A Red Deer man told the Red Deer Rotary Club on Monday how he “stumbled into the world of injustice.”
“I was really rattled by the experience,” said Andrew Kooman, 30, about the time he spent prior to Christmas in Malaysia.
“When I was on this trip in Malaysia, my eyes were opened again to another issue that I wasn’t aware of: the plight of refugees.
“There’s about one million in Malaysia. Many come from Burma, fleeing violence.”
Kooman read the Rotarians a reflection he wrote about his experiences, which serve as the basis for a book of short stories and photographs set for publication in the next few months.
He talked about travelling around visiting refugees, often in secret as they hid from police, and the violations of human rights they had experienced.
Kooman spoke of his interview with one man, a Burmese Muslim, who was forced out of his country at age 13 and into a Bangladeshi refugee camp and then jail for 14 years, before eventually escaping to Malaysia.
“As he spoke, Noor extended his hands, shaped them into the shape of guns and knives, grabbed at his abdomen, sliced at his own limbs, as he described the violence (in the refugee camp),” Kooman said as he read to the crowd at Red Deer Lodge.
The book is one of a handful that Kooman has written, contributed to or edited.
But his main focus is rapidly becoming a full-length play he’s written about a young girl forced to work in a Bangkok brothel, and he’s now working to stage it in Calgary next year. Kooman has come a long ways.
He graduated from Red Deer College with a degree in English literature, spent time overseas doing mission and humanitarian work, worked on several films, and reckons he’s split the last decade pretty evenly between Red Deer and places as disparate as Mongolia, Egypt and Mexico.
He likens his non-profit work to something along the lines of “starving artist syndrome.”
While the work is “all-consuming,” he says he’s also been doing some web design on the side.
He and half a dozen others — “kind of friends and family” — have started a Red Deer-based society called Raise Their Voice to use creative media to compel people to pay attention to issues of global injustice.
“We want to tell stories that change people’s lives. That might sound ridiculous, but . . . We want to tell really good stories, in Red Deer and beyond,” he said.
For more on Kooman, visit andrewkooman.com.