When I heard the girl reading her story ‘Myself and I’, she sent a chill down my spine.
Even though her voice, her conviction and her poise brought a smile to my face, I couldn’t erase the invisible line that sets us apart in — she is a refugee who has no right in my country.
I was driven by my belief in stories and the curiosity about refugee when I volunteered in a program to create stories with refugee teenagers.
At the end of the journey, I saw life from the side that I never have a chance to be at. My heart and mind expanded.
Stories dissolve biases
Without the experience working with adolescent or special community, I felt anxious before the program started.
When I was greeted by the refugee students with big hugs, my worries dissipated. The participants were eager to create their own stories.
One of my favourite stories was about a girl who was kept in a box by a bad man living at a train station. In developing the story, I asked the creator, how would the girl beat the villain and get out of the box?
She paused and said something that surprised me.
‘The girl will grow bigger and bigger when she witnesses love through the hole in the box, until she becomes big enough to break out of the box.’
We could beat the villain with love instead of the fist.
I thought the refugee teenagers would have hatred, fear and angst in them. I was glad to be wrong.
Stories open up possibilities
In this program, we guided the students to conceptualise and write their stories, visualise it through sketches and painting, and present their stories in a public reading session.
These were not the things that they were comfortable doing, I never heard anyone saying ‘I can’t’ or complaining that it was hard.
To them, the process was simple — try and fail, and try again until they achieve the results that they want.
When I introduced the same program to my friends, many told me that they would join this program with the condition that they didn’t have to sketch or paint.
Not all the refugee teenagers could sketch, but they tried, and they saw possibilities instead of a dead end.
I learn to serve
In the midst of launching my book, I was secretly seeking refuge in Fugee School from my own fear and insecurities.
Feeding on the participants’ positivity and pure intention to create their best work, I was with them to serve and
bring their stories to life.
I forgot about my worries and book sales, I forgot about the need to get ‘somewhere’.
Even though I spent hours putting their work into unfamiliar book templates, I found meaning in my frustration.
It was not about my productivity. I was producing storybooks that could open up new doors for the students.
Stories give us hope
We started this program because we believe that stories matter and could make a difference if we share them with the world.
The refugee teenagers were extremely grateful that we gave them a voice to share their stories.
One of them was in the process of applying for the green card to the State. A hustler in spirit, she was already planning her book sales to fund the migration.
Even though I couldn’t predict how this program will change the refugees’ lives, I knew that it changed my own perspective and how I relate to this marginalized community that co-exist with me on the same soil.
We can all create a better world when we understand and connect with our neighbour.
Like to read?
I just launched my first book ‘The Art of Owning Your Story’ ! Click here to download a bonus chapter!