Why Brandon Stanton Deserves a Nobel Peace Prize

Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to someone who has

“done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

I present to you Humans of New York founder, Brandon Stanton. (if you don’t know what Humans of New York is, stop reading right now and click here)

I’ve broken down Mr. Nobel’s criteria into three parts, and in each category, Brandon Stanton’s work shines.

  1. Works for Fraternity Between Nations

One of the most indelible barriers between people of different nations is simply misinformation. We tend to base our understanding of who people are on what we see in mainstream media. It’s this bias that makes the word “Pakistan” evoke thoughts of violence, war, terrorism, and hate for many Americans.

Stanton combats this prejudice with the photos he takes and stories he collects. Here’s one of my favorites from his recent trip to Pakistan:

Who doesn’t know a doting grandfather that fondly spoils his grandchild?

In this portrait of a nation, we are granted a peek into the joys, fears, happy expectations, and profound sorrows of Pakistanis. In doing so, we find out that so much of what they experience can be found in our own lives. Would we glare so menacingly at the turbaned man in the park or shun the bur-qua adorned woman at work if we knew that we had so much in common?

2. Tackles the Problems of the Day

When Alfred Nobel wrote his will in 1895, militarism and war were major issues in Europe and the world. This explains why he wanted laureates to have contributed to “the abolition or reduction of standing armies.” So I’ve taken the liberty to translate this into “Tackles the Leading Problems of the Day.”

One of the most pressing issues the world is facing now is modern day slavery. About 21 million people suffer under some form of slavery. In Pakistan, it is most evident in brick kilns. Brick kiln owners use a method called “debt bondage.” When someone asks them for a loan, they gladly supply it, and demand in return that the person work for them making bricks. The people receiving the loan are deceived into thinking that after working for a few months, they will be able to make up their debts. Yet, the brick kiln owners illegally multiply the amounts people owe to keep them working for them for life. These debts extend over the entire family, so that generations end up living their lives working in the brick kilns. Any attempts to escape are met with brutal violence. Here’s one of the stories collected by Brandon on his trip that depicts the horrors of this practice:

Thankfully, there is one woman who is working tirelessly to end this: Syeda Ghulam Fatima. She has risked her life countless times to help free the enslaved and organizes protests against this inhumane practice. And she does all of this with little support. The people who aid her aren’t powerful enough to bring an end to the system, and the local police accept bribes from the brick kiln owners to turn a blind eye.

In steps Brandon Stanton.

In a stunning series of photographs and stories, he captured the torment and perpetual fear the workers face and the danger Ms. Fatima confronts because of her efforts to end slavery in the brick kilns. But Stanton’s influence didn’t stop with the photographs. He launched a fundraiser on indiegogo.com, and at the time I am writing this article, it has amassed more than 2.2 million dollars from over 70,000 people in just four days. The money will be used to set up a refugee center in Pakistan for escaped workers, who, up till now, have not had a place to go after fleeing the brick kilns. Ms. Fatima sums up the inestimable aide this will be for her work in this eloquent paragraph:

“From BLLF and from all of the bonded labourers, thank you. Thank you to everyone who has opened their hearts and donated to our cause. I struggle to find the words, I don’t think I have the words to tell you how grateful we are. You have donated for freedom, for rehabilitation and we are indebted. Thank you so much. The prayers of every labourer are with you and they will always hold you in their hearts. Our responsibility now is to honour what you have trusted us with, and we will. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we want to build a real freedom center in Lahore, here we can work on not just releasing families but rehabilitation. We want workers to be treated with the rights they deserve as citizens.
Pakistan faces a lot of challenges, and we want industry to thrive in Pakistan, but the labourers must be free. You cannot make people work by beating and chaining them. I believe that the day the owners understand me, that the day the worker is happy, the profits will be greater. Labour rights need to be regulated, owners have the right to make profit but not through abuse, and deprivation. That is not an industry, that is slavery.”

3. Promotes World Peace

Author Ellen J. Barrier writes: “If everyone realized the value of life, the world would be peaceful. The meaning of these words, “Do unto others as you would have them, do unto you,” would be understood: It would be practiced.”

Humans of New York measures the value of life and shows the world that there is a deep sentimental connection between all of us. It is in realizing that connection that we find peace.

We all can remember a time when we felt this young boy’s fear of being ostracized.

And he can find peace, knowing that thousands of people have gone through the same thing, and have offered words of encouragement and hope.

It is the joy of accomplishment in small things,

That let us know that everything will be allright.

Lost love can leave us “heartcrushed”

But we find peace in knowing that somewhere out there is the person that will make us believe in love again:

It is these people and their stories that bring us all together and make us think twice about how we interact with each other. Would we be so quick to assign blame or endorse violence against people foreign to us if we knew that our enemy’s heart strings played the same notes as ours? It is through Humans of New York’s unique ability to show us our human connection that world peace can become reality. And with this common understanding, we may find inner peace and be as happy as this man: