Refugee students share their stories using technology at Drake University

Darcie Vandegrift sees so many stories told about immigrants or refugees from everybody but immigrants and refugees.

So to hear directly from immigrant and refugee high school students, they asked. And it turned into a three-week workshop where immigrant and refugee juniors and seniors from the Des Moines School District learn about story telling, podcasting and literacy.

“Stories about refugees and immigrants are so often told by others, not through the communities themselves,” Darcie Vandegrift, Sociology Professor at Drake University, said Wednesday. “And the same is true for young people, a lot of stories are told about them, things are done to them and said for them, but they don’t get a chance to speak for themselves very often.”

Each week consisted of a different storytelling project. Week one was focused on themselves, week two focused on a friend and week three focuses on an elder in their community. The length of each podcast increased each week as well.

Students submitted applications and 13 were accepted for the workshop. Its last day is Friday, then the group will get back together for a launch party on Sept. 24 for a website that features all their podcasts.

“There are some compelling oral histories about some remarkable new Iowans,” Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift says it’s been refreshing to work with high school students because of their willingness to dive in to an unknown subject.

“All kids have technology experience with their phones,” she said. “But this group has been willing to take risks and jump in.”

Both Rita Idris and Tam Cao will be seniors at Des Moines Hoover High School this fall and came to the United States within the last two years. Both said they enjoyed working with the new technology and hearing stories from elders about their journey to the United States.

“How hard was it to be here and what challenges they went through,” Idris, 17, said. “Some people were really open where others were nervous and didn’t want their story to be heard.”

Idris came from Sudan to Des Moines in 2015; Cao came to Des Moines from Vietnam 18 months ago.

“I didn’t know anything about this till we started,” Cao, 17, says. “People here are really nice and have helped me a lot.”