I’ve been talking to people all over Europe. From Norway to Italy and everything in between. Everybody seems to know someone who is either a refugee or a volunteer for refugee-aiding initiatives. I collected tons of email addresses and phone numbers, reaching out to everyone without being capable of fully explaining what exactly I want. Things are unstructured and I still haven’t returned some emails because I simply don’t know how to proceed. I’m struggling writing this blog post!!!! So let’s structure everything a little bit and see what I’ve got so far:
My time at California State University, Northridge had built the foundation for the project and my drive to enter journalism rather than pursuing a career in public relations. The candid atmosphere at the university and its dedication to social justice had shaped my mindset more than any other institution. Some of the university’s faculty and staff put a lot of effort into stimulating students to think about complex social issues on a global scale. While my upbringing in Germany taught me that my opinion didn’t matter, CSUN motivated individuals to challenge the status quo and to take action.
Aside from CSUN’s financial support and initial motivation to create a reporting documentary, I’ve met three individuals who sprinkled their wisdom upon me in regards to the project:
Yvette Hovsepian Bearce is a Middle East scholar from Armenian descent. She grew up in Iran but escaped to Germany in 1984 during the Iran-Iraq war. Later, she immigrated to the United States. She wasn’t the first former refugee I interviewed, but the one that definitely had a lasting impact on me. I’m always fascinated by the stories she shares with me and from the moment I met her, I thought her life would be a great inspiration for a movie. She became a friend and we still keep in touch on a regular basis. Yvette was one of the first people who I casually talked to about potentially interviewing refugees on camera one day. We exchanged a lot of ideas and I started to create frameworks in my head to tell stories like hers.
Noy Thrupkaew is a freelance journalist investigating human trafficking and labor exploitation. I briefly met her by chance in 2014 – when I just started to gain interest in journalism. Many years had passed but I’ve been keeping her in the back of my mind. Before I left California, I researched her work again and found her TED Talk, which inspired me deeply. I reached out to her another time and asked if we could meet for a coffee. I told her I recently graduated with a journalism degree and would love to hear some practical advice from an established journalist like her. She agreed and met with me in a dainty little coffee shop in Hollywood.
I could dedicate an entire post just about the meeting. Aside from professional advice, she helped me to structure my thoughts regarding the project a little bit. The refugee crisis is an issue that goes hand in hand with a myriad of other issues, which makes it difficult to stay focused on single elements. Noy’s of bits of advice seem simple and maybe obvious, but breaking things down with her was incredibly helpful.
In my senior year, I interviewed Bev Weise, a motivational speaker who decided from one day to another to fly out to a refugee camp in Greece in 2016. Ever since she has increased her involvement and started a grassroots initiative that supports refugee rights and volunteering in camps. She has been speaking about the refugee crisis all over the greater Los Angeles area, sharing the stories of refugees she had met overseas. I went to a couple of her presentations and meetings she had organized. Listening to Bev had always been very inspirational and empowering. After I received the grant for the project, I talked to her on the phone to brainstorm ideas.
Even though I narrowed down the topic to focus on refugee youth, it was still a broad area. During one of our calls, Bev told me about some unaccompanied minors she’d met and shared their stories with me – which were incredibly compelling – and I decided to latch onto the idea.
On July 20, I met with Regine Hofmeister, the coordinator of the Flüchtlingshilfe (eng: refugee support) Willich. We had a great meeting and will continue working together in the future. You can read my quick intro here.
On July 25, I met the directors of Kitev, a cultural exchange initiative located in Oberhausen. Read about the meeting and the Refugees’ Kitchen project in a short post right here. I will join one of their events in October and add more content to the post.
My good friend Markus introduced me to two Syrian brothers, Mayar and Ghaith, who moved to Germany in 2015. They were really kind and shared their story with me. Read about them here. (coming soon!)
I booked a one-way ticket to Athens! I will meet Bev in Athens, who will introduce me to volunteers and refugees of the camp. Next, I will tramp North – over Thessaloniki, Skopje, Belgrade and Budapest. I’m hoping to do a lot of filming and might try to document everything on a more personal level using Instagram stories, which will be a new thing for me. For everyone interested, make sure to follow me 😉 The journey begins on August 25.
Lastly, I noticed I need more visuals!!! I’m going to take more pictures and eventually some videos as well. Friends told me to vlog, but I don’t feel confident in front of a camera. I might do it. Maybe.
Thanks for your attention! See you soon.