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Seattle Refugee Youth Project: Using Story to Build Young People's Leadership and Networks of Support

Case Studies

Seattle Refugee Youth Project: Using Story to Build Young People's Leadership and Networks of Support

Emily Paulos

Upon arrival in the United States, many refugees speak limited or no English, possess few viable job skills, and are faced with the challenge of living with the trauma they may have experienced in their home countries. They also lack the kinds of social networks outside of their own refugee community that can help them get established. In the face of inordinate adjustment challenges, refugee families become the working poor, and refugee children are often considered "at-risk," in educational settings. Many refugee teens face difficult social adjustment issues at school, making it hard for them to stay on course academically. Others have to drop out of school to work at menial jobs, in order to help their families financially.

From 2010 - 2013 StoryCenter collaborated with Three Chairs for Refugees, the Seattle Office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Coalition for Refugees from Burma, East African Community Services, and Highline Community College on a project to support refugee youth in sharing stories about the challenges they confront as they transition into life in the United States. The goals of the project were to provide the youth with hands-on opportunities to build greater social networks in the broader community; increase their communication, literacy, and technological skills; and develop leadership and advocacy skills and experience.

We led a series of digital storytelling workshops with young people who reflected the diversity of King County's refugee community – participants came from six countries, including Turkey, Bhutan, Eritrea, Iraq, Burma, and Somalia. These courageous young people shared stories about their migration to the United States, their experiences with learning English, the challenges they face in adjusting to U.S. schools, making friends, and confronting bullying, and their dreams for the future. Following the workshops, we led a one-day action-planning session for storytellers and University of Washington student mentors, to support them in creating a plan to share the stories in community settings. At the premiere, which was sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the storytellers engaged a large audience on the University of Washington, Seattle campus in dialogue. Subsequent story screenings offered broad community-building opportunities by creating the space for productive dialogue between refugee youth and the general public. The KCTS9 PBS affiliate produced a segment on the project, which can be viewed below. 


To view two of the stories from this project click on the links below:
"Finding Home" by Ta Kwe Say - a story about a photo, no place to land, and a reunion.
"Still" by Anisa Ibrahim - a story about a car crash, girls in hijab, and stereotyping.