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The importance of stories

Kate Torgovnik picks her favourite TEDxObserver speaker of 2012: Giles Duley. If you watch nothing else this year, watch this.

“The people there have been forgotten, so I thought it was important to go and document their stories. I arranged with a village elder that people would come along the next day and I would take portraits of all these people,” says Duley. “I put a white sheet up and started to take photographs. It was still dawn, but there were literally hundreds of people turning up with ailments and diseases — just a hopeless situation … I got in a bit of a panic because these people were coming up to me, desperate. I was trying to explain to the village elder that I was not a doctor and that I couldn’t help these people. He said, ‘This is important. These people know you’re not a doctor. But at least now someone is telling their story.’”

Words, images — visibility. They do matter. They don’t provide physical needs. But they do provide something deeper.

I can’t imagine how overwhelmed Duley must have felt in the camp that morning. A part of the incredible work he’s chosen is, on a regular basis, feeling tremendous sorrow for not being able to wave a magic wand and make things better for people. And yet, he does it anyway. Even after losing three of his limbs, this summer Duley returned to work, photographing the Paralympic Games. As he tells NBC News in this interview, “I’m myself again.”

This talk is truly a must-watch. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint why it didn’t get the views we would have guessed while sitting in that silent editorial meeting months ago. I suspect that this talk got glossed over because it is so difficult, churning up so many layers of empathy without providing an outlet to be able to do something. Or perhaps it comes down to technical reasons. Duley’s talk ran over a weekend — when we’ve noticed that viewers often skip new talks, instead watching talks on a specific subject that resonates with them. Perhaps it’s because the headline — “When a reporter becomes the story” — was moving to members of the editorial team, many of us with journalism backgrounds, but didn’t connect with a broader audience. Your guess is as good as mine.

All I have to say is: watch this talk. Duley crisscrossed the globe, searched his soul and made an unthinakble physical sacrifice to tell these stories. Now it’s your turn to hear them.

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