International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Intern Inspired by Refugee Youth

Story by: Megan McConaughey

Megan McConaughey is a Development Intern with the IRC in Tucson, and a student at the University of Arizona.


Don’t tell my supervisor, but I think I may have failed my first task as an IRC intern.  My assignment was simple; photograph the first meeting of the IRC Refugee Youth Coalition.  But during the time I was supposed to be taking pictures, I found myself not focused on photography. Instead, I was fully invested in the thirty vibrant, humble, imaginative, and truly kind young adults in attendance.   

On Saturday, February 5, approximately thirty youth and 5 IRC staff members gathered at the Martha Cooper Library for the first meeting of the Refugee Youth Coalition.  The Refugee Youth Coalition was designed to bring refugee youth together in a safe environment where they feel comfortable sharing ideas, struggles, successes, and other experiences.  Ultimately, the ideas and suggestions gathered at the Youth Coalition will be used to develop an after school program for refugee youth in Tucson.
The meeting began with laughter due to fun introduction games, and it ended on a similar note as the attendees celebrated the successful first meeting with pizza.  Though some of the participants may choose to disagree, it was neither the pizza nor games that made the meeting so special-- it was the middle.  In small groups, the youth were told to draw a person; and within this person’s outline identify two things: what Tucson gives them, and what they give back to Tucson.

Throughout the drawing, there was much conversation. “Are you a student? What are you studying?” asked one very curious girl from Tanzania. “Business” I replied.  A few minutes later I noticed the budding Van Goghs added a tie to their drawing.  “He is a business person—Like you!”

The groups were then called together to discuss what they had written.  What I found so admirable about these youth was their openness and ability to recognize how Tucson supports them.  All of the groups mentioned Tucson's role in offering them an education, sense of hope, support and a safe community. 

But most importantly, the youth don't lose sight of all the special things they have to offer.  "Tucson has given us many things, but we also have things to give back," noted a young Bhutanese boy. In my small group, it wasn’t until the end of the discussion when a reserved Iraqi girl spoke up and mentioned something unanimously true and accepted. “Stories…  We all have our stories to give.”

The few pixilated photos I have don’t do a good job of sharing the refugee's stories; but I think that’s ok.  I know these incredible young people will do a good enough job of that on their own.


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