By Elizabeth Meade Howard

Some 23 refugee and local middle and high schoolers in Charlottesville recently took part in a workshop on understanding the power of working with people different from themselves. Presented by Hardwired Global, an international human rights nonprofit based in Richmond that works all over the world to integrate cultures, the workshop was hosted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia with support from Welcoming Greater Charlottesville..

“We are bringing students together to go through the topics for simulation that we use to bring diverse groups of people together to create better intercultural understanding and support of one another,” said Victoria Tiggas, Outreach and Development Officer        for Hardwired.

A dozen refugee youths from the IRC participated in the Hardwired workshop. “The workshop, although it was in the format of a game, presented strategies to work through serious social issues that are very relevant to what many immigrant youth struggle to navigate in their new schools and communities,” said Monte Hackney, IRC Youth Program Specialist. “Many refugee children also were excited about the opportunity to join a workshop with kids from the U.S.”

The Fruitopia simulation utilizes the analogy of fruit and guides participants to build an identity and culture for their fruit which will then have to navigate various challenges, explained Gina Vellani, Program Manager, Hardwired. Participants worked in diverse groups to experience life as a fictitious culture that faces hostility from others. In this environment, groups expressed their fears and navigated how to interact with people who are not only different from them but may be hostile toward them as well. 

“We were grateful for the opportunity to host the Hardwired Global workshop,” said Shannon Ferns, Interim Chief Operating Officer at the Boys & Girls Club. “At the Club, we strive to be a safe, fun, and inclusive place where all children are welcome. Creating a space that highlights the importance of diversity and perspective is a key part of our mission to develop youth who are active citizens in their community. We’re very appreciative to the International Rescue Committee and Welcoming Greater Charlottesville for organizing this event and to Enes Freedom for taking time to share his story.”

A workshop highlight was the appearance of NBA basketball player Enes Kanter Freedom to talk about human rights. Raised in Turkey, Freedom spoke about some of the struggles he experienced as he went into the NBA and came to America. “I would just say obviously you’re going to have good days and bad days, good games or bad games," he said. "I think that one thing that you have to focus on is just whatever happens in life you can’t ever, never give up on your dreams.” 

IRC participant Maysa AlDavwish agreed. “What I liked about it was I got to play basketball with Enes,” she said. “And what I learned is to just chase your dreams and not give up.”