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Refugee Youth Engage in Learning & Connecting through Summer Program

by Danielle Baer |

 

By Leah Bui, Refugee Youth Convening Teacher, SOWA

During the week of August 7-11, 2017, School’s Out Washington hosted the Refugee Youth Convening for refugee high school youth from across South King County. Around 35 lively young people filled the classroom each morning ready for the day’s activities on the campus of Highline College.

It is a unique opportunity to host a safe and encouraging space for young people to gather during the summer. But it is even more rare to have a convening to specifically welcome refugee youth to meet and discuss their strengths and struggles with peers experiencing similar journeys, and to share a piece of themselves with adults who are willing to listen.

The Refugee Youth Convening students come from all parts of the world: Somalia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Burma, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The reason for their arrival in the United States is each a little different, but all very familiar to any refugee: to escape violence, war, persecution, and other reasons caused by our world’s worst tribulations. Some students arrived a couple of years ago and others just arrived two months ago, which presented differences that allowed for a range of reflection and impressions of their new American experience.

Each morning students explored themes and discussed refugee resettlement experiences, and each afternoon, students participated in art, dance, poetry, and photography taught by guest teaching artists.

The exploration of the arts allowed for alternative forms of expression beyond group discussions that addressed topics of: identity, cultural heritage, resettlement, and school challenges. Our discussions delved into how the community (teachers, afterschool and summer staff, parents, and American peers) could better understand and support refugee youth. Participants even helped advise other refugee students like themselves on adapting to American life, see a letter from TW below informing new refugee students of things to come.

By the conclusion of the week, friends, colleagues, and partnering organizations were invited to a final celebration where the students hosted and shared stories, poetry, song, and dance. It was a powerful space to witness, with creative works along the walls and the jittery excitement of teens preparing for an audience that they seldom receive. I had the honor of teaching and leading the Refugee Youth Convening and was humbled by the young people I met. This privilege served as a reminder for continuing the necessary work of amplifying the voice of refugee youth.

The Refugee Youth Convening Summer project was made possible through generous support from First Tech Federal Credit Union and Washington State’s DSHS/Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, with additional donations from individuals and local organizations/businesses.

 

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