Global Voices lets refugee students tell their stories

Global Voices is a chance for refugee students to tell their story to the community where they have been transplanted through the art of video production.

Prospect Park is a neighborhood in the Whitehall area of the South Hills. Over half of the 1200 units in the Prospect Park apartment complexes are rented by non-American families. The majority of these families are refugees who were forced to leave their original country because of war, race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. The families then lived in refugee camps for up to 20 years before being resettled in the U.S. by the American government. These families come from dozens of countries, including Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Sudan, Bosnia, Turkey, Burundi, Liberia, and many more.

As the Mentoring Program Coordinator at South Hills Interfaith Ministries’ Prospect Park Family Support Center, I run a refugee youth mentoring program in this diverse neighborhood. About 60 middle and high school students attend this programing every week. Students are divided into small groups based on age and gender. They work with volunteer mentors each week engaging in fun activities as well as participating in discussions centered on making positive choices, building skills at home and in school, and planning for college and future careers. Coming to a new country with a different language, different buildings and schools, different food, and a completely different culture can be stressful and difficult for these refugee youth, but the mentoring program aims to make living in America easier for these students.

One day, a group of middle school boys who participate in the mentoring program shared their YouTube channel with their mentors. They had been using one of the student’s iPods to shoot video in the neighborhood. The videos were about zombies and monsters, but had been shot with a vision and edited with software the students had downloaded for free. These videos were not masterpieces, but I could tell there was an interest in video-making that could possibly be cultivated and strengthened within this population. If the students gain skills in which they excel and enjoy, they will be more confident in their abilities as students and as young people growing up in America.


Global Voices Filmmaking Classes were created due to this interest in the community. The goal of the classes is for refugee youth to learn about how to make films and then to use their knowledge to create films which can educate Americans in their schools and community about who they are, why they are here, and what it is like to be a refugee teen living in the United States. With a generous grant from the Hive Fund for Connected Learning, we were able to purchase cameras and tripods for the Global Voices Filmmaking Classes. They were also able to pay the class’s teacher, Miss Tricia, who was on loan from Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

Students from four countries (Thailand, Nepal, Russia, and Sierra Leone) attended the classes for ten weeks in the spring of 2014. They separated into two groups for their film projects. The first few weeks of class, students learned about how to use a camera and about different techniques for creating an interesting film. Then, students were allowed to begin shooting on their own during class as well as in the community. As students collected footage, Miss Tricia taught students about the editing software and how to piece together a final product.

The two groups of students named themselves the Hot Peppers and the MultiCulturals (or HPs and MCs for short). The HPs chose to create a comedic film which showed awkward moments that have happened to these students while they’ve been in Pittsburgh. They decided that using humor would be a nice way to educate viewers while teaching them about not judging or assuming things quickly about people who are different. The MCs chose to show a more serious film which explained about one student’s family and what it was like for the family to be in America.

Students’ films debuted on Monday, May 19th at the Whitehall Public Library. The audience was a mix of refugee and American viewers of all ages. The films were well-received by all who watched and the students were proud to show their hard work to the public. Another film is now available for viewing on YouTube. Students are excited that these videos can be used to educate Americans about their lives and are also thrilled to use their new skills to make more films this summer!

Published May 28, 2014