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They Looked Different from Us

“I decided then and there I wanted to become involved in helping refugees.”

Fatima Dzhafarova, Paris
Fatima Dzhafarova, Paris
Fatima Dzhafarova, Paris

Written by Twila Bird

Photography by Christophe Mortier

Fatima was born in Moscow, lived in Dubai for five years, and is now a student at the American School of Paris. After attending a school assembly in 2016 which featured Melissa Bradford, an international author and humanitarian who spoke eloquently in behalf of the thousands of refugees who were streaming into Europe, she was hooked.

It was one of the strongest presentations we’ve ever had. No one said a word after Melissa was through speaking. It was dead silence—very strange in a high school. I decided then and there I wanted to become involved in helping refugees. I joined the school’s newly formed club, Compassion Without Borders.

Once our Compassion Without Borders group sponsored a bus tour of Paris for refugee teenagers. We each prepared a presentation for a specific site in Paris. Mine was on the Eiffel Tower. The bus was full. The refugee teens looked so different from us, but they were happy, excited, and eager for the tour. That changed my perspective about them. I guess I expected them to be sad and depressed, but they were so light-hearted. That was cool.

In addition to stopping at various sites, we played games, chatted, and took selfies—really cool ones because they all had selfie sticks. We were interspersed on the bus so we each had refugees to talk to. Their English was limited, so we didn’t have deep conversations, but we all laughed together and had a good time.

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Our team members obtain informed consent from each individual before an interview takes place. Consent forms are translated and explained in the individual’s primary language. Individuals dictate where their stories may be shared and what personal information they wish to keep private. In situations where the individual is at risk and/or wishes to remain anonymous, alias names are used and other identifying information is removed from interviews immediately after they are received by TSOS. We have also committed not to use refugee images or stories for fundraising purposes without explicit permission. Our top priority is to protect and honor the wishes of our interview subjects.

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