Immigrant students explore ‘what is home’ with activist, author Sehba Sarwar

The road that led to Westbury High School was long and arduous for a group of students and their families from India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The students shared stories about that journey recently at a reading at the Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center in Sharpstown.

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“From Bhutan, we did not bring anything,” Kali Biswa read. “We just had our bodies and our families.” Her parents were forced to live in refugee camps in Nepal for several years after leaving Bhutan.

“Everything was strange and we didn’t know what to do, but the International Organization for Migration guided us,” said Purnima Siwa from Nepal.

The students were reading from their own essays, as well as their those by their parents, as part of “What is Home,” a special performance organized by Pakistani Sehba Sarwar, a writer, activist, and the founder of Voices Breaking Boundaries. The students participated in a two-month workshop with Sarwar, who is working on a long-term project of the same name. She also has been running parallel workshops for South Asian women.

“The people here need to hear their stories, and the students need to know that people are listening,” said Sarwar. “To watch them write their stories was a very interesting process. They and their families have been through so much.”

“I really wanted to share my story and my family’s story, and how we worked so hard to survive,” said Sagar Shakar, from Nepal.

The reading was coordinated with help from HISD’s Multilingual Department. “Sehba approached me about this project, so we partnered with Westbury High School,” said Outreach Worker Shirin Herman. “We got a group of refugee students together to write about Houston and the resettlement process, as well as what they went through in the refugee program.”

Sarwar’s project is being funded through an Artistic Innovations grant that she received via the Mid America Arts Alliance.

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