Hardwired Global has an ambitious mission. They are working to overcome intolerance and conflict in the world and make it possible for people everywhere to live in freedom according to their conscience. In the fall of 2021 we awarded Hardwired a $15,000 grant for a pilot training program designed to help refugees and their host communities in Virginia address challenges to refugee integration through partnerships with refugee resettlement agencies statewide.
Hardwired’s approach brings together teenaged refugees with their non-refugee peers and helps them both make sense of the refugee experience through a playful exercise designed around the imaginary land of “Fruitopia.”
They just held their ninth (and final) workshop on July 1, 2022, in Manassas. So we caught up with Victoria Tiggas, Hardwire’s outreach and development officer, to find out how everything went.
Virginia Humanities: First, could you tell us a little about Hardwired? What is Hardwired and what is your mission?
Victoria Tiggas: Hardwired is a non-profit organization with Special Consultative Status at the United Nations that provides education and training to pursue greater freedom and strengthen respect for the human rights and dignity of vulnerable communities. Hardwired’s education and training programs in the Middle East and North Africa have placed us at the forefront of global efforts to build more tolerant and inclusive societies.
We believe that freedom of conscience or belief is essential for every free society and that everyone should be able to live without fear of retaliation for their beliefs. We want to help communities, including newcomers and refugees in the United States, better understand these rights and how to protect them.
For this project, our focus was on refugee teens and their non-refugee peers in communities across Virginia including Fredericksburg, Fairfax, Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Newport News, Manassas, and Harrisonburg.
What are some of the biggest challenges refugees, especially teens and young people, face after relocating here to Virginia?
VT: Refugee youth are confronted with significant challenges as they navigate their new and unfamiliar environment. Immigrant and newcomer youth of diverse backgrounds can be isolated and misunderstood by their peers because of their different beliefs, customs, and foreign language. Conversely, newcomer youth must learn and navigate the nuances of U.S. culture and social issues, often resorting to siloing themselves in their own ethnic groups within their schools and communities. Programs to address these challenges are historically and chronically underfunded in schools. Successful long-term social integration depends on resources and sufficient support to eliminate barriers between refugees and their host communities.
And how do you help address those challenges?
VT: Based on years of work with displaced and refugee populations from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and other countries, we understand the specific challenges that refugees face. It is in this context that Hardwired is able to fill a critical gap in the resettlement process: the social integration and prosperity of refugee youth in their schools and greater communities in the United States. With the generous support of Virginia Humanities, and in partnership with the Virginia Department of the Office of New Americans, and five refugee resettlement agencies throughout Virginia, we’ve implemented a peer-to-peer training workshop for refugee and newcomer teens with their non-refugee peers from their host communities.
Could you tell us a little about Hardwired’s refugee teen training program?
VT: We’ve trained nine cohorts of ten to fifteen participants, ages fifteen to twenty-five years old, through four-hour workshops in communities across Virginia. We use a unique and playful training simulation called Fruitopia, which utilizes the analogy of fruit and guides participants to build an identity and culture for the fruit group to which they’re assigned. After the fruit groups flee their homeland and resettle on the fictitious island of Fruitopia, participants must navigate challenges like allocation of resources and hostility from others.
As fruit groups are compelled to interact with one another throughout the simulation to ensure peace on the island, they learn how to identify their own fears, possible misconceptions, and bias toward others. They then have an opportunity to evaluate and revise the way they perceive others within the context of a more pluralistic, rights-based worldview.
Moreover, Fruitopia explores the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), at which point the participants discuss the fundamental human rights afforded to every person on the basis of their inherent human dignity, and the UDHR as the standard for how we should treat one another in a pluralistic world.
Our programs equip students and educators in intolerant or isolating environments to reach beyond tolerance approaches and embody pluralism in their communities.
Why fruit? Why use a fictional place?
VT: The simulation creates a safe environment where participants can share ideas and opinions from the perspective of their fruit character and consider those ideas in relation to the opinions and ideas of people who are different from them. Through the analogy of fruit, the participants are able to explore complex and sensitive issues and build greater empathy, pluralism, and respect for the dignity and rights of others.
The methods used in Hardwired’s program are considered best practices in play therapy for helping youth who have experienced trauma in the recovery process. The simulations, activities, and analogies we utilized enable participants to release negative emotions (since the analogy relates indirectly to the traumatic experience) and replace them with positive experiences that reinforce the key concepts, of which most importantly is the concept of their own human dignity.
For each workshop, you include both refugee teens and non-refugee peers. Why is that important?
VT: During the planning phase of this project, we consulted with the refugee agencies’ staff, who were most knowledgeable and adept to the specific challenges to integration within U.S. context. Through their years of direct service to their refugee clients, they recognized that support from the host community is an integral component to the successful integration of refugees. So, we incorporated non-refugee, American youth in each workshop to cultivate deeper understanding and engagement between the two groups, which ultimately led to new friendships and support for the rights and prosperity of refugees and newcomers.
These students will play a critical role in organically bridging the divides between refugee and non-refugee youth in their communities. Through this training, they were equipped as leaders to find natural inroads for integration and inclusion, as they are able to model engagement and discourse in person and through online platforms across cultural lines for students who may hold bias or misconceptions about the refugee and immigrant community.
What drew you to Virginia Humanities?
VT: Hardwired values the work Virginia Humanities is doing through community organizations to create better understanding between Virginians by exploring the most intrinsic facets of the human spirit. Virginia Humanities’ generous support of our project goes far beyond the initial reach of this pilot. Virginia Humanities made important connections and introductions to our partner refugee resettlement agencies, which may have not been possible otherwise.
Now, Hardwired and the resettlement agencies have an exciting opportunity to present a unique approach as an effective means of providing a long-term solution to intolerance and isolation and promoting greater respect for diversity in schools.