How Syrian Refugees Transformed a South L.A. School — from 7,500 Miles Away

By Allison Finn, Program Coordinator, Global Nomads Group

In April 2015, Global Nomads Group connected Syrian and Jordanian youth in Amman, Jordan with peers in South Los Angeles, California. Through virtual reality and interactive videoconferences, these students learned firsthand about each other’s lives — and explored how they could take action to transform the challenges in their communities.

Using GNG’s curriculum, students at View Park Preparatory Charter High School identified the problem of food access in South LA. In a videoconference with their peers at Mahatta Community Center in Amman, View Park students shared that, as a community living in a “food desert,” they did not have access to affordable healthy food, and their families’ health was suffering. Curious and confused, the Syrian and Jordanian students shot their hands up in the air: Here, families have gardens — why don’t you have them? Why do you eat fast food if you know it is unhealthy? Why can’t you move to a neighborhood where there is better food? My family has survived because of their garden; why don’t you grow one?

Now, six months later, View Park High School has a community garden.

Now, students in the environmental science courses work in the garden as part of their class.Now, the school hopes to integrate produce from the garden into school lunches. Now, a generation of View Park students is actively engaged in food justice and transforming their community. BeforeReimagine: Syria, View Park knew they faced this problem — but it took a conversation with peers across the world to put things in perspective, and show these young people that they could take action.

We rarely give our young people the chance to take charge when they see a problem, or — if we do — to move beyond Facebook activism. We rarely take this initiative ourselves. But by connecting young people in different circumstances, in different parts of the world, GNG provides invaluable opportunities to gain perspective, to find similarities, and build the capacity of individuals to become changemakers. Through programs like Reimagine: Syria, we realize that Syrian refugees don’t just need help — they have so much help to give themselves.

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