Giving young refugees a voice in the U.S.

Group of people posing (© Edward Grattan)
Narratio Fellows pose for a photo after performing at the Metropolitan Museum's Royal Assyrian Court on July 31, 2019, during the 2019 fellows' visit to New York City. Ahmed Badr is front center, wearing a tie. (© Edward Grattan)

Ahmed Badr came to the United States as a refugee when he was only 8.

A militia bombed his home in Baghdad, forcing his family to flee to Syria. He eventually came to the United States, and by the time he was a teenager, Badr — an author and poet — was already finding creative ways to help other refugees find their voice.

“Adjusting to the American way of life was a challenge at first,” he says on his website, “but I soon began to realize the power of storytelling to inspire and bring people together.”

Badr founded Narratio as a sophomore in high school. This nongovernmental organization is an online platform to support, connect and highlight the creativity of young refugees.

“I started Narratio to make sure that there are spaces and opportunities for displaced young people to share their own stories on their own terms,” he says.

On World Refugee Day, June 20, the United Nations celebrated the creativity of young displaced people like those Badr works with at Narratio.

Narratio offers fellowships, workshops and partnerships with other organizations to provide opportunities for the youth.

In 2019, through a partnership with Syracuse University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Badr launched a fellowship for displaced young people to express themselves through storytelling — and engage with the museum’s collection.

This first cohort of 11 fellows explored the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Ancient Near East Department, closely examining an assortment of objects. The fellows re-imagined the stories behind the objects and rewrote the museum labels as poems.

The fellows’ final exhibition, Intertwined Journeys, also included photographs that documented the fellows’ experience in the program.

“I got to express my experiences as a refugee from Syria and share it with people who want to get a better understanding of what it means to be a refugee,” said Nidaa Aljabbarin, one of the 2019 fellows. “After the Fellowship, I got inspired to write more and express my feelings through writing.”

In 2020, the fellowship program focused on autobiographical filmmaking, in partnership with Syracuse University. To continue helping young refugees find their voice, Badr plans to host two simultaneous fellowship groups this year: one focused on photography, in partnership with National Geographic, and another one focused on poetry. Both fellowships will be in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Felone Nganga, one of the six fellows from 2020, arrived with her sister in the United States in November 2019 from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I believe that by telling my story, it is going to help other people,” she said.