Monday, June 11, 2012

An incredible story by TFA alum James Foley

An incredible story by TFA alum James Foley, who's raising money for the education of three children of one of his colleagues who was kills in Libya:

On May 15th in New York Friends of Anton will be organizing the first contemporary photojournalism print auction ever held at Christie's to raise funds for the education of three young children of freelance photographer Anton Hammerl. Please see to find out how you can help by attending the auction, becoming a sponsor, or donating to the cause. I have full-faith that the TFA alum network will be behind us in this difficult yet fruitful task.

James Foley (TFA '96 Alum) was freelance journalist working in Libya when he was captured by Gaddafi troops in March 2011. 

I was stuck inside a Libyan prison without communication to the outside world, and had no idea when or how I'd get out. On April 5, myself and three other journalists, were ambushed by Gaddafi forces close to the oil town of Brega. Our colleague Anton Hammerl was killed instantly and myself and two others were captured and detained.

Beaten, guilt-ridden and paranoid, I had no idea what was next beyond the series of Tripoli prison cells I shared with colleagues and Libyan political prisoners. Little did I know what was being done by my friends and colleagues- especially Teach For American alums. Libya in 2011 was a long way from teaching in Phoenix in 1996, but the intensity of teaching those first years cemented the bonds of my most lasting friendships. I would rely on old friends to mobilize the Teach For America network without even knowing it

These friends mobilized an international political and media strategy to secure our release driven by a network of alums and colleagues around the country. They set up daily conference calls and "Free Foley" Facebook and Twitter accounts. Other TFA alums contracted Congressional representatives and wrote press releases Many attended the vigils held for my release (three of which were co-organized by Phoenix '96 alums). One alum suggested they write weekly notes of support to my parents. There were two-months' worth of names on the sign-up sheet. One of my former students even helped organize a vigil at my TFA placement school.

Not only did close friends put their daily lives and careers on hold. Teach For America staff and board members and Wendy Kopp reached out to decision-makers in Washington DC to highlight our plight and to seek assistance in trying to win our release. I was humbled to know that the such well-respected people would go to bat for an alum who had last had any communication with them almost ten years ago. But as I've always felt, the strength of TFA is in the caliber of its people.

When I was released, I tried to thank as many as I could but it was impossible. Many individuals had used every tool in their power anonymously. Isn't that what good teachers do? Teach For America's sense of urgency had been instilled in us since the beginning of our training. It was humbling and awe-inspiring to be a recipient. 

We made it out of Libya after 44 days. Our colleague, South African photographer Anton Hammerl did not. When we had to tell his wife that he wasn't coming back, we also vowed we'd do everything we could to help his three children.

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