Four South Surrey teens have started a website to tell stories of local people who encounter stigma. From left: Isabella Guo

South Surrey teens aim to tell stories behind quiet voices

Semiahmoo Secondary students want to eliminate stereotyping

Four South Surrey teenagers are sharing stories of inspiring local residents in an effort to eliminate stereotyping and break the stigma some people face.

The teens, all entering Grade 12 at Semiahmoo Secondary next month, established the website VancYOUver.com earlier this year on their own initiative to tell the stories through interview excerpts and photos.

“We hope to show our audience a different side of what we usually see,” said Cherry Tang, 16.

They started the project after hearing of refugees – fleeing from violence in Syria – become subject of hateful comments, amplified by inflammatory rhetoric from U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“There’s a lot of stereotypes. A lot of hatred, in general,” said Wendy Li, 17.

What began as a platform to paint clearer pictures of refugees grew to include stories of others facing social stigma due to issues surrounding mental health, addiction, immigration, gender and disability.

Esther Kim, 17, said struggles of finding food and shelter are widely recognized as global problems while social issues are sometimes ignored.

“We feel like these interviews…they are with local people, but they are universal, global issues that everyone around the world can relate to,” said Kim.

Since launching Feb. 29, the group has made contact with numerous community organizations, which helped put the teens in touch with interview subjects. Interviews posted at VancYOUver shield the names of subjects, although some have agreed to show their face – a testament to the deeply personal nature of their stories.

“I lost everything. I was helpless. In my country I was around middle class, but now I lost everything,” reads one interview with a refugee posted on the website. “Now I started my life from the beginning. I started working in a different field because I had to look after my family. I am prepared to do any work. I started to work here and now I’m almost settled down. Not fully, but at least we are able to live here on our own.”

Isabella Guo, 16, said she’s learned the stories not only have the potential to enlighten readers, but the people she’s interviewed have in turn taught her a lot as well.

“Every story is inspiring. I wanted to start this project so I can explore and be more aware of those who are around us, but who we don’t normally pay attention to.”

The teens haven’t set a limit to the number of stories they’ll write – or how long they’ll continue the project.

“VancYOUver is a very special project to all of us, so we want to keep on doing it even after high school,” said Tang. “We are trying to make it an official organization, so one day we will be able to pass this down to the next generation.”

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