ASU business student pens inspiring story dedicated to Syrian refugees

Arizona State University first-year student Selena Morse has taken on challenges of environmental conservation and humanitarian advocacy for much of her life.

Using her fluency in Mandarin and master scuba diver certification, Morse has collected marine data for an international wildlife organization and promoted gender equality through fundraising efforts to provide educational opportunities for girls.

This month, she’ll add to that list of accomplishments when she officially becomes a published children’s book author, bringing awareness to refugees; not bad for someone who’s 18 and has the rest of her life in front of her. 

“From a very young age, I was introduced to new cultures, people of different backgrounds and saw how everyone had different struggles and lived through conflicts and issues in their countries,” said Morse, a supply chain major at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “Through this, I developed a deep sense of social responsibility and feelings of empathy from the things I saw around me.”

Her new collaborative 104-page children’s book, “Dear Tariq,” released on Jan. 28, is an extension of this life experience.

New Day Storytelling Advocates, a Seattle-based organization, is publishing the book in hard copy, trade paperback and electronically. It is available for purchase on New Day’s website and Amazon.

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Cover of "Dear Tariq"

“For decades I have wanted to create a youth advocacy storytelling platform that fosters a spirit of socially and environmentally artistic endeavors and to invite youth from every nation, background and ability to engage in thoughtful discourse about our world,” said Dagne Furth, founder of New Day Storytelling Advocates and a former international English and social science educator. “There are very few publishing industries right now that cater to working with youth and developing their talent. I want to give them an opportunity to share their voice and their agency and inspire them in their advocacy endeavors.”

Morse began writing “Dear Tariq” with her classmate, Geo Chen, in her junior year of high school in Shanghai for an applied learning storytelling agency class. The story was inspired by youth advocate Alex Myteberi, who penned a letter to President Barack Obama in 2016, expressing his concern for Omran Daqneesh, a bloodied and dusty Syrian boy he saw in a news account after a brutal airstrike on Aleppo.

Obama not only responded to Myteberi, but summoned the 6-year-old to the White House a few months later. Obama also praised Myteberi at a Leader’s Summit on Refugees in September 2016, calling on other world leaders to help alleviate the crisis. Myteberi has included a letter to readers in “Dear Tariq."

The book also received a big boost with the support of Jordan Hattar, founder of Help4Refugees, and Sirin Hamada, a Syrian native who began illustrating the project at just 10 years old from Amman, Jordan.

Hamada, in collaboration with Allison Dai, a then-junior in high school, created over 40 illustrations that now appear in the book. Shahd Abu Gharbieh, an Arabic student translator, facilitated communication between all the parties to ensure the story and subsequent illustrations not only sensitively captured themes of war but also depicted the refugee status with integrity.

Conducting a medley of interviews with Hattar, Myteberi and Syrian refugees, they came up with a narrative about Aidan and Tariq, two young soccer enthusiasts who grow up on opposite sides of the world.

According to the book's jacket: “One fall, Tariq and his family attempt to escape the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, and television images of children fleeing the violence begin troubling Aidan. While Tariq’s family makes the brave and difficult journey to Amman, Jordan, Aiden considers how he and his family might respond. As Tariq dreams of playing soccer and reuniting with his family, Aidan initiates a meaningful journey of friendship. Together, they bridge the distance between them.”

WATCH: “Dear Tariq" | An Inspired Advocacy Story for Students by Students

“Dear Tariq” is recommended for readers ages 8–12. Proceeds of the book will go to Hamada, the book’s illustrator, and other Syrian refugee families living in Amman, Jordan.

Additionally, LeeAnne Lavender, a coach and facilitator for educators worldwide who specializes in storytelling, service learning and global citizenship, collaborated with Furth in curating 13 unique  lessons to help students meaningfully engage the story of “Dear Tariq.” Embedded in this curriculum are relevant standards, sustainable development goals, supplemental interview videos and 60 additional discussion questions to help equip educators in teaching their students about human rights, peacemaking and friendship.

“‘Dear Tariq’ is such an important story. Students have created this story, start to finish, supported by the guiding hand of master teacher Dagne Furth,” Lavender said. “Students have listened to each other and connected through stories, and these connections have led to the creation of text, art and robust relationships spanning the globe. … I know there will be ripples of impact everywhere the story is read.”

Morse said “Dear Tariq” has not only been a life-changing experience but has laid the groundwork for her future business career.

“One of the main reasons why I’m studying business is because I want to use it as a platform to effect positive change in the world,” Morse said. “There can be an intersection of entrepreneurship and advocacy. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Top photo: Supply chain first-year student and debut author Selena Morse poses with “Dear Tariq,” on Wednesday, Jan. 25, outside of McCord Hall on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Marshall Terrill