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How One Young Iraqi Refugee Is Helping Others Share Their Stories


This week, we're checking back in with some people we met during 2017. Ahmed Badr is a refugee whose family moved from Iraq to Syria to the U.S. He's now 19 years old. Back in the spring, he read a poem about the bomb that destroyed his family's home in Baghdad when he was eight. He wrote the poem from the bombs point of view.


AHMED BADR: (Reading) I usually turn children like you and your sister into dust. When meeting new people, my palms tend to be bloody. Haven't you always wondered why your dad rarely spoke about me? He told you that tragedies always ended with the period, but yours ended with a semicolon.

SHAPIRO: Ahmed Badr is a sophomore at Wesleyan. Since we last talked, he started a podcast for the U.N. called Together. He helped create a touring art exhibition that shares refugee stories. And he expanded his website, Narratio, where young people from around the world share their stories. The site now partners with a refugee camp in Greece. When we called him up again, Badr told me there's one piece from the refugee camp project that he keeps thinking about. It's a painting of two trees.

BADR: There's a tree on the left and a tree on the right. And the tree on the left is engulfed in flames. Its roots are black, and the background is a fiery red and yellow. And on the right is that very same tree shrouded in white. And the background is green.

And this was a created by a young refugee at a camp named Malak, an 18-year-old. You know, this is a very, very simple piece of art. But it struck a chord in me and that showed this incredible transformation from the negative and the positive. And I've continued to see this throughout these works, but this one really summed it all up.

SHAPIRO: For so many people, a refugee camp can be a dead end. Generations can live there without jobs, schools. When you give these young people in the camp an opportunity to express themselves, do you at all feel like it still leaves unanswered the big questions about what will their life, their future have in store for them?

BADR: I think, you know, Ari, this isn't a big solution, you know? Creativity isn't going to solve the basic human problems that are existing in these camps. What I'm trying to do is simply provide an outlet for the individuals to understand their own journey and feel validated in their own experience and feel that they have a story to tell and a story that the world needs to hear.

SHAPIRO: It seems like all of these projects that you're doing - the one thing they have in common is sharing the experience of refugees, especially young refugees. Why is that important to you?

BADR: I think it's very important because when you hear the word refugee and you hear the word migrant, the first thing that comes to mind is this image of war and violence and blood. And that's definitely part of the story, but it's not the end of it. So throughout all of these projects, what we're trying to do here is to simply provide an alternative, a different perspective so that when people hear the word refugee, they can think of a co-worker, a classmate, a neighbor. And so all of this work is aimed at the humanization of the refugee experience.

SHAPIRO: We all go through life with a lot of different labels and titles. How much does the label of refugee define you in your daily life?

BADR: Me personally, I'm not - you know, I'm proud. I'm proud to be a refugee. It's not something that I - I'm trying to get rid of in any way. But at the end of the day, you know, when I introduce myself to people, I introduce myself as a writer, you know, as a storyteller. And then refugee is at the end of all of those labels. I want to be known for my work with trying to help individuals tell their own story because at the end of the day, I don't want to be the exception. I'd much rather be the rule and show youth all over the Middle East that this is possible, that you can become what you want. You can empower yourself by telling your story. And you can transcend your circumstances.

SHAPIRO: Ahmed Badr, thanks so much for coming back into the studio. It's been great talking with you again. And happy new year.

BADR: Thank you, Ari. Happy new year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.