BY Kit Murray
Over the past few weeks, the Introduction to Creative Writing class, taught by professor Yahya Frederickson, has been on a journey to another land. These students have visited Bhutan and Nepal. How? By meeting with their neighbors who live at CHARISM, Community of Homes and Resources in Service to Many, a non-profit organization right in the heart of Fargo.
Students started the project by forming groups of two or three. After brainstorming, discussing what may be an obstacle, what to be aware of, etc., they headed to CHARISM and interviewed their neighbors.
It was terrifying, nerve-wracking, and exciting to many of Frederickson’s students. This is the first time he has assigned this project and was aware that difficulties would come about. Many of the neighbors at CHARISM were hard to understand, a challenge to communicate with, and a test of student’s patience.
Although it was not an easy task, it soon became an enriching experience. It was evident that students were inspired by stories from those who now call Fargo their home.
Some arrived here from Bhutan with only a few hundred dollars. One neighbor told a group that she could only bring what she could fit into her small sack. Loved ones and belongings were left behind, and ahead of them they dreamed of a place where politics and civil unrest were not forcing them to become refugees. A place they could call home.
Even though the communication barrier was evident, students were able to subdue this with different but effective methods. In order to figure out a successful way to converse, groups tried to establish what worked best for their neighbor. Some tried writing down questions for them, as it was easier for them to read, whereas others had to reword questions and ask ones that were similar.
“Every question we asked Devi was paired with a smile and thoughtful response,” Taylor Ganser, a graphic communications student, said. “The language barrier was difficult to overcome at first but with time we were able to find an effective method of communication. This practice can be carried over to normal interactions. Just because English is not their first language does not mean we are unable to effectively portray a message.”
After days of attentive listening to the neighbors, groups were able to piece together stories of their interviewee. CHARISM is a building that could easily be passed by, which makes it even harder to bring awareness to those living there. Although those who live here tend to be quiet and humble, their stories are loud and powerful. What many students took from it is sure to last a lifetime.
To bring the project to an end, Frederickson proposed having a small party with his students and their neighbors at CHARISM. Cake, fruit, tea and juice were provided while students interacted with each other. It was a time for everyone to celebrate an enlightening project that was soon coming to a close.
CHARISM is neatly tucked away in south Fargo, providing a comfortable life to those in need. It is hard to bring awareness to places like this in Fargo. The creative writing class on campus was willing to take on the challenge of sharing the stories of those they’ve had the opportunity to meet. Keep an eye out for a blog soon to be created on the MSUM website where each group’s story will be accessible with the click of a button.