2017 chertkov fellow: Ashley Makar
Ashley Makar is the Outreach Coordinator for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, Connecticut. She’s also a contributing editor to Killing the Buddha (KtB), an online magazine about religion and culture. Before finding her vocation working with refugees, she studied theology and social ethics at Yale Divinity School. She holds an M.A. in Journalism and Middle East Studies from NYU.
In 2015, Ashley published You Were Strangers, a collection of essays about prayer, living with cancer and her travels to follow the stories of refugees in Egypt and Israel. It was the research for this book, bearing witness to the injustices many refugees face, and a conviction that writing or making art about vulnerable populations might be inherently exploitative, that ignited a desire to work directly with refugees seeking resettlement.
At IRIS she works to help refugees find housing, access public benefits, find work, learn English, etc. Drawing on the perspective this work has given her, for the past three years Ashley has been collaborating with displaced refugees resettling in the U.S. to tell their stories. “I am not just writing about them; I’m also writing with them,” she says.
Since 2015 when Syrian refugees became the focus of national controversy, igniting an intense debate between those who objectified Syrians as potential terrorist threats and those who “endorse the humanitarian ethic of welcoming people who’ve been displaced by war […] and tend to objectify refugees as victims Americans should save”, Ashley has been working to tell a different narrative — one that casts refugees as neither threats nor victims, but the people they are.
She’s written essays, op-eds and sermons that engage diverse audiences and used her time at Blue Mountain Center to turn this growing body of work into a proposal for a creative non-fiction book project, which she envisions as a collection of essays, interspersed with poems, stories and drawings by refugees.