Earlier this year, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced her ambitious plan to bring 10,000 new families to the city over the next 10 years by opening the doors to migrants and refugees.
While this is certainly a welcome development, challenges for refugee families and youth do not simply end with their arrival in America. Hundreds of refugee young people and their families arrive in Baltimore every year, but many find themselves ostracized by the greater community, especially in schools.
That’s why Evodie Ngoy, a young Baltimorean who is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), partnered with Wide Angle Youth Media and the International Rescue Committee to make the short documentary “The Paradise That Wasn’t.” This documentary tells the story of Evodie’s struggles in school with bullying after her arrival in Baltimore, but it also shows how empowering it can be to create networks for young people through programs like the Refugee Youth Project, a joint venture between the Baltimore City Community College and the International Rescue Committee.
LIRS was lucky enough to be able to talk with Evodie through an email interview. Here’s how she illustrated her inspiration and dreams surrounding the project.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Evodie Ngoy. I am from the Congo DR and I have been in the United States for six years now, with my whole family. This year, I made a film called “The Paradise that Wasn’t” about my experiences coming to the United States as a refugee.
What spurred you to create this film?
I wanted everyone to know what it’s like to be from a different place. From my own personal experience, as a newcomer at school, I wasn’t treated so well. That was really hard for me because I was coming to this country, thinking it would be like heaven on earth, but I was wrong.
Tell us about the program where you made the film.
The program where I made my film is called Wide Angle Youth Media, a non-profit organization that provides Baltimore youth with media education to tell their own stories. Working on a documentary was the most amazing experience ever. I especially liked getting to interview people, and editing the film was awesome.
What false perceptions do people have about you as a refugee?
Many people think that refugees are not well educated, that we all come from villages, and that we don’t wear clothes in our home countries. This is not true, and it really hurts when people ask you such questions or stereotype us.
What would your advice be to a young refugee who is struggling with bullying in American schools?
Don’t let people’s words put you down. Be happy about where you are from because it’s what makes you who you are. You are beautiful and you are strong.
How does having a network of other refugees help with the transition into life in the United States?
I do not think I really had much of a support network of people my own age when I first came here. But, as I got older and got into high school, I found that there were lots of people living in Baltimore who were also from other places like Africa. We became friends, and that has helped me. Now, there are lots more programs for refugee youth. In fact, I featured the Refugee Youth Project in my movie.
How can people help if they see someone getting bullied or if they want to get involved with refugee youth in general?
If you’re seeing someone being bullied, just let the bully know that it is not OK. Don’t be a bystander. Most bullies back off if they see other people sticking up for the victim. But, if something serious is going on, let an adult know. If you want to get involved with refugee youth, there are lots of organizations that you can contact. For instance, there’s the International Rescue Committee, the Baltimore Resettlement Center, and the Refugee Youth Project.
What is the number one take away message that you hope your viewers will leave with?
I want viewers to treat newcomers nicely, because these newcomers left their homes, their family, and everything they had coming to this country. They came here with the mindset that their troubles would finally be over, but when they actually get here it’s often the opposite of what they are expecting. Think about what it would be like if you were from that country and you had given up everything to get here. How would you want to be treated? Treat others with the dignity and respect that you would want for yourself.
What are your hopes for the future?
I created this film with the hope that the whole world would see it. With the help of Wide Angle Youth Media and the International Rescue Committee, I will be screening the film for lots of people in Baltimore this fall. If you are interested in screening it, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.