Humanizing Refugees

Yashar Vasef Storytelling Blog Leave a Comment

Oregon Cultural Trust Grant Award

The year that I was 5, an apartment complex on my street in Tehran was bombed in the middle of the night. The blast was so powerful that all the glass in our building was instantly shattered. Up to that point, my entire existence had been spent in a war zone. My parents had a conference upstairs, and vowed to try to make a better future for my brother and I.  We escaped the war and found asylum in Turkey, leaving our home, our relatives and our belongings behind.

Tehran 1986 | Yashar and Grandpa in the backyard

Tehran 1986 | Yashar and Grandpa in the backyard

What’s interesting, is that when I look back, I had a pretty mundane routine confined to our Tehran residence. I mean, what else are you going to do as a 5-year-old in the middle of a war zone? I learned how to hustle my grandpa. Every day, like clockwork, I’d walk downstairs to his home office and bug him until he offered a piece of gum in exchange for my departure. I’d then sit by the television and watch crappy Iranian state-run children’s programming for hours on end. Perhaps a nap afterward, and more indoor playing time later. If it was a calm day, and there were no loud noises, I could explore the garden out back.



I can tell you that there are 60 million displaced individuals in the world today, largely as a result of conflict. Or I can tell you that somewhere in a war-struck nation, some kid is experiencing the same boredom I did. Or that a Syrian teenager in the crumbling city of Aleppo has a crush on his neighbor. Or about the new dance move that is the rave at a UN refugee camp in Somalia.

Portland Story Theater believes that refugees are not the “other”. They are people like you and me with a shared humanity. They laugh, cry, sing, dance and share a myriad of human experiences that we are all exposed to as a species.

Against this backdrop, Portland Story Theater is ecstatic to have received a $5,000 grant from Oregon Cultural Trust to host a refugee storytelling show next season, in partnership with Catholic Charities!

This program will follow our proven Urban Tellers® process, culminating in a public performance. The group will include people who have come here as refugees as well as people who are working with refugees. From the comical to the profound, our refugee tellers will share a story of their choosing that best reflects them as individuals. We tend to define refugees through their arduous journey, but it’s time to understand them as our neighbors, community members and friends — through the power of storytelling.

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