Experiences with Displacement

By: Sonia Cătinean, Program Manager at Na’amal & Marieke Slovin, Founder at Guiding Song

Did you miss a session focused on Experiences with Displacement? Here’s a deep dive of discussions that took place throughout the Migration Summit 2023:

In these sessions, there was a strong focus on the Power of Story to raise awareness of the real issues within migration. Stories being told by individuals who have experienced forced displacement firsthand are an effective way to shift perception of migration and also to empower migrants. Participants in both “Experiences with Displacement” panel sessions spoke about the importance of being invited to share their stories. In sharing their stories, they felt seen and heard. They could also give hope to others who were struggling to give them hope by sharing their successes. Each participant shared a powerful trajectory they followed and their persistence in creating success even in the face of great challenges. They have each become Role Models, Giving Back to their communities, creating programs that help other refugees in need. Their stories also illustrate the need to take a Whole Person Approach when searching for solutions for issues that arise. Each person has individual needs and is in a unique situation, and so it is important to listen to what they need. In addition, aid that comes from external sources often does not take into account the actual needs of the people. By inviting people to share their stories and what they need for success, we can reframe the migration narrative and come up with better solutions to issues that arise for migrants around the world.


The Whole Person Approach was also emphasized through the sessions that highlighted the importance of building relationships and supportive environments. In the session on “Celebrating Integrational Diversity,”, speakers underscored the importance of understanding and celebrating diverse cultures while living abroad, recognizing the shared humanity among individuals. This recognition promotes empathy and fosters an environment where people feel valued and understood. The session on “Stories from Educators in Displacement” explored the Quality Holistic Learning (QHL) Project, which focuses on the whole person approach to education.  By considering the social and emotional well-being of students alongside their cognitive development, educators can create safe spaces that encourage active engagement, trust, and meaningful connections. The speakers shared their experiences of establishing relationships with learners, acknowledging their unique backgrounds, and providing support beyond academic instruction.

The “Experiences with Displacement” sessions highlighted impressive stories of individuals who were either helped by organizations or who offered support to organizations targeting migrants and marginalized communities. Toumany Sidibe, English teacher and a Social Worker talked about his as an educator and his initiative to help his refugee students better access the learning materials made a difference in students’ academic progress, facilitating a better integration into the school’s environment. Similarly, the second chance Sharaf Anees, a Javascript web developer, was given to continue the program at Hack Your Future, given his unfortunate circumstances, helped him achieve his professional goals, and realign his personal life. These stories, along with many others, demonstrate the power of adopting the Whole Person Approach on changing people’s lives for the better, by creating supportive environments that nurture the holistic growth of displaced people, enabling them to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.

The impact of media on perceptions and stereotypes surrounding immigrants, refugees, and specific cultural or religious groups was another crucial theme that emerged from some insightful sessions. Throughout the sessions on “Celebrating Integrational Diversity” and “Stories from Educators in Displacement”, speakers highlighted the disassociation from their original cultures and the impact of media on public perception. The speakers shared their personal experiences of feeling like outsiders and facing cultural estrangement. They emphasized the over glorification of the West and the negative portrayal of Muslims in media, which contribute to stereotypes and misconceptions. Similarly, the importance of holistic learning and the impact of media on displaced learners’ perceptions were discussed. The educators acknowledged that the media plays a significant role in shaping how society views and understands displaced communities. They stressed the need for inclusive narratives, individual journalism, and increased visibility of diverse voices in media to challenge stereotypes and promote a more accurate understanding of diverse cultures and backgrounds. By addressing the harmful effects of monoculture education and media bias, these sessions called for a transformation in media representations and a commitment to fostering unity and empathy among different communities.


The Power of the Arts was a thread that found its way through several sessions and also in the song that became a soundtrack for the Summit. This song was written by one participant in the “Experiences with Displacement” panel session, who shared her story in song. Working with a member of the organizing committee for the Summit who writes music with people from their stories, the two created a powerful piece called “Tell Your Story,” which gave voice to the importance of seeing refugees as people and inspiring hope for those who are struggling. 


The “Importance of Art for Migrants” panel session and “Migration Voices in Poetry and Song” workshop built on the themes of story and art and finding ways to shift both public perception of migration and migrants and also self-perception and empowerment for migrants themselves. Presenters spoke about the role of story as a way to raise awareness of issues within migration through the voices of people who had experienced migration firsthand. These stories could create opportunities for empathy and connection, as well as empower and give agency to the storytellers. The migration narrative is often told by people and organizations with a particular agenda, and in this we lose perspective of what is really happening. We lose the human side of migration. Participatory arts in general can be a powerful way to not only show the true experience of forced displacement but also a way to create community and connection, to bring people together in a way that opens the heart and mind. It is from this place of connection that positive solutions that meet the needs of each person can be created.


Reframing Narratives on Migration,” a presentation by two academics in Turkey, approached new ways of thinking about migration and migrants in the classroom and through different forms of artistic expression. The first presenter suggested that textbooks could promote Integration instead of Assimilation in teaching children about migration. The second presenter spoke about research on borders and an exhibit they helped curate that touched on different ways of thinking about borders. Borders could be approached not as forms of surveillance and security but rather as “zones of performance.” Borders could be experienced differently, even through sound. We can “expand our understanding of the concepts of borders and borderscape, and how borders are imagined, interpreted, and reconstructed through art.”


  • These are more descriptions of how to approach issues with migration. The specific solutions occur on a case-to-case, individual basis.
  • Anytime migration issues are discussed and with a goal of devising creative solutions, there should be people who have experienced migration at the table.
  • Solutions for issues with migration need to consider the whole person → holistic support and mental health services, taking into account family obligation (e.g., women will prioritize caring for children, elderly parents, etc.), and working with each individual to determine their unique needs (this is more time consuming and may come with a greater financial cost but will help more people succeed, which helps society overall.