The Power of Storytelling

Franklyn Yadaicela ’23 returned from a service learning trip in Athens, Greece this fall where students volunteered with Love Without Borders Aiding Refugees in Need, the Greek Forum of Refugees, and Shedia. The trip—part of the Storytelling for Social Justice course being offered with the Signature Academic Program—allowed Franklyn and his peers to learn, firsthand, the day-to-day challenges of the refugees, and had a worldview altering experience. While there, Franklyn was able to hone his media literacy skills to create a podcast that features refugees telling their stories and sharing their truth.

“I took two courses to prepare for my service-learning trip to Greece,” Franklyn shared. “The first had a focus on Greek mythology, and the second was a media literacy course and a study specific to the refugee crisis in Greece. All of the coursework was designed to help us prepare culturally and mentally for everything we were about to experience when we got there. Our mission was to get to Athens and work with a non-profit called Love Without Borders, which is an organization that runs art workshops for children and adult artists to make their art, bring it back to the US or to other vendors, and get that work sold to raise money. In addition to running a few art workshops with the younger children, my partner Jake Whent ’24 and I had a goal of creating a podcast, interviewing some of the older artists to share their stories.”

In creating a media project, Franklyn had many options to choose from. “We chose podcasting as our medium because we felt that it let their [the refugees] voices shine through while documenting their stories and experiences. Jake and I like talking to people and hearing their stories. We wanted to give them a platform to tell their stories and share it with our listeners, bringing the difficulty of their situations to light. Sometimes, it is hard to be able to relate to someone who lives halfway across the word when you are just reading about them. However, when you hear their voice, with the emotion of their story coming through from their own perspective, it lifts up their story and lets it resonate in a different way.”

Franklyn and Jake, had never created a podcast before this experience. It was all new to them. “Luckily, we had our teachers, Prescott Seraydarian ’90, p ’24 and Meredith Baldi ’01, who taught us how to use the equipment, how to interview people, and ran through a few mock interviews with us before the trip. We even did a few more mock interviews on the plane to prepare ourselves for what was to come.”

“The most important aspect of our interview was creating boundaries so the refugees felt comfortable sharing their stories with us for the podcast” Franklyn shared. “Most of the time when we interviewed families, we would use open-ended questions and let them take it to a place they wanted. An interesting thing that happened when we interviewed families is that the more outgoing people would encourage quieter family members to share their stories as well. It was moving to see them empower one another in that moment to get their story out there. I think they saw the podcast as an opportunity to share their real stories with other people.”

Service is a major component of a George School education from the first day a student steps onto campus. Franklyn’s concept of service evolved and progressed during each year. “My initial understanding of service at George School was informed by working Shift in the Dining Room during my first year at George School. It seems so surface level now, but at the time, it felt good to give back to the community. A big part of what Prescott and Meredith taught us during class and while in Greece is how to do service in a meaningful way, discovering our own strengths and new skills (such as making a podcast), and creating a platform for refugees to share their truth.”

“Service learning exposes you to so many different parts of the world that you would never see when traveling for leisure,” Franklyn continued. “If you were to go to Athens with your family, you would not typically visit a refugee camp and see what the issues are within the country and what they are experiencing. For this trip, we prepared ahead of time and went with the sole purpose of helping people who need a platform to express themselves. Jake and I have also talked about continuing the podcast after George School because we fell in love with the process along the way.”

Since coming back from Greece, Franklyn realized that his perspective and worldview had undergone a significant change. “All the issues that I see on a day-to-day basis are minor compared to what I saw and experienced in Greece. I think about an interview with a refugee that Jake did that weighs on my mind. Jake interviewed him, and the refugee described the uncertainty of every day. He had no idea where he would eat, sleep, or do any of the things that we take for granted. Things like that put life into perspective for me,” Franklyn said. “The biggest lesson that I learned through this experience is to give back to everyone around me. Most of the refugees did not feel welcome in their spaces. They were forced away from their homes and ended up in Athens, where they did not feel wanted by the community. The small acts of kindness we can do every day create an inclusive environment that will change the world on the micro level.”

On his first night in Athens, Franklyn submitted his application to the architecture program at Cornell University. He knew that he wanted to study architecture before going to Greece, but being there and experiencing it firsthand, changed his thinking. “Being in Greece made me want to use what I learn to design affordable housing for people in other countries. A lot of the time, architects focus on higher-end clients to make it big in the field. Being able to give back to smaller communities by making affordable, sustainable, and truly nice architecture is something that is important to me now that I saw how many refugees have no place to live even with an abundance of space around them.”

For George School students who are thinking about doing a service project, Franklyn offered great advice. “I recommend taking classes that you are passionate about and take advanced classes even though you know it is going to be hard. George School gives us such flexibility with the seven-term schedule to let us take classes that interest us. Focus on the missions when choosing a service learning trip. Take the coursework seriously and make sure that the subject is something you feel passionate about. Those five weeks will be transformative for you.”

Franklyn is off to continue his educational journey at Cornell University where he will begin studying architecture this fall. “For me, architecture represents creativity. I have always been drawn to a creative realm, bringing things from my imagination to life. At George School, I excelled at math and physics, which play a role in creating spaces and places for others to use in the future.”

Congratulations, Franklyn!