Brave Girl Rising: A Refugee Story

This teaching idea was created in partnership with Girl Rising, a non-profit organization that uses stories to change the way the world values girls.

Global migration is one of today’s defining issues. A “current event” that sometimes appears in headlines, migration is also an ongoing phenomenon that is inextricably linked to other news of the day, including war, natural disasters, and climate change. According to the UN’s World Migration Report, there are more than 244 million migrants around the world. More than 68 million of them were forcibly displaced from their homes.

Nasro is one among those millions. A Somali-born girl living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, Nasro is the subject of the extraordinary new film Brave Girl Rising. Produced by the creators of the 2013 film Girl Rising and released to mark International Women’s Day, this 17-minute film shares Nasro’s story as told by the Somali poet Warsan Shire.

Created in partnership with Girl Rising, the following teaching ideas invite students to engage with Nasro’s story and examine the challenges she faces and the strength she discovers. They also explore how an individual’s story, told with rich imagery and language, can spark empathy and ethical reflection on an issue whose vast scale can be difficult to grasp. The teaching ideas are suitable for both social studies and literature classrooms and can be used together or singly over one or more class periods. For more resources on teaching Brave Girl Rising, including fact sheets, viewing guides, and project based lessons, please explore Girl Rising’s robust curriculum.

  1. Introduce Global Migration and the Challenge of Empathy

    Begin by sharing with students basic statistics about global migration, using the information listed above or in Girl Rising’s Issue Fact Sheet on Refugees and Displaced Persons. A brief look at EarthTime’s animated map Global Refugee Crisis: The Big Picture, which shows the movement of refugees from 2000–2016, can also illustrate the worldwide scope and scale of this issue.

    One of the biggest challenges in responding to this global refugee crisis is encouraging the world community to care and to help. In the film Reporter, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, who often writes about the challenges facing refugees, discusses the human tendency to turn away from mass suffering and his struggle as a journalist to spark readers’ concern about problems that seem far away.

    Watch Reporter: Psychic Numbing (2:57), a short excerpt from the film, with students. Then discuss the following questions:

    • What social psychology experiments does Kristof describe? What do those experiments reveal about what makes people more or less likely to help those in need?
    • The narrator describes “psychic numbing” as “a terrible paradox . . . modern technology allows us to witness remote, large scale suffering, but our minds simply lack the capability to comprehend it.” Has there ever been a time when you have experienced psychic numbing as you learned about current events? What has motivated you to feel empathy or compassion for others?
  2. Watch Brave Girl Rising and Make Character Maps

    Nasro is a 17 year old girl who fled violence and famine in Somalia and has spent most of her life in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Her story puts a human face on statistics about global migration and offers insight into the struggles and resilience of refugees, especially the 17 million refugees worldwide who are girls.

    Before watching the short film Brave Girl Rising, explain to students that they will be seeing the real Nasro and her friends in scenes of their lives in the Dadaab camp. They will hear Nasro’s story told in five poems written by Somali poet Warsan Shire and read by actress Tessa Thompson. (Be aware that the fourth poem, “Dreams in Which Mother Appears,” alludes to attempted sexual assault within the camp.) As students watch the film, they will focus on Nasro’s identity and her story using a modified Character Map strategy. Character maps can prompt reflection and perspective-taking based on a living person like Nasro, a character in literature, or a figure from history. You might choose to share the prompts on the Nasro Character Map handout with students before viewing the film so that they can listen and take notes in response to the questions.

    Brave Girl Rising (17:00) can be viewed on the Girl Rising website. The film is also available with subtitles in Spanish, French and six other languages.

    After viewing the film, divide students into pairs and give them the Nasro Character Map handout. Ask each pair to draw a full-body sketch of Nasro. Then have students annotate the sketch using the prompts on the handout, which connect features of the figure’s body to details of her identity and story.

    After pairs complete their character maps, students can post them in the classroom and participate in a brief Gallery Walk to view what their classmates created and reflect on the patterns, similarities, and differences among character maps. As a class, discuss these questions:

    • What stands out to you about Nasro? What are some of the most important things that have shaped her identity?
    • What choices do you see Nasro making to shape her own future?
    • How does Nasro’s story add to your understanding of the broader issue of refugees and global migration?
    • Think back to what you learned about “psychic numbing” in the clip from Reporter with Nicholas Kristof. Does the individual story of Nasro engage your concern in a way that earlier statistics about migration did not?
  3. Consider How Literature Deepens Understanding and Empathy

    Brave Girl Rising tells Nasro’s story through Warsan Shire’s poetry. Unlike a more literal narrative found in a newspaper article, these poems are artful and rich in imagery, metaphors, symbolism, and other figurative language that reward close literary analysis.

    Return to one of the poems in the film for closer analysis. These are the five poems and their time codes in the film:

    1. “Sowdo Gives Birth to a Girl” (02:36–0:04:26)
    2. “The Lost and Found of Humanity” (04:21–0:05:50)
    3. “Girl Must Find a Way to Survive” (05:53–0:07:35)
    4. “Dreams in Which Mother Appears” (07:37–11:24)
    5. “How to Bloom in Dark Places” (11:25–16:21)

    You can rewatch a selected segment of the film or use this transcript of an excerpt from film’s final poem, “How to Bloom in Dark Places” by Warsan Shire.

    As students listen to the film or read the transcript, they should write down one phrase from the poem that forms a strong image in their minds. Afterwards, ask them to briefly write about the phrase they chose, why they chose it, and how they understand its meaning. You might do a Wraparound to hear the phrases students selected, then reflect together on the images that stood out to the class. You can also ask students to consider how Warsan Shire uses figurative language, repetition, and rhythm to communicate important ideas about Nasro and her experiences.

    To conclude, share these words from novelist Barbara Kingsolver and then discuss the questions below.

    Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much. We didn't evolve to cope with tragedy on a global scale. Our defense is to pretend there's no thread of events that connects us, and that those lives are somehow not precious and real like our own. It's a practical strategy, to some ends, but the loss of empathy is also the loss of humanity, and that's no small tradeoff . . . Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another."1

    Discussion Questions:

    • How do Warsan Shire’s poems about Nasro show the power of literature to confront psychic numbing?
    • When has art—a movie, play, story, song, painting, poem—motivated you to feel compassion for someone else?
    • How might you use the power or art and stories to engage people with an issue that you care about?

Citations

  • 1 : Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, (New York, Harper Perennial, 1996), 232.
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