An aid worker who was invited to give a presentation at the United Nations in May was this year’s keynote speaker at the Tunbridge Wells Tedx on Saturday.
Jaz O’Hara took to the stage in Trinity Theatre to share her story of how a visit to the Calais migrant camp, known as ‘The Jungle’, and the subsequent social media reaction changed her life.
Speaking in front of 250 guests, the 26-year-old from Tunbridge Wells explained how her personal journey led her from a comfortable life as a fashion designer to running an aid charity in under a year.
She said ‘dehumanising’ headlines shouting about ‘swarms of marauding migrants’ were what made her take action to find out for herself what life was really like for those in The Jungle.
“I decided to go to the camp. Even though everyone told me I was crazy, that I wouldn’t be able to just turn up there, I got in my car and I did.”
“I was met with kindness and positivity from the most inspirational, heroic, open, dignified, welcoming people that I have ever met in my life, despite living in the mud with nothing.”
On returning home, she documented her emotional journey on Facebook before going to sleep – only to wake up for work to discover her post had gone viral and had been seen by ‘millions’.
Her story was soon picked up by the media which led to hundreds of people visiting or mailing her items for the camp.
“We were bombarded with deliveries of warm clothing, shoes, amazon delivery after amazon delivery of brand new tents and sleeping bags, the postman didn’t know what had hit him.”
The reaction led her to leave her job and set up her own aid agency, called The World Wide Tribe, which has operations in France, Hungary, Jordan and the Mediterranean.
“That one innocent post turned into a movement. A movement of inspired, international citizens desperate to take action”, she said, explaining how her utilisation of social media was behind her invitation to address the UN on the issue of digital identity and how it can help humanitarian efforts.
Ms O’Hara added: “Within the last year, I have gone from working in fashion in London, to sleeping in tents in refugee camps in France, to speaking at the UN headquarters in New York.
“This experience has opened my eyes and my mind to the world of opportunities social media has created for us all.”
Jaz O’Hara’s story was described by one organiser as ‘a fitting end to an inspirational day’ which saw 16 other speakers share inspiring stories.
Among them was a moving story by Edward Foreman, aged 10, who spoke about life growing up with a ‘compound nevus’ birthmark on his face before having it removed; Graham Hadﬁ eld, who spoke of how he goes through the creative process of making music for films; and Danny Kruger, who spoke of his work helping ex-convicts secure employment and a better future.
Another speaker was Simon Harmer, who lost both legs in Afghanistan while serving with the Army. He received great applause and cheers for his memorable talk about his experiences.