The Empathy Poems poems of compassion for asylum seekers and refugees around the world

The UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), in collaboration with the UTS Equity and Diversity Unit, launched the Empathy Poems Project in honour of World Refugee Day on the 20 June.

The project is designed to raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers and refugees. It invites people to imagine and empathise with the suffering, and to show their support by offering a personal creative response.

The idea is simple: people choose a poem they have an affinity with and reimagine, rewrite or respond to it in any way, but in view of the broad themes of refuge and asylum.

The project was inspired by Ian Syson’s poem, Beach Collection, published in early 2016, which in itself was inspired by Kenneth’s Slessor’s famous poem about human suffering in the Second World War, Beach Burial.

Poetry is the perfect form to inspire empathy amongst readers, and it has a long tradition of political purpose, and of responding to and offering insight into crises and dramas of a major, national and global nature.

The project is also part of the broader UTS social justice program. Students, alumni and staff, as well as the wider literary and general public are all able to participate and contribute a poem.
A competition was run for UTS students to create a website to house the poems. The winning design was submitted by a student team based in FASS who responded to the call with a beautiful and moving image featuring a map of the world overlaid with teardrops: each drop represents a group of refugees based on UNHCR statistics.
“We chose to join this project because empathy for the plight of refugees is something we all believe strongly in”, Krystal Campbell, one of the winning students said. “We recognise that we are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities and security that we have, and we believe these opportunities should be shared, especially with those who most need it. With empathy in mind, we were inspired to create a very minimalist design, to allow the words of the poems to speak for themselves.”

“We also thought it necessary to create an eye-catching visual identity, which led to the creation of the watercolour featured throughout this website. This world map features 121 individual drops of paint – one drop for every 500,000 people displaced worldwide.”

The resulting site has is a simple and elegant design prioritising the poems and the themes.

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