Having survived devastating losses, these children somehow remain determined, hopeful — even grateful.
WHILE teaching English to refugees resettled in the Greater Seattle area, I learned that each refugee has a haunting, humbling, awe-inspiring story.
My first day of class, it quickly became clear: The real teacher would be my students, who have survived traumatic experiences and devastating losses; yet, somehow, they managed to remain determined, hopeful — even grateful.
Ever since, I have considered refugees the most persuasive advocates of peace. Who could appreciate peace more than those forced to flee violent conflict and persecution in their homeland? Deprived of rights most of us take for granted, refugees remind us of the incalculable human costs of war. Their courage, resilience and irrepressible hope inspired me to begin collecting their stories and sharing their hard-earned wisdom.
Since 2010, I have worked with more than 40 ethnic community leaders to facilitate more than 40 visual storytelling workshops with refugee youths in the Greater Seattle area and abroad. The resulting paintings bear witness to the memories, struggles and dreams of young people forced to flee their native lands. They illustrate that emotions conveyed by a single image can tell a story of a thousand words, open hearts and build bridges of understanding.
Initially, workshop participants questioned why anyone would care about their stories and their lives. However, the more deeply they reflected on the seemingly insurmountable challenges they had overcome, the more their confidence grew. Over the course of each workshop, the students came to realize that genuine reconciliation in a war-torn society depends upon exposing the truth, however painful.
Their stories do matter. By giving voice to those who remain in harm’s way, they promote human rights and a more just and inclusive peace.
Their artwork gives us clues as to what it’s like to be forced to flee one’s native land and live in exile, haunted — and empowered — by traumas of the past. At the same time, our attention is called to injustices that continue to be committed in their homelands, injustices that deserve — and desperately need — more of our attention.
I’ve been entrusted over the years with more than 1,200 refugee children’s life stories, each, a pulsing heart worthy of our respect and compassion. I hope you, too, will be moved to learn more, and do more, for the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.