Some people are born with a unique vision in life that takes them around the world, touching the lives of others.
Laila Atshan is one of those gifted people. Her gift of being able to connect to others is all the more remarkable as she is registered blind. Her philosophy in life is that every person should have access to great resources to flourish, and she was in Londonderry last week as a guest of the Holywell Trust in her capacity as a Chair of Healing through the Garden of Reflection project.
Although she was only here for a few days, and despite her itinerary being disrupted by the severe weather conditions, Ms Atshan was undeterred, and said she hoped to return again for another visit.
“I love it here. I feel very connected,” she said.
“There is a community. There is a loving, hospitable energy; there is a curiosity about other human beings and one of my slogans in life is ‘God created no strangers’ and I find people in this place have this...live this slogan, actually. For the most part.”
A flautist in her free time, asked if she had experienced the great music traditions within the city and other acquired tastes, such as Guinness, Ms Atshan confessed that she had.
“I did. I did both. It is lovely. I love the music culture here. I would like to experience more of it. I am often in serious talks, but, I love the music culture.
“To me Ireland, before I have ever been here, is associated with music. I have a lot of music from Ireland in my house, actually,” she said.
Motivated by issues of acceptance and belonging, Laila believes that if people with a trauma or disability are to be helped then they need to maintain contact with their community. Her belief is that people need roots in order to fly. Emotional belonging and people’s resources are vitally important in her work and connectedness are essential for healing as part of moving on.
A Palestinian by nationality, Laila was born into a refugee family in Ramallah, she was educated in a missionary school in Jerusalem.
Not one to be held down by her humble roots, Laila’s studies have taken her from Bir Zeit University, to Rutgers State University in the USA and, most recently she graduated from Harvard University. That was in 2012, where she was the recipient of the University’s first ever Ford Foundation Mason Fellowship and Lifetime Achievement award.
In her working life Laila is a consultant for UNICEF as well as a number of other international organisations, as well as working as an independent evaluator for psychosocial programmes of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the West Bank. Some of her recent assignments include training UNICEF staff working in the Darfur conflict and training Iraqi university professors in promotion and implementation of human rights in the context of conflict. A psychologist, Laila specialises in counselling those with disabilities, refugees, prisoners and survivors of political and domestic violence. (Visit www.londonderrysentinel.co.uk for video interview).