Iraqi Refugee Empowers Youth To Share Their Stories With 'Narratio'
When Ahmed Badr was 8 years old, his family's home in Baghdad was bombed in the midst of the Iraq War. The family was uninjured. They moved to Syria, which was peaceful then, and in 2008, they came to the U.S. as refugees.
Writing helps Badr deal with what he's been through, and he wants to give other young people the same outlet. Now a student at Wesleyan University, Badr founded the website Narratio to empower others to tell their stories.
Badr used writing to figure out what it meant to be an Iraqi-American kid. His life had dramatically changed since coming to the U.S. — in Baghdad, his parents were civil engineers; in the U.S., they worked minimum wage jobs at Home Depot and Wal-Mart.
Overtime, Badr realized that writing on his personal blog helped other people understand who he was and where he came from.
"There was this feeling of empowerment that was just overnight, all of sudden people were interested in my story," Badr says. "... And so with that in mind, two years passed, and I thought, 'OK, well this was great, but this is only helping me. This is only helping my own expression. So how about I take that feeling and that space that I created for myself and turn it into something that allows youth, refugee or otherwise, all over the world to do the same exact thing.' "
So Badr created Narratio, where young people from around the world submit poems, essays and stories. Badr curates them, and he's expanded the program into workshops to help young people learn how to express themselves.
Badr tells NPR's Ari Shapiro they are looking for pieces with a theme of empowerment.
"You're telling your story. You're expressing yourself through your own experience, and it's very very hard to dispute that," he says. "It's very hard to denounce someone's own personal experience. I think that's something that's incredibly beautiful about storytelling is that storytelling doesn't have to be divisive. Storytelling is meant to bring people together."
When Badr returned to Iraq for the first time two years ago, he says he felt guilty around his cousins who still live in Iraq. He says he feels personally responsible to give Iraqi youth — 18 million of whom are younger than 19 — an outlet to express themselves.
"I want to be able to turn that guilty feeling that I had when my cousins asked me, 'What are you up to?' into a responsibility ... and make it possible for them to be able to answer that question as freely as they would like to," he says. "And so, if I can do that by giving them a website that they can share their stories on, that's a step in the right direction."
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