ASU freshman Selena Morse hopes her recently published children's book, "Dear Tariq," can assist with positively changing the perception of Syrian refugees in America. The book, which is illustrated by a team of international students, seeks to raise awareness and compassion about the Syrian refugee crisis.
"A big part of the entire process of writing a story and drafting all of the illustrations was accurately representing refugees, their feelings, their wants, and their needs," said Morse, who is majoring in supply chain with a certificate in cross-sector leadership.
"Dear Tariq" is about the friendship between two young soccer players, one living in the United States and the other in Syria. The story is inspired by the 2016 story of Alex Myteberi, a six-year-old boy who wrote a letter to former President Barack Obama offering up his home as a place for a young Syrian boy to stay.
Morse and her co-author, Geo Chen, who goes to Duke University, began writing "Dear Tariq" while attending Concordia International School in Shanghai, China, where together they took an applied learning storytelling agency course.
The class was taught by Dagne Furth, who is now their publishing partner. Furth recently opened a nonprofit publishing agency called New Day Storytelling Advocates, which aims to uplift the youth by giving them an opportunity to share their voices publicly.
Morse and her co-author chose to publish through the nonprofit organization because Furth was familiar with the vision the authors wanted and had seen them through the creative process.
Morse and Chen agreed on writing a children's book because they wanted "something that was universally comprehensible," according to Morse, allowing the book to "create connections across cultural, physical and language barriers between kids around the world."
Selena and her co-author then met Jordan Hattar, director of Help4Refugees, and Myteberi, the inspiration for the book, and different aspects of the book started coming together.
Hattar, who works closely with New Day Storytelling Advocates, introduced the authors to a young Syrian refugee named Sirin Hamada who then created some of the illustrations for the book, beginning her drawings at age 10.
"As director of Help4Refugees, I'm always looking for ways to ensure that refugees have agency over their own lives," Hattar wrote in an email. "During COVID this project gave (Hamada) the ability to create while also helping her family — her mom is a single Syrian mother and the Dear Tariq project was able to provide a stipend to their family, to help them during COVID times."
Hamada has appreciated being able to work on illustrations that truly depict her life and her story, Furth said.
Due to misrepresentations and a lack of empathy within the media, it was important to everyone involved in the project to fully understand and represent Syrian refugees.
To ensure Syrian voices were speaking in on the project, the initial draft of the book was sent to western and non-western speaking beta reader teams.
"We wanted to make sure that the story that we were telling was accurate, dignified and honest," Furth said. Diversity of thought and feedback helped to drive the creative process.
"Our book purposely encourages students to think about that kind of an investment in terms of empathy, kindness and getting to know someone," Furth said.
The hope is for "Dear Tariq'' to be picked up by school and local libraries. The book will empathetically educate kids on the lives of Syrian refugees and inspire them to use their voices just as the collaborators of the book have done. All proceeds will go to illustrator Hamada and her family.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Piper Hansen and Caera Learmonth.
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Claire Le Gallo is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She is a sophomore majoring in Journalism and Anthropology.