Youth for Positive Change talked to Laura Zhang about her organization, Sharing Stories, and the importance of bridging the educational divide.
YPC: To begin with, can you tell us what Sharing Stories is and why you started it?
LZ: Sharing Stories is a youth run organization dedicated to reducing education inequality among immigrant and refugee families while engaging more young people in human rights advocacy. I started Sharing Stories in response to the stories and experiences that were shared with me by undocumented immigrants and refugees at the border – like the young people I spoke to who couldn’t attend certain universities because of financial aid limitations, or the families I met that had just been released from detention centers and couldn’t speak a word of English. Through our platform, we aim to amplify these voices and stories, to embrace diverse identities, and to empower youth to learn and take action in their communities and across the world.
YPC: Bridging the educational divide is incredibly important. How is Sharing Stories helping bring this about?
LZ: By partnering with shelters and programs across the United States, we primarily collect and send books in various languages to these locations to facilitate the educational transition for many families and children. The locations they are sent to range from fully developed literacy programs to sidewalk schools at the border. We aim to support a diverse range of institutions that are advocating and supporting immigrants and refugees in their learning despite their circumstances. Our online platform serves as a tool in which more people can take the time to learn and explore human rights statistics and issues. We believe that it is crucial to not only help others have equal access to learning resources, but also further educate those that can help us make a difference. Moving forward we plan to implement more storytelling features to highlight more immigrant and refugees journeys.
YPC: Aside from Sharing Stories, how else can young people help to change the education system?
LZ: Taking the time to learn about unequal access to education among different populations and seeking to gain new perspectives about your community are great ways to bring about change. Aside from providing the basic necessities required for learning, volunteering to teach young students, engaging more youth in global issues, and working with administrative powers to include more resources for those in need are just a few ways to bring about change. At Sharing Stories, we also take the time to present our project and goals to younger students in 4th-8th grades and encourage them to support us with the resources they have at home!
YPC: There are many people that say kids and youth, while well meaning, are unable to create any “real” change in the world. How would you respond?
LZ: Activism has been a part of my life since I was ten years old, and directly engaging with my community in different ways has shown me and my peers that small acts can go a long way. Real change does not have to start at a global level, but rather stems from the small and passionate actions in local communities before rising to a new audience. Our generation has the capability, just like those older than us, to think creatively and fight fearlessly for change for our future. Change cannot be brought about in one specific way, and seeking out the opportunity to connect with people of different ages, backgrounds, and beliefs will accelerate the creation of real change.
YPC: What are three tips you’d give to kids who want to get involved in activism?
LZ: First, you need to understand that activism requires both dedication and discipline. What you stand up for on a daily basis and feel the most passionate about translates into the way you act and live. Though your values and goals will naturally change, stay true to your most authentic self. Second, activism can often feel extremely overwhelming, especially if you are a young person. So decide how you want to make a difference, and remember that even helping one person counts. Finally, take time to breathe and re-center, and consistently remind yourself and others that you are capable of being a driver for change.
YPC: Finally, how can those interested get involved with Sharing Stories?
LZ: While we have just wrapped up our first event and collected over 3,000 books, our website and social media will release information soon about how you can start a chapter and/or join our summer and fall team. Visit sharingstoriess.org and @sharingstories to stay tuned or just take the time to learn about our movement.