ON MIGRATION: What everyone can learn from immigrants’ personal stories

March 29, 2018

Below details the good work of our friend Cheryl Hamilton and our partner organization, International Institute of New England. One of our NIRV filmmakers, Mohammad, is currently making a film about one of their clients!

Massmouth’s Cheryl Hamilton created a storytelling series to help people relate to the experiences of immigrants and refugees.

Patricia Alvarado Núñez/WGBH

PHOTOGRAPH BY PATRICIA ALVARADO NUNEZ/WGBH Szifra Birke performs at the WGBH Stories from the Stage series.


Storytelling is an art, but it’s also a tool, says Cheryl Hamilton, co-director of Massmouth and director of partner engagement at the International Institute of New England, a refugee resettlement agency. She launched Suitcase Stories, a traveling live performance series and social media campaign, in March 2017, to counter negative national coverage about immigrants and refugees. Individual stories, she says, offer a unique way to foster understanding.

“With refugee stories, you hear the same narrative a lot,” Hamilton says.

“‘I fled my country, I lost everything, and came here.’ It’s too big for people to understand. But with storytelling, you can focus on one moment. And people can relate to that.”

At one Suitcase Stories event, Lowell’s Szifra Birke, a child of refugees, told about discovering her Hebrew name at 16, and changing from “Susan the cheerleader” to Szifra. Backstage, she met Alexis Kubana, a Congolese refugee. She ended up inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner, where he joined 20 people from her family. Hamilton wasn’t surprised to hear of the connection.

“At movies, you never talk with your neighbors. At a storytelling show, you share a human experience,” she says.

Related Posts:

ON MIGRATION | New model to enlist regular Americans to resettle refugees

ON MIGRATION | New model to enlist regular Americans to resettle refugees

Since the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Kabul last year, the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans has helped over 600 Afghans restart their lives. The Biden administration is preparing to turn the experiment into a private-sponsorship program for refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and is asking organizations [and individuals] to team up with it to launch a pilot program by the end of 2022.


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