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‘My Story Matters’ gives refugees gift with lasting impact

MURRAY — A small Utah charity is making a difference in the lives of refugees who come from all over the world, each with a unique story to tell.

The organization My Story Matters creates personalized books for children in difficult situations such as homelessness, cancer and now refugees.

“When somebody sits down with you and looks you in the eye and says, 'You matter, and I want to know all about you,' there's a power in that,” said Amy Chandler, founder of My Story Matters.

That power was on full display at Cottonwood High School's library Monday on World Refugee Day. My Story Matters is currently in the process of creating books for refugee teenagers in a summer English program at the school.

Chandler says creating photo books for refugees creates a sense of belonging. "For most of them, these are the only photographs they've ever had,” Chandler said.

The process starts with volunteers around the same age asking simple questions.

“It was pretty awesome being able to hear these kids' stories, hear what they've gone through,” volunteer Kenton Hartle said. “Just to get to know a person, just as a person, just make a new friend.”

The book-making continues with dedicated writers, editors and photographers who carefully allow the refugees' personalities to shine.

“I think we need someone to care about our stories,” said BYU student Tatum Frampton. “You show them a picture of themselves, and they blush and they smile and get all excited and want to take more.”

Syrian refugee Nour Bilal, 16, enjoyed the experience so much that she's now planning to write her entire life story one day.

“It’s so fun, I just like to tell people about myself and my story,” Bilal said. “I'm from Syria and I'm Muslim, so maybe they can change a little bit in their minds the idea of what they think about us."

The end result: a printed keepsake — the gift of story, something a refugee teacher says leaves a lasting impact.

"She told us after we were finished that it was one of the most impactful things she's seen in her classroom since she's been there for seven years,” Chandler said. “She said she was able to get deeper with the kids. They were able to develop friendships better and they were able to share more and learn faster."

“My Story Matters” is now working to collect enough funding to create 500 more personalized books for children and teenage refugees in the Granite School District who attend the Tumaini Center, a transitional school for newcomers in the district.

For more information about “My Story Matters,” visit its website at http://www.mystorymatters.org

Email: legan@deseretnews.com