Maddie Poole ’21, connects with refugees in an effort to share their stories with others.
This summer 25 students were accepted in the CSGC grants program. These grants are funded due to the generous support of the Cost, Earle/Mendillo and Workman families, who established endowment funds to support the community and public service endeavors of future generations of Deerfield students. For more information on these grants please visit: https://deerfield.edu/csgc/grants.
The Jewish Family Services (JFS) organization runs a refugee resettlement program in Springfield, Massachusetts. The program receives refugee families and individuals from a variety of cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds, and helps them begin new, fulfilling lives. This summer, I will be working with the JFS to interview their staff members who are previous refugees, and hopefully some older teens, in an effort to collect their unique stories and experiences and compile them together into a booklet that can then be distributed to the JFS, on Deerfield campus, and to other organizations involved with immigration and refugees in the U.S.
The idea for this project developed from my own love of writing and telling stories, and the importance I place on the power of connection and interacting with people. I especially believe in the impact those of different backgrounds and their stories can have on others. I also believe that there is great value in telling one’s story, and that often telling it or writing it can be very therapeutic. Refugees have often had the traumatic experience of living in war torn or violent environments, or in refugee camps while waiting to resettle in the U.S. I can only try to imagine the multitude of experiences they have had during their journey here, and after, once they arrived. During all of these whirlwind moments, it might not have occurred to them, or seemed important, to write down their experiences and memories of their homeland. My hope is that this project will be an opportunity for these stories to be collected and create a permanent record, which may also allow for refugees to see the commonalities between their stories and those of other refugees. In recent years, immigration has become a more controversial issue, especially during the Trump Administration as they have implemented different policies to deal with the large amount of immigrants we receive. It has become critical to collect personal human stories of the immigrant experience to share with not only the local Springfield community, but also in order to broaden awareness with the wider community in order to put humanity back into the process.
Due to the Coronavirus, I have had to adapt my original plan and be flexible. At the beginning of the project, I had planned to interview refugees that are teenagers ranging from 13-17 years old; however, social distancing and quarantine has limited the access the JFS has to the kids, and means that developing a relationship with the kids and their families over time as I work with them to tell their stories is no longer possible. Thus, I was asked by the JFS to shift my focus to interviewing and collecting the stories of staff members who are former refugees, and as time progresses I hope I will be able to speak with some of the older teens. So far this summer, I have been working on creating and refining the set of questions I will ask each person I interview. I have also been working on creating a short introduction video, in lieu of a first casual meeting, about myself in order to give each interviewee some information about who I am to make them feel more comfortable and familiar before we talk over zoom. Once those are complete, I should start with my first interview in the upcoming week and really begin on this journey. I am excited to see what I will learn from the community around me and to hear the stories of others.