‘One Journey’ Aims to Shift Narrative About Refugees – One Heart at a Time

In the midst of a historic global refugee crisis, with nearly 69 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, Wendy Chan wanted to tell the human stories behind the mass exodus.

Chan, who came to the United States as a child with her family from China, notes, “Many organizations are trying to tell the refugee stories through numbers, but not a lot of them are reaching hearts and minds using a really positive and celebratory tone.” As the number of refugees allowed into the United States is reduced by the Trump Administration, Chan co-founded One Journey, because “I think it’s really important for us to showcase the incredible story of resilience and hope that refugees exhibited.”

“One Journey is to help shift the narrative about refugees and to showcase refugees’ contribution and talents to our society,” says Chan, “One Journey is really meant to connect people to the refugee crisis.”

One Journey festival attendees drop by a tent to gather information that was set up by one of many participating non-profit organizations that help refugees.
One Journey festival attendees drop by a tent to gather information that was set up by one of many participating non-profit organizations that help refugees.

The group’s inaugural festival took place last June on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington.

Chan and her co-founder, Vanda Berninger, brought refugee dancers, musicians and poets from all over the country.  More than 4,000 people attended last year’s festival. This year, collaborating with 200 nonprofit organizations, local artists and businesses and big global corporations, Chan expects more than 8,000 attendees.

Reaching the world digitally

An important part of the festival is innovative digital technology, such as Shared Studio.  

“We would set up this digital portal where participants of the festival can connect and learn about refugee stories directly from refugees who are sitting on the other side of the portal who are still living at camps around the world,” Chan explained.

The set-up impressed Sean Burk, who came to the festival with his three young children. “It’s absolutely important and meaningful to my kids as they sat there and listened to what the men in there were experiencing,” he told VOA. “You can tell that they really wanted to understand their challenges they lived through and wanted to know how they might be able to help.”

Iraqi refugees living at a refugee camp and festival attendees in Washington interact directly through a digital portal called Shared Studio, which was set up at the One Journey festival in last June.
Iraqi refugees living at a refugee camp and festival attendees in Washington interact directly through a digital portal called Shared Studio, which was set up at the One Journey festival in last June.

Born in a family that has many refugee stories, Chan learned firsthand the importance of supporting refugees.

“My great-grandfather was a political prisoner who died in a political prison at the age of 78.  And my grandfather fled China during the civil war as a refugee.”  It is very important to Chan that people realize that “refugees have no choice. They simply were born in the wrong place and wrong time of History.”

Chan’s enthusiasm has not gone unnoticed.  Recently she received the Washington, DC mayor’s volunteer service award.

Although Chan is “deeply honored to receive that award,” she wants to make sure people know, “One Journey is truly a grass-roots movement.  We engaged more than 300 volunteers who probably gave over five to six thousand hours in a year.”

Chan, an executive at a global consulting firm, feels she has “won life’s lottery” that she was able to come to the United States and live an enriched life. “A life that allows me to fulfill my full potential. As someone who is so blessed in life, I just feel I am obligated to give [refugees] a hand.”