Youth Advocates for Immigrants and Refugees

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     It’s been nearly a month since high school, “life as we knew it,” came to an end, and I’ve been spending some of my extra time editing podcasts for our first season of Speak Up/Speak Out. Despite these uncertain times, YAIR has held several productive virtual meetings about future steps for the podcast; we aim to share Season One with the general public sometime in May. Despite the occasional glitch in GarageBand, we’re heading in a positive direction! 
    In January, co-founder Nayantara Arora applied for and received a grant from the Stevens Initiative, which will support us in advertisement, production, and distribution of Speak Up/Speak Out on a variety of accessible digital platforms. We hope to reach out to many more immigrant and refugee youth for future interviews. Season 2, here we come!
   While the COVID-19 pandemic may be slowing down the process of in-person interviews, we are fully committed to continuing this project virtually, for the time being, as we strongly believe that providing a platform for youth to share their stories and experiences is an opportunity to foster connection and cross-cultural understanding. In the near future, we will post a flyer and link on the website for anyone who is interested in sharing their stories with Speak Up/Speak Out. 
      I hope you are all staying safe and healthy, and have the chance to enjoy the beautiful weather in the coming weeks. 

--Olivia Cull, YAIR Co-Founder



By Nayantara Arora

     Before I came to St. Mary’s I had always felt underrepresented in my various communities. But at SMA, there are so many ways to feel included and heard. For example, there are several affinity groups at St. Mary’s that are meant to be spaces for minorities at St. Mary’s. Personally, Asian and Pacific Islander Club has been a super comforting place to go throughout my experience at SMA, in addition to being on the Student Equity Team.

      Last year, St. Mary’s had its first full day dedicated to equity and inclusion. There were over 30 student and adult-led workshops centered around a range of topics— from gender & sexuality to representation of people of color in the media. For me, UNITE day was a turning point in how I viewed representation at St. Mary’s. After attending two amazing student-led workshops about Asian Americans, I left the school feeling seen, heard and inspired.

     This year, I decided to create a workshop with Belise Nishimwe, Olivia Cull, and Allison Arbuthnot. The theme of our workshop was immigrant and refugee youth, as all of us had ties to the immigrant and refugee community. Because we wanted our workshop to remain engaging and informative without it being a long lecture, we searched for interactive ways to convey a message. Since December, we had been tirelessly reaching out to various speakers and students, when we stumbled upon a great opportunity; we had the chance to collaborate with Reynolds High School in order to engage in a story exchange. The day of UNITE, 41 students from Reynolds came to participate in our workshop, along with two cycles of 30 SMA students. The experience was amazing, and seeing the way in which allowing oneself to be vulnerable and sharing one’s personal story impacted the participants.

     Additionally, I would like to applaud the 30+ workshop leaders, and 70 students who were involved in making UNITE day happen! I hope that everyone went home feeling as empowered (and more) as I did last year. This was such an amazing opportunity.

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