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Director's Corner - March 2019

If you travel by plane and there is a sudden need for oxygen, you are instructed to secure your own mask before helping others to do so. At first this may seem counter-intuitive (and maybe a little self-centered); but upon further reflection, it makes sense. How can you help others to breathe when you can no longer breathe yourself? Program clients have used this metaphor to help me to see their situation in a different light.

What happens if the other person who needs oxygen is not seated next to you? What if they are far from you, out of sight, and struggling to survive unknown dangers? How can you put on your own mask if you do not know if your child is breathing? How do you breathe deeply when your spouse believes that you’ve forgotten about him/her, and that you no longer care if they breathe or not? How do we help people to care for themselves when the world makes it clear they do not care for them (or theirs)? These are not rhetorical questions. For our clients, these are the painful realities of day-to-day life.

One of the primary ways we have been successful in helping people tolerate this intolerable situation is by the process of meaning making. There can be a sense that a survivor’s experiences, insights, and suffering actually mean something; and can be used to educate, encourage or inspire others. Perhaps it can just be the action of helping to illuminate what is happening in obscurity, so that the world can see, and others may escape similar fates. Oral testimonies, eyewitness accounts and written narratives can be powerful tools – not only in the micro, therapeutic sense – but in the macro, societal sense as well.

One way in which this happens is through the efforts of journalists – the truth tellers who shine light where there is darkness and misinformation. The languages and circumstances may be different for each person, but the essential objectives are the same. They endeavor to make sure that oxygen is flowing to those in need; that we never forget those who are beyond our direct line of sight; and that communities are informed to understand and protect those who are most vulnerable.

We salute their bravery and sacrifice. In that light, PSOT will be focusing on the work of remarkable human rights advocates and journalists at our upcoming gala benefit on May 2, 2019 at NYU’s Kimmel Center. Please click the link below for more information. Invitation to follow!

We have the privilege to salute Dr. Kanak Sarwar, a Bangladeshi journalist, punished for broadcasting both sides of what was transpiring in his country, with PSOT’s Phoenix Award. Also receiving the Phoenix Award is Dr. Alain Tagne, a physician from Cameroun who continues to treat marginalized populations in the US, despite paying such heavy costs for his humanistic work in his home country. We will salute the law firm of Kobre & Kim with our Steve Kolleeny Pro Bono Service Award, for providing top-notch pro bono services to torture survivors; including Dr. Sarwar, whom they helped to successfully earn his asylum in the US. Lastly, we have the honor of presenting our Cornerstone Award to Maziar Bahari, an internationally celebrated journalist from Iran, who continues his exceptional work promoting human rights, despite experiencing detention and persecution for doing so. Mr. Bahari is the subject of Jon Stewart’s movie Rosewater.

It is our honor to work with such committed and brave individuals from across the globe, and to help them to secure their masks. They work tirelessly to help others by promoting societal healing and a more humane world. We realize though, that we also need to secure our masks. We must make sure that we are breathing enough oxygen to support the heroic efforts of the survivors who inspire us every day. This is where we reach out to you. Our friends, supporters, family members, community members. Can you help us secure our masks? The air is thin and the stakes are high. We appreciate you!

One love,


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