Seven Cities and the Power of Storytelling
By Ahmed Badr, Founder at Narratio
I needed five cities to begin to tell my story: Baghdad, Aleppo, Sioux Falls, Brookings, and Houston.
My name is Ahmed Maytham Badr, and I am a writer and a former refugee from Iraq. I began telling my story during sophomore year of high school. Huddled around the lunch table, I told my friends about what it meant to be Muslim, and what it was like to live in Baghdad and Aleppo. I spoke of a war-torn past, but emphasized an optimistic vision of a future full of growth and cross-cultural cooperation. I was asked about my quickly evolving Iraqi-American identity, and at times, faced questions like “Is Osama Bin Laden your cousin?”
I could have gotten angry when my friends equated “Muslim” with “Terrorist”, but instead, I sought to understand what lay below these assumptions. I quickly realized that my story served as an antidote to hateful attitudes and ignorant perspectives. As I spoke about daily life in Iraq and Syria, these flawed perspectives quickly shifted in a way that would not have been possible if I had responded in an angry manner.
With this in mind, I set out to create a platform for necessary conversations, just like the ones that were previously happening around the lunch table. I was incredibly privileged in that I had an outlet and a space to tell my story, and I wanted to share this with youth from all over the world.
During my junior year of high school, I founded Narratio, a global platform for youth empowerment through creative expression. Narratio invites youth to share their stories through the publishing of poetry, photography, art, and narrative. We publish works from all over the globe, and host workshops centered around the power of storytelling and creativity. Our workshops are supplemented by the Narratio booklet, a 28-page curated publication featuring works published on the site.
Since our founding two years ago, we have published over 60 pieces from over 15 countries. We have grown to a community of more than 40 contributors, all engaging in the power of creative expression. In the next five years, we hope to continue to develop our community and take our workshops to the Middle East.
Over the past year, I’ve added two cities to my previous list of five. I just finished up my freshman year at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where I am a fellow at the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. This summer, I am living in New York City, hosting the “TOGETHER” podcast for the UN Migration Agency. The podcast is centered around the stories of youth migrants and refugees across the world, humanizing an experience that is often viewed through the abstract.
My friends eventually realized that we were united by our differences as much as we were by our similarities. It is when we embrace this realization that we can begin to grasp our ability to change the world.
The sharing of our personal experience is powerful because it is unassuming. Storytelling does not seek to divide or forcefully change a perspective but offers an alternative, a possibility. It offers a possibility stretching from Baghdad to New York, and beyond.