Folklife Center announces youth storytelling initiative; focus to be on refugee issues

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Folklife Center recently announced “New American Voices,” a community-based, youth-focused storytelling initiative beginning this year.
The goal of New American Voices is to provide more opportunities for New American youth in Vermont to feel heard, visible and valued. The project will address needs of refugee youth in Vermont, age 12-24, by providing resources, training, and support for exploring their experiences through digital media.
 The need and interest for this project were identified by new American youth and guardians, community leaders, partner organizations, and Vermont Folklife Center staff. In the words of Bidur, a leader of youth programs in the Bhutanese Nepali community, “We want to be part of the community, spread our culture, and preserve it. But it’s not just about our community — we want everyone to know we are here.”
The VFC believes that it is their responsibility to collaborate with communities, individuals, and organizations to ensure that Vermont is a safe and welcoming place for all who find themselves here. In response to increased anti-refugee rhetoric nationwide, Vermont must create platforms for the more than 7,000 new Americans and resettled refugees in the state to make their voices heard on their own terms.
Working toward a future in which all people feel welcome means fostering a culture of understanding — a culture of empathy. The Vermont Folklife Center, for over 30 years, has created a variety of platforms for members of Vermont communities to tell and listen to stories of everyday life. Since its founding, the Folklife Center has supported new Americans in sharing their experiences and sustaining their cultural practices.
VFC’s engagement with new American youth will be based in the Folklife Center’s long-standing ethnographic approach: understanding experience from the point of view of those to whom the experience belongs. Project programming will include elements of oral history, interviewing, photography and filmmaking, community map-making, story circles, and other explorations of identity, community, and personal experience which are relevant, personal, and unique to the young people we will be working with.
Somali Bantu youth leader Aden Haji frequently talks about his own experience participating in a program for multi-ethnic youth in Burlington, and he has started his own initiative to share with other immigrant and refugee youth the message “you’re not alone, and you do matter.” Says Aden, “That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned through my journey – knowing that you matter makes a difference. Because when you have the feeling that you matter, you want to be more involved, and you want to be more active in the community.”
This project will be achieved through partnerships with youth, their families, community leaders, schools, and community organizations in the region, many of whom are already doing supportive, inclusive, important work with young people. VFC values its relationships with partner organizations such as Young Tradition Vermont, Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the Vermont Nepali Cultural Heritage Dance Group, the Integrated Arts Academy, and others.
They welcome all inquiries and dialogue, and would love to hear from and meet with interested partner organizations or individuals.

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