Maggie Sardino brings authenticity to telling refugee stories

Person outdoors looking at camera

With a population of only 143,000 people, Syracuse has seen the resettlement of nearly 9,500 refugees in the last decade alone. Growing up in Syracuse and attending Corcoran High School in the city’s school district, Syracuse University sophomore Maggie Sardino has both seen and heard the community’s struggle throughout her entire life.

Before pursuing both writing and rhetoric in the College of Arts and Sciences and citizenship and civic engagement in the Maxwell School, Sardino experienced difficulty when having to choose an academic discipline that spoke to all of her interests.

“I was thinking political science and even engineering but wasn’t completely sure what it was that I wanted to study,” shares Sardino, “but then I enrolled in a Writing 114 class and soon I found a space where I could explore the intersection of all of my interests and passions.”

From an introductory writing class, Sardino actualized the power of storytelling. With immense pride for the local Syracuse community, Sardino sat in front of her keyboard and began typing the raw, human truths about all of the stereotyped and overlooked refugees that she encountered at the Narratio Fellowship program, a storytelling workshop partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and Syracuse’s Northside Learning Center. Beyond the writing, Sardino currently mentors two fellows, Isho Adan and Rayan Mohamed, serving as both a support system and role model for the young girls.

When speaking on Narratio’s mission as a program in a recent interview, founder Ahmed Badr says that, “Hopefully we’re creating spaces where the fellows can transcend that aspect of their story in a way that feels authentic and makes sense for them. It’s all up to the fellows to choose what kind of stories they want to tell.”

With the programs’ young refugees performing poems at the MET, filming autobiographical documentaries about their lives for professors in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) and more, the Narratio Fellowship program successfully fosters self-expression for a community that notably depends on it as a sustainable outlet for unifying around reflection. Writing her own profile series for the program, Sardino amplifies refugees’ voices through her powerful storytelling, organically capturing their identities beyond the shallow and dehumanizing labels placed on them.

Wishing to grow viewership of her inspiring profile pieces, Sardino researched prospective publications that closely aligned with Narratio’s vision and values. Shortly after, she stumbled upon the SU Globalists publication and joined as a contributing writer without hesitation.

“I really just felt like these organizations paralleled each other in that they really aren’t trying to put people into boxes or labels. They are just trying to allow the human experience to show itself,” says Sardino, repurposing already published Narratio profile pieces while drafting a new issue regarding howCOVID-19 has disproportionately impacted individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

With the goal of highlighting stories that exhibit diverse perspectives and creating an inclusive community, SU Globalists explores a plethora of topics including pop culture and poetry pieces with curiosity and honesty. SU Globalists was established in 2017 to give students an outlet to start conversations about global issues and express their perspectives on various subjects.  It was founded by LaunchPad entrepreneurs Saniya More, Hanna Benavides and Divya Murthy, along with Jane Lee, and hosted its early meetings at the LaunchPad pre-pandemic. The LaunchPad and SU Libraries sponsor SU Globalists annual print edition.

“You can get lost as a writer trying to do something really interesting in terms of style, or trying to pull an interesting quote, but they taught me to root everything in authenticity, especially as a profile writer,” says Sardino.

Through authentic storytelling, Sardino believes that stigmas and stereotypes can slowly erase themselves from people’s perceptions, particularly on refugees. 

“I think that there is certainly a universal aspect in the refugee struggle, but when we think about refugees, we have this idea in our head that they are from worn-torn countries. For every single refugee, it’s a unique and distinct experience,” says Sardino, who is dedicated to preserving the human dignity and respect of a misunderstood community near and dear to her heart.

In the coming weeks, Sardino will continue uncovering the moving stories of countless Narratio fellows, along with fulfilling her internship responsibilities at Interfaith Works of Central New York, whose Center for New Americans provides resettlement and post-resettlement services to local refugee families.

Bearing authenticity when tackling any story that is thrown her way, she will always hold the truth at the forefront of every story that she writes.

Read some recent articles by Sardino here:

Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Christopher Appello ’21; photo supplied