November 16th marks 30 years since the death of a brave, Colombian girl.
The world is still mourning the tragedies in Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris. But for a few moments, I am going to ask you to mourn someone who died 30 years ago today. She was just 13 years old, and her name was Omayra.
On November 13, 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted in Colombia. Dangerous volcanic mudflows, known as lahars, quickly swept down the slopes of the volcano, destroying villages and killing thousands. One of the lahars arrived in Amero, the hometown of Omayra Sánchez Garzón. She soon became trapped underneath the debris of her own home.
One rescuer spotted Omayra's hand reaching out from the debris and was able to free her from the waist up. But her legs were still pinned between layers of concrete. Omayra was forced to wait in a pool of dark, murky water until relief arrived. But that relief didn't arrive soon enough.
Omayra stayed strong. She spoke to volunteers, doctors, and journalists about her predicament, all of whom admired her courage and advocated for the proper equipment to help her. This advocacy brought worldwide attention to Omayra; her story fueled a global outcry for the lack of relief efforts for the victims.
Omayra suffered for nearly three nights until her final breaths on the morning of November 16, 1985. She was just one of nearly 23,000 people killed by the devastation.
You may recognize Omayra from a famous and controversial photograph taken by Frank Fournier. The photograph was taken while she was still clinging for life-- just hours before she passed away. It also earned the title of World Press Photo of the Year in 1986.
Omayra soon became an international symbol for the importance of disaster preparedness. Governments responded with better policies and guidelines; Artists--with music and poetry.
Unfortunately, Omayra's story faded into history by the time my generation came along. I happened to stumble across it on the internet just a few months ago.
But her story deserves to be more than coincidental. Let us continue to remember Omayra as well as all those killed by the eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz.
And today, I ask that Omayra's story symbolize one more lesson: That in times of tragedy, the plight of those affected is a plight for all humanity.
Regardless if it occurred in the past or the present. Regardless if it occurred in the developed or developing world.
Regardless if it occurred in the East, the West, the North or the South.
And regardless if it occurred in a school in Norway or in a hospital in Afghanistan.
Let us stand together as a human race and show solidarity in the wake of all tragedies. And let us keep telling the stories so that we never forget.
The world is still mourning the tragedies in Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris. But for a few moments, I ask that you also mourn the death of the courageous Omayra Sánchez Garzón. Let her story remind us that solidarity should never be temporary and should extend to all the corners of the world.