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Drawn to Help Refugees

iSchool Grad Students Pen Guide for Struggling Youths

By Lauren Brown


Illustration courtesy of the Hornbakery

Illustration courtesy of the Hornbakery

While visiting friends and family working in Iraq, Liz Laribee spent a day teaching an impromptu art class to Kurdish children at a United Nations refugee camp, drawing clouds and triangles and a man with a long beard. Someone erased it quickly, saying that the beard could trigger traumatic memories for the boys and girls.

Laribee thought then, “I should know more than I do.” And she resolved to learn more about refugees.

Three years later, as a first-year graduate student in the Master in Library and Information Science program, she and three classmates have turned their research about the challenges that refugees face in the U.S. into a graphic novel-style reference guide.

“Amira in America” depicts the confusion and loneliness of a girl struggling to adjust to a new school and culture, and the hope offered by an Ethiopian man who had settled here. In the back of the booklet are lists of D.C.-area and national organizations and services helping refugees, tips on supporting refugee children and relevant books.

Co-authors Andrea Castillo, Dolly Martino, Carmen A. Collins and Laribee completed the project for the course “Serving Informational Needs” and posted it on Tumblr, where nonprofits, librarians or community organizers could easily find it.

They presented it at two national conferences this spring and plan to pursue grants to have the booklet printed and distributed to libraries for refugees in need of housing, jobs or basic finance or English-language classes.

The quartet, who call themselves the Hornbakery (because they served cookies at their initial project presentation at Hornbake Library), incorporated art therapy into the booklet by making it part coloring book, to help young victims of post-traumatic stress disorder tell their own story and heal.

With Collins emigrating to the U.S. from Guatemala as a child, and Castillo coming from a family of Cuban refugees, all four felt passionate about supporting this population. Collins says, “I think this project is relevant now more than ever, to let the refugee population currently living in the U.S. know that we care and that there are organizations out there that have the resources to help them.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.