The Power of a Story: Why Melissa Fleming’s "A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea" is a Must Read

The room was packed full of eager listeners awaiting Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson and head of communications of the High Commissioner for the UN’s High Commission for Refugee’s (UNHCR), to speak on a rainy Tuesday night at Barnes & Noble in Union Square.

Brandon Stanton, founder and author of “Humans of New York,” interviewed Fleming about her new book, “A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea." 

The book is a harrowing retelling of the true story of the Doaa al-Zamel, a Syrian refugee. Doaa, like the near 60 million other refugees, sought asylum across the sea, only to be faced with greater struggles than she ever imagined. After escaping her homeland in a smuggler ship headed to Italy, Doaa faced her childhood fear of drowning when her ship was attacked and the 500 refugees aboard were left in the sea to die.

Her subsequent heroics are merely one account out of millions of refugees’ stories.

Fleming and Stanton sat down to discuss the book and its significance in being picked for Barnes & Noble’s "Discover Great New Writers Program," as well as Stanton’s experiences with telling the story of humanity through "HONY." 

“One thing that I have learned over the past six years of doing ‘Humans of New York’ is the power of a story,” Stanton said. This power, as Stanton describes it, has the ability to impact the minds of readers more than the overabundant statistics that bombard our news feeds and newspapers.

Fleming agreed, adding that “…there is this saying that statistics are human beings with the tears dried off."

This is part of the reason why Fleming claims she decided to tell the story of a specific individual, Doaa.

It is this individuality that Fleming uses in her book in order to compel readers to relate to Doaa personably. “Telling the crisis in that way,” Stanton told Fleming, “…really brought to light the tragedy that was happening in a way that was really breaking and overwhelming”.

Fleming said the idea of using individual stories to bring awareness to the greater crisis was a conscious choice in order to combat our tendencies to disassociate ourselves with other’s struggles.

“I think what these stories do … is allow individuals … to see that person as part of their community. It’s about enlarging the circle," Stanton added. 

In the Q&A that followed Fleming and Stanton’s conversation, most of the questions posed by the audience circled around the same theme: what can New Yorkers do to help? Both Stanton and Fleming provided many suggestions that ranged from donating to to getting involved in IRAP (International Refugee Assistance Project).

Amid all the suggestions, Fleming still asserted, “I really hope that we all take the time to absorb the stories so that we can really identify with what’s happening to the people."

To stay informed or get involved, pick up a copy of “A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee's Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival” or research ways to help in this crisis.

For information and ways to get involved, check out these resources:







CultureAnne Sraders