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This I Believe: I Believe In Storytelling

Essayist Sebastien Kraft

I believe in storytelling and bringing attention to those who live outside the limelight.

In the summer of 2017, I collaborated with my great-aunt and godmother, Marie-Edith Douillard, who has lived in Paris for 40 years and works for a human rights organization called Amnesty International. She introduced me to two refugees and helped me create a short documentary that has since been successful at various international film festivals.

My goal in creating this film was to highlight the contrast between Paris, the renowned “City of Lights,” and the plight of these two refugees to make ends meet. On a hot summer day in August 2017, I interviewed Ahmed, a Yemeni refugee, and Djiby, a Mauritanian, in a botanical garden and a small library, respectively, both in hidden corners of Paris.

Ahmed talked about the daily struggle of waiting in line, rain or shine, for his next round of immigration papers. Once a prominent journalist at the Sabba News Agency in Yemen, he said he had been forced to abandon his prior life. Djiby, on the other hand, revealed that he was entirely stateless. As a colored Mauritanian, he had been disavowed by his country’s dictator and now lacked any citizenship. Despite their difficult circumstances, both Ahmed and Djiby displayed incredible kindness, perseverance and even joy during their interviews. These encounters taught me that these powerful stories must be told, regardless of location, politics or circumstance.

If Ahmed and Djiby can surmount their daily hardships, I told myself after the interviews, then I must follow suit.

I’ve learned that the will to go on despite the odds is what propels all of us—refugees and college students alike—to new heights. This determination is one of the most fundamental yet quintessential tenets of human life, and storytelling allows me to convey it publicly. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to share my own experiences. But I’ve since learned to embrace my past to make the most out of my present.

I was born in Paris to a French mother and an American father. And while my dual-citizenship is a gift, it can also be a curse. With a surplus of culture and essentially two worlds at my disposal, I sometimes find it challenging to fully convey in daily interactions how I see the world as a result of my multicultural experiences. Fortunately, storytelling gives me a way to open up on a broader, more lasting scale.

Whether in the form of a documentary, a news article, a television segment or a simple conversation, storytelling is a gateway to transparency. Storytelling makes everyone a little more sensitive, a little more vulnerable and a little more human.

Ultimately, I believe storytelling links all the different facets of humanity and makes life worth living. More simply put, stories transcend time and bring out the best in society.

That’s why I believe in storytelling.

Sebastien Kraft is a student at Penn State majoring in broadcast journalism. His documentary about the refugee crisis in Paris won best documentary at the Great Message International Film Festival in India.

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