When Roshika Tamang moved to America from Nepal, she cried a lot because everything was so different—everyone looked differently, spoke differently and dressed differently. She felt lost until she started learning English. Then she found Refugee Hope Partners (RHP), a local nonprofit that aims to engage, equip and encourage refugee families that have settled in Raleigh, and she became part of a community where she felt she could belong. Eventually, Tamang found a way to tell her story through the RHP’s partnership with the Literacy and Community Initiative (LCI), a collaboration between the NC State College of Education and the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation that partners with community-based organizations to examine, support and promote the power of youth voices.
“I liked them showing me what writing really is and why it should be important to me,” Tamang said. “It was hard because, as refugees, we go through a lot. So, writing means you experience it all over again, but it’s also freeing.”
Tamang is one of the RHP authors who will read at the LCI’s 2022 Reading Celebration May 3, when youth from RHP and two other LCI partner organizations, Bull City YouthBuild and CORRAL Riding Academy, will read their written narratives from three newly released books and answer questions on their personal journeys.
In RHP’s first publication with LCI, Brave Histories & Hopeful Futures: Voices of a Refugee Community, there are personal stories, poetry, letters to other refugees, advocacy letters and photo narratives. The writings explore past experiences as well as current life and future dreams.
“I value what the LCI team teaches our students—that their words are valuable and their dreams are worthy,” said Anna Puryear, bridge program coordinator at RHP. “They have provided them with a voice and an outlet for their feelings and thoughts on the world.”
Recently, LCI faculty and staff published a book chapter that explored the strength and power of vulnerability when students write and share their individual and collective stories. In their work, they encourage their students to tell their authentic stories in whatever way they feel comfortable, but also to be vulnerable with those in their community in order to bond over common experiences.
“The students write powerful stories of struggle and loss,” said Jennifer Mann, a graduate research assistant for the LCI who has been working with RHP students twice a month. “They also write of love, community and gratitude. Writing is a way to reclaim power over one’s story. They are not at the mercy of someone else to tell their story. They are the ones who tell what they want, how they want, to who they want.”
This reading will be LCI’s third annual large reading event, but it is their 15th public reading in the Triangle area.
“Students in the LCI have often been labeled or told that their stories do not matter,” said Crystal Lee, assistant professor in the NC State College of Education, faculty fellow at the Friday Institute and LCI program director. “More often than not, they are often invisible or left on the margins in formal schooling spaces due to attributions and labels of language barriers, behavioral problems or mental health issues. Therefore, our readings are important so they can tell their own narratives to the community. Our students write their truths to demonstrate the stories that need to be told in today’s educational landscape. We hope that those who come to hear them will continue to amplify youth voices.”
Read excerpts from Brave Histories below. All three books featured at the reading celebration are available for purchase.
I was born in Afghanistan
Born to a kind mom and a sacrificing dad
I was taught kindness and love
I am not a fighter
But I am caring and unique
I am from a distant and different place
The smell of the grass
I am from the toy pistols
Mixed with music and Tom and Jerry
I am from united and loud
I am from births and blasts
From scared but thankful
I am from dreams of success
I am from earnest and diligent
From flavorful fruits
And rowling rivers
From destroyed lives
But hopeful spirits
I am from the wars which shaped my country and my point of view.
Just because we are refugees does not mean we can’t stand up for ourselves
Does not mean we can’t do anything in the United States
Does not mean will let our people die and not get justice
Does not mean we won’t be successful
Does not mean we’re weak
Does not mean we’re unspeakable
Does not mean we aren’t free
I hate to see how they are killing our people
I hate to see how we’re getting bullied at school
I hate to see how they think we’re worthless
I hate to see how our parents are shading tears every day
I hate to see how they see us as their target
Why is it that anywhere refugees go we can’t be in peace
Why is it that others don’t see the struggle we refugees are going through
Why is it that anywhere we go make us refugees feel like we don’t belong here
Why is it that we gotta see our people crying every day
Why is it that we feel we aren’t safe being America
Why is it that we get treated differently from the rest
Why is it that we are getting all the hatred
The thing I will tell you like advice and was the best way I did when I came to America. The best you can do too is don’t try too hard because you can’t finish everything in one day, so just every day you can do the best you can is better for your life and future as well. The most important thing to learn here is to listen and ask questions as much as you can or you want to know. And I know some volunteer can answer some of your questions. It is good to ask and be respectful to the people who want to help you even if they don’t want to just help you. You know my first time in school was kind of difficult but I used my knowledge and the teacher helped me too. I can tell you just try to understand and try how you can ask questions for something you don’t understand or read, introduce yourself so teachers are there for you even if some friends can help. I’m a refugee. I have sisters. I’m also a student. I try to manage my time so everything that has to be done gets done and I can still do the things I want to do. Keep a good schedule to help you manage your time. Be you and don’t try too hard to know everything in your new country so use your knowledge to understand what you want to see and hear.