Light bulb moment: Saleh Saeed on how moving countries helped him empathise with refugees

A key insight into the working life of the chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee

Saleh Saeed
Saleh Saeed

My light bulb moment is not so much about a blinding flash of inspiration, but rather a continuing resonance inside my head and soul.

Although I didn't realise it at the time, coming to the UK in the 1970s at the age of five to live in a single room on a hostile council estate must surely be my ongoing moment of change.

Some 40 years on, most things I witness take me back to the trepidation - but also hope - that I felt in those early days, surrounded by the unknown.

When I see Syrian refugees making their desperate journeys to the shores of Europe, I think about the homes these families might find, each child's first day at a strange new school and mothers dealing with the possible hostility of neighbours when going down to the shops.

When I made my first-ever aid trip in the early 1990s, to an orphanage in Bangladesh, I felt an overwhelming sense of empathy with how the kids were dealing with the massive changes in their lives.

What came through most strongly was not their sense of loss, but rather a collective hope for the future and the determination to make good if given even half a chance.

Which is why, for me, our work is about trying to give people that decent chance in life so that those children and today's refugees have the same moments of change, inspiration and opportunity as I was fortunate enough to experience.

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