Refugee Voices — Stories of Trauma and Social Transformation

This February, I spent a transformative month conducting research, interviewing, and working with young refugees and migrants in France, the UK, and Sweden for the non-profit I co-founded: Footage Foundation. The conversations were difficult, emotional, harrowing, and though this might surprise some, profoundly hopeful.

The young people I met over the course of the month had escaped from traumatic situations all over the world, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. They all accepted my offer to listen wholeheartedly and shared with me details of their journeys through speaking, drawing, and if they had one, images on their phones. Though divided by geography, they are connected — as we all are — by a desire to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of others worldwide.

My aim in February was two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to broadly understand the unique needs of these young people, offering them a safe space of connection and sharing by listening deeply to their experiences. Secondly, I was conducting in-depth interviews as part of Footage Foundation’s new evidence-based Her{Connect}Her program. Her{connect}Her uses the science of storytelling, connection, and economic empowerment to engage refugee and migrant girls and women in transformational media arts workshops. By assessing their own needs and amplifying their voices through in-depth biographical interviewing and digital storytelling, young women become agents of change, cultivate compassion for themselves, and recognize our shared humanity. For young women who have sought or are seeking refuge, this program offers advocacy, storytelling, leadership, and information communication technology (ICT) skills, as it empowers their futures.

Through Her{connect}Her, a safe space is created for young women to share their harrowing journeys of refuge — journeys laden with the intense traumas of sexual violence, of being trafficked, child marriage, and other unspeakable violences. As I implemented the program, what I found most elating—what continues to shine brightest—is their epic resilience and breathtaking determination to make a difference. These brave women want to share their stories. In so doing, they take their suffering and transform it into a space of healing for others whom they may never see or know, but with whom they are indelibly connected — as we all are. This is, without question, what can only be described as compassion in action.

In fact, all of the young women felt sharing their stories would make a positive difference in the lives of others as a result of Her{connect}Her. All noted an increase in feelings of compassion toward themselves after sharing their stories. When asked if she felt she had contributed to other women, a participant from Saudi Arabia stated, “Your future might look blank at that point, but once you take a big step, there will be a guiding light. It’s really slow, but it does actually happen. So, I hope that it does help somebody.” Here is more impact from the program.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing the digital stories produced by several of the young women on the temporary Her{connect}Her website. Their stories will be part of our newly launched #OpenPlatformSharedHumanity crowdfunding campaign, which aims to scale our Her{Connect}Her program in Greece, the United States, and France this summer.

With more people displaced globally than any other time in history, Footage Foundation is more motivated than ever to continue this critical work.

If like us, you are concerned to see borders closing as the number of people seeking refuge increases, please support our campaign, help us foster connection and compassion globally, and contact us to learn more.

Kristen Ali Eglinton, PhD (@KAEglinton), is Co-founder and Executive Director of Footage Foundation, a US-based nonprofit that creates impactful, sustainable programs using local technology and expressive multimedia tools (such as mobile digital storytelling) to bring the underrepresented voices of young people into conversations on the world’s most challenging issues.

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