Over twenty years ago, when she was a student of mine at the University of Central Florida, Marie-Helene Carleton shone in a way that suggested she might become a citizen of the world.
The daughter of UN officials, she was born in Beirut and spent summers in her mother's home country, France, where she and her sister mastered the language and saw much of Europe.
But I never expected her to risk her life as a journalist filming in some of the hot spots of the world. In 2005, she published American Hostage, a gripping account of how she and others managed to rescue Micah Garen, her partner in Four Corners Media, from Iraq, where he had been kidnapped.
Since then, she and Micah have traveled the world making documentary films about the dispossessed. This January, they went to the tiny Greek island of Lesbos to film their forthcoming "Light on the Sea," showing how the largest refugee crisis to the Western world since 1950 is playing out.
An article about their work in Lesbos appears in VanityFair.com (March) and is important for what few people realize: 67,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan poured into Greece in just one month--this January--the majority landing on Lesbos, where more than 80 relief organizations, including hundreds of volunteers, are doing what they can in impossible conditions. Does the world care about these refugees?
Marie-Helene says that Lesbos, the "island of goodbyes," has become the gateway to Europe. Her concern is not about what policies European nations should develop to meet this crisis; rather her concern, and that of Micah, is for the plight of those affected. Her work comes from having always had eyes wide open to the human dimension of what often appears on the "back pages" of the news, at least in this country.
By putting the spotlight on refugees in Lesbos, Marie-Helene turns a crisis from an abstraction in the minds of many to a focus on specific stories, the daily suffering and death of our fellow humans; she also shows that her heart is also wide open.
I am proud to know her and to have had a tiny role in her education.