Refugees living as far as Syria had their stories of struggle heard Saturday evening at the Nasher Museum of Art.
Twelve students presented stories of refugees from Nepal and Jordan as part of the DukeImmerse "Uprooted/Rerouted" program, which is a semester-long research program that has focused on the theme of forced migration. The students involved took a four-week-long trip to work with people in Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal and in Syrian and Iraqi refugee camps in Jordan, collecting stories among those they visited.
“It was a long process," said freshman Olivia Johnson. "The hardest part was to not be desensitized by the stories.”
Six of the student presenters spent three weeks in Nepal, visiting the Beldangi refugee camp. The other six presented refugee stores from their three weeks in Jordan's large Zaatari refugee camp.
Johnson told the story of Amira, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan whose sons died in the Syrian conflict.
“I personally enjoyed the chance to hear genuine stories as opposed to numbers and statistics," said sophomore Audra Bass. "It left a stronger impression on me and made a larger impact in the audience about conveying the refugees’ experiences.”
The twelve students spent their semester working with Suzanne Shanahan, director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, learning about resettled refugees in Durham. They met weekly for dinner with faculty and took classes together to learn about how displacement affects the social identity and well-being of refugees. The students traveled to Nepal and Jordan mid-semester to conduct their field research.
“It was an extraordinary experience to guide the work and research of the students and see their personal growth in learning about the refugee experiences,” Shanahan said.
Each story reflected a different aspect of a refugee’s life, from an Iraqi ballet dancer's inability to teach dance to a tailor’s frustration with the resettlement process. A sense of stagnation and powerlessness was a common theme that permeated through the stories.
“This is the type of event that inspires my interest in learning more about the human rights issues involved in Iraq, Syria and Bhutan,” said sophomore Tyler Nelson, one of many students who attended the presentation.
DukeImmerse students also said that they appreciated the opportunity to share their stories with a wider audience.
“I feel privileged to be a part of DukeImmerse," said sophomore Elizabeth Hoyler. "It was a real gift to tell the powerful stories that are important for people to hear.”