Culture

Atom Araullo Has More Stories To Tell

The award-winning journalist has taken on a new role in the United Nations.
IMAGE Alecs Ongcal
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Atom Araullo is an award-winning journalist and TV presenter. He’s also a commercial model and, lately, has tried his hand in acting. He also used to be a triathlete and appeared in children’s educational shows when he was younger.

As if these things weren't enough, this year, the multi-hyphenate has added yet another role to his name. On February 4, he was named the country’s first Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“To be honest, [I’m] a bit overwhelmed. I have mixed feelings about taking on such a huge responsibility. I know that it's a privilege and I'm absolutely grateful for the UNHCR for giving me this opportunity,” Araullo told Esquire Philippines in an interview after the event.

He has been working with the UNHCR for two years now where he was able to join field missions that help refugees and displaced communities all over the world. In these missions, Araullo said he has been able to apply his capacities as a journalist and as a storyteller, especially in interacting with the affected individuals and getting their stories out for the world to know.

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IMAGE: Veejay Villafranca

Among the many displaced people he has met, Araullo mentioned Hamida Begum, a young Rohingya mother who escaped the violence in that region of Myanmar. “Hamida joined the multitudes who, like her, lost nearly everything. Many saw their homes torched, their daughters and sisters abducted, their fathers or husbands or brothers killed before their Eyes,” Araullo described in his speech during the event.

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As he went on from one mission to another, he realized that Hamida’s story is unfortunately not unique. In his speech he also mentioned Eid Al-Zlefan, a Syrian refugee who fled to Jordan with his family for safety.

There was also Fatima Lumabao from Marawi who was separated from her children during the violent siege, and Rohaima Macarimbor, an elderly “bakwit” (evacuee) who had to work again after the battle of Marawi just to provide for her family.

The stories of loss were common in the field he’s working in. But Araullo wants to tell more of these stories.

‘I'm lucky in that my work as a journalist is quite similar to my role as goodwill ambassador.’

A seasoned media practitioner in the Philippines, Araullo has experienced many calamities in his line of work. From typhoons to earthquakes, he's covered them all and is quite familiar already about following certain guidelines when it comes to stories involving natural disasters and its victims.

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As UNHCR’s goodwill ambassador, however, Araullo has bigger shoes to fill.

“What it means is helping the UNHCR bring the issues of refugees and other displaced people to more people. I guess I just have to go back to the power of stories, and how it can really inspire people to action, inspire people to help and just by going around communities and meeting more of the displaced. I hope to be able to bring that story to as many people as possible,” Araullo said.

There are 68.5 million people living in displacement around the world today, Araullo said. This figure is a record high and includes 87,505 persons displaced across Mindanao as of November 2018 according to the Mindanao Protection Cluster.

“I'm lucky in that my work as a journalist is quite similar to my role as goodwill ambassador. I guess as a goodwill ambassador it's [just] more focused on encouraging people to act. I mean, of course, that's also the ultimate goal as a journalist: to inspire other people. But in my capacity as a member of the UNHCR, we have to explore different mediums, different ways of getting people to act,” he said.

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By getting people to act, Araullo meant not just weaving together stories of people from different walks of life and getting these stories to mass audiences. It also includes designing campaigns, talking to the youth directly and eventually inspiring them to act by showing them that they can do something to help.

“Sometimes that kind of role of media people gets blurred and gets forgotten because of everything that we need to do and also because of the traditional role of journalists that we kind of have to embody. But taking a more direct role—almost an activist role, is a little bit different in that sense,” he added.

Two billion kilometers to safety

As part of Araullo’s first projects with the UNHCR, they launched the #StepWithRefugees campaign where they urge people to join in walking or running a total of two billion kilometers until December 2019.

The two billion kilometers signifies the distance refugees have to traverse until they reach the first point of safety.

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As a former athlete who used to compete in triathlons, Araullo admitted the campaign also helped him get back into running. His personal record was 21 kilometers, which he achieved in a Half Ironman race.

“I used to run regularly. Nowadays not so much, but you know, it's good to get back to running. You're hitting two birds with one stone. You're keeping fit and also you're contributing to the campaign,” Araullo said with a smile.

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About The Author
Pauline Macaraeg
Esquire Philippines
Pauline is Esquire Philippines’ data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg.
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