000 people. People who have journeyed for weeks and months, who have crossed deserts, national borders and risked life and limb to get away from those who would do them ill because of their religious belief, sexual orientation or political view.
Georgia’s work centres on understanding motivations and patterns. Her early research work focused on understanding the shifting value given to the meaning of the word ‘refugee’. Refugee status is changing to suit the needs of political leadership more than the needs of those seeking protection and her contribution brought the reality of the plight of refugees to home.
In a beautiful symmetry, Georgia was Head Girl as some of our current Upper Sixth were in Nursery. The same Upper Sixth who will in a few short days complete their time at school and go on a period of study leave before taking their final exams. I am proud of all of them. Their questions and contribution to the discussion were moving and heartfelt in equal measure. I am proud that in the course of their time at school, they have been imbued with the same spirit of compassion and idealism that set Florence on her way nearly 200 years earlier.
I am proud of Georgia. She was Head Girl long before I arrived at the school and last evening was my first meeting with her, but she represents all that we hold dear and develop in the formation of the generations of students coming through the school. Georgia has a competency, a mastery of her discipline, which makes it immediately accessible. She has a beautiful uncomplicated authenticity that communicates a humble confidence, a confidence that took her to the United Nations in Geneva on Wednesday before returning to her Alma Mater last evening. She espouses the compassion that will stiffen the sinews when the going gets tough to refuse to cross to the other side, to arrest her own and our own progress, to not only ask “Who is my neighbour?” but “What can I do to help?”
Cliff Canning, Headmaster, Embley