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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

The Responsibility of Storytelling

Posted on: Nov. 19, 2020

Maggie Sardino Headshot.jpg

When Maggie Sardino first heard about the Narratio Fellowship, it was as part of an assignment for her WRT 114 (Introduction to Creative Nonfiction) class. Professor Chris Feikes had asked the class to attend a creative nonfiction event and write a series of reflections about that the experience. “It’s actually funny that I ended up going to the performance by the Narratio Fellows as one of my friends, Istarlin (who I knew from playing soccer), was performing. I can remember listening to the Fellows perform their poems and feeling so moved by the power of their words. The Fellows’ performances were able to capture their bravery, courage, vulnerabilities, and losses all at the same time. I was so amazed by what these young people were able to accomplish, that I instantly felt the desire to become involved with the program.”

The Narratio Fellowship, co-created and directed by writer and social entrepreneur Ahmed Badr and Professor Brice Nordquist is an annual four-week intensive storytelling and leadership programeducational transition program aimed at providing cohorts of 9-12 resettled refugee youth with the tools and resources to share their narratives and creative works on the world stage and successfully navigate transitions from high school to college and from two- to four-year colleges and universities. The program is a collaboration between Narratio.org, the North Side Learning Center, and the College of Arts & Sciences and includes partnerships with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the United Nations, the New York Times, and Squarespace. Read more about the program here.

Student working with a camera
Aman Yohannes works on an assignment with his video camera.

Now, as Maggie’s profiles of Narratio Fellows appear in Globalists, a new student publication, she says, “The profiles started out as an assignment from the organizing team (she is now a Narratio and Engaged Humanities research assistant). They were initially meant to be short profiles for the Narratio website. I started to do my own investigation into publications that aligned with the vision of Narratio. I came across SU Globalists and instantly knew that it would be the perfect place to publish the profiles. Globalists mission is to share authentic stories that celebrate inclusivity. I immediately reached out to the editing team at Globalists and asked them if they would be interested in publishing a story about the Narratio Fellowship. To my surprise, they asked if they could publish an entire series, an introductory piece and profiles on all the Fellows. So, I began writing new profiles that not only highlighted the lives of the Fellows, but also their films.” She adds, “The editors at Globalists have been wonderful mentors to me. The publication has a one-on-one editing method, where each writer works with a group of editors. I have learned so much from them about what it really means to be an effective storyteller and how to balance style with substance.”

two students doing a photo shoot
Felone “Abigail” Nganga (right) films Rayan Mohamed.

“Writing the profiles has been such an enlightening and humbling experience,” she adds. .“ The interviewing process was so powerful for me. The Fellows spoke about their journeys to the United States in such a moving ways. One of the Fellows, Felone “Abigail” Nganga, told me about her experience fleeing from the Democratic Republic of Congo after her father was killed and her mother was forced to escape alone. It was such a privilege to be able to hear this story filled with so much pain and loss, but also so much courage and bravery. I interviewed Abigail only the second or third week into the program, and yet she was so willing to share such an intimate part of her story with me, and eventually the rest of the world through her film. That is one of the things I hope people get out of these profiles. These young people have so many stories to share with us, stories of loss, pain, and heartbreak, but also stories of bravery, courage, and empowerment. Stories that can help us become more understanding and empathetic people. Stories that can enable us not only to better understand others, but also to better understand ourselves.”

Student taking a picture
Rayan Mohamed works on different filming techniques with her video camera.

“Writing these profiles also made me recognize how much power we have as storytellers. When we invite people into our worlds, or in my case other people’s worlds, we have the power to teach and introduce others to new perspectives. Storytelling allows us to plant the seeds of self-reflection, recognition, and ultimately growth and change. I have also become acutely aware that as storytellers, especially those who are sharing other’s stories, we have a serious responsibility. I have come to realize how important it is that you center storytelling in authenticity. If we lose sight of authenticity, we betray our responsibility as storytellers and we run the risk of losing our power.”

two students taking pictures
Hawa Ahmed (left) films Hibatullah Shaalan while working on an assignment.

Maggie is a dual major in Writing and Rhetoric and Citizenship and Civic Engagement. “Not a traditional pairing,” she says. “Many students who go into the CCE program major in political science or policy studies or international relations. Originally, I was headed down that path as well. Professor Feikes strongly encouraged me to think about writing as a means to channel all of my passions. For the first year of college, I was extremely concerned about declaring a major that would encompass all my passions: social equity, education studies, technological innovation, politics, and the list goes on. With writing, I realized I had this medium where I could explore all these different areas in truly meaningful ways. Writing and Rhetoric was the one major that I felt was opening doors, instead of closing them.”

Two students taking pictures
Rayan Mohamed (left) films Felone “Abigail” Nganga for an assignment.

Asked to further elaborate on her experience with Narratio, she says, “Where to start with the Narratio Fellowship? There are so many amazing aspects to this program. First and foremost, what I love about it is that it really allows the Fellows to take the lead with their projects. Is this a program aimed at refugee youth? Yes, but it does not force the Fellows into any preconceived notions of what a young refugee is. Being a refugee means so many different things to so many different people. I really respect that the Narratio Fellowship embraces this to the fullest extent. My coursework in the CCE program has illuminated just how rare this is. So often, programs emerge within a community only to impose their own understanding of the world onto others. The Narratio Fellowship could not be further from this. The organizing team is brilliant in that they equip the Fellows with the skills necessary to create and share their own understandings. Another aspect of the program that is so important is its emphasis on relationships. I feel so unbelievably honored that I had the opportunity to work with this year’s Fellows. They have such inspiring stories, and I am so humbled that I was able to learn from them. I am still working with and supporting two of this year’s Fellows, Isho Adan and Rayan Mohamed, as they make academic transitions and start new creative projects. I am very grateful that I am able to continue to learn from these amazing young women and hopefully share some of my knowledge with them.”

As native of Syracuse, Maggie especially values Narratio’s connection to the local community and the Syracuse City School District (SCSD). “As an SCSD alumna, I am so proud that I was able to support and work with current and former SCSD students. There’s something very full circle about working with young students in the SCSD for me. Corcoran High School and the entire SCSD did so much for me both as a student and as a person. I feel so honored that I have been able to work with a program that supports other students in the SCSD.”