Assuaging fear and stereotypes through children’s literature: an interview with Canadian author Alhan Rahimi

Over 40,000 Syrian refugees have settled into Canada since 2015. But there hasn’t been a single book written for children explaining the Syrian refugee crisis. So Alhan Rahimi decided to write one.

Yara, My Friend from Syria was published in December 2016. The children’s  book follows  Yara, a young Syrian refugee who moves to Canada with her family.

“It’s a topic that’s touching children. The newcomers that are coming, there are many children among them and they went through difficult times. Just the fact that they have to leave what they like behind, is a very difficult thing for a child. So I wanted our children [in Canada] to know that not every child has the opportunities that they have here,” says Rahimi about her book over the phone to Phillip Bishop and Katie Donegan.

Book cover of “Yara, my friend from Syria. Courtesy of author and illustrator Anahit Aleksanyan.

The children’s book focuses on universal themes of love and compassion. Rahimi says that she didn’t want the book to include any violence because she didn’t want to shock children and parents, but rather teach them about open mindedness.

“I’m trying to show [children] that they can go and help newcomers. That’s why Oliver goes and gives his snack to Yara…There are things that are out of our hands, but that’s something they can do.”

Angela and Oliver approach Yara at school. Courtesy of Alhan Rahimi and illustrator Anahit Aleksanyan

Rahimi says that the book has already provided a lot of insight for children who have read her book.

“Some of the children that read the  book told me, ‘Oh, we didn’t know that there were nice houses in Syria,’ when the illustration came out that Yara was sitting in the front yard with her family and they were having fun under the apple tree. That’s another point that I want our children to know about. Life was very nice in any country that is a war country now. Before that, they had a nice life and they were educated. I don’t want them to think of those kids as uneducated children or poor children…some of the stereotypes that might  be present in our children’s minds, I wanted to clear that up.”

Canadian children Angela and Oliver. Courtesy of author and illustrator.

Reporting by Phillip Bishop, Katie Donegan and Rachel Swansburg

Engineering and production by Lucy Martirosyan and Katie Donegan

The best and worst Valentine’s Day experiences by UMass students

A smoothie as a gift for Valentine’s Day may seem sweet. But maybe not so much after you’ve had your wisdom teeth pulled.

John “Michaels” Bondarek and Lucy Martirosyan set out to ask UMass students what their best and worst Valentine’s Day experiences were.

Answers ranged from chocolate, condoms, champagne and…a banana.

Some had more depressing experiences than others, but we can count today as any other Tuesday.

Reporting and producing: John Bondarek and Lucy Martirosyan

Emancipating the Past with Kara Walker at UMass

“Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker’s Tales of Slavery and Power” is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst until April 30, 2017. Kara Walker’s artwork explores gender and racial power structures in the United States.

“Almost all of the works are paper cut outs. Those are large silhouette drawings, basically, made out of black paper on a white background, sometimes a grey background, and they are images of scenes or people, most of the time people of color. They are depicted as slaves in various different situations,” Eva Fierst, the education curator at UMCA, tells WMUA News’ Brenna McIntyre.

It’s important to view this exhibit today, says Fierst, because of the conversation it opens up about power structures with women and Black people.

“African American women have a particular role in our society as they are oftentimes burdened in various different ways as they were already burdened during slavery times. When they had the particular hardship of giving up children, giving up their body for work, and endured great abuse, actually. And those are power structures, which are obviously not crass anymore, but they’re still at play,” Fierst says.

She hopes that people will come to the exhibit to view the works of Walker, a renowned international social justice artist.

“You find yourself applying your own stereotypes when viewing these images. And that is a startling affect that people have when they go to Kara Walker’s show because they get confronted with their own stereotypes.”

For more information, please visit

Reporting: Brenna McIntyre
Production: Lucy Martirosyan

UMass’ celebration of the Super Bowl victory

Over 5,000 students in the Southwest residential area of UMass Amherst poured out from their dorms in celebration of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory. The Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.

Here’s Jimmy Bedingfield’s take on the victory.

Excitement by over 5,000 students at Southwest. Courtesy of Rachel Swansburg


Writing and producing by Jimmy Bedingfield.
Photography by Maria Manning and Rachel Swansburg.

The Women’s March in Boston: resist

More than 150,000 protestors participated in the women’s march in Boston. Participants sang and chanted to represent their solidarity for gender equality and issues Saturday January 21, 2017.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a speech where she said that the people’s voices must be heard.

“I owe you nothing.” Courtesy of Katie Donegan.

“My husband and I are marching for our granddaughter who’s expected to be born in April,”one participant tells WMUA News’ Becky Wandel.

Many participants were at the march for the first time to express resistance against President Trump.

Over 150,000 participants showed up to the women’s march in Boston. Photo courtesy Katie Donegan.

Reporting, producing by Becky Wandel.

Photography by Katie Donegan.



How the travel ban affects Iranian graduate students at UMass Amherst

The travel ban left Iranian students and others from the six temporarily banned countries stuck.

President Trump’s executive order banned people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from traveling to and from the United States for 90 days. It also banned refugees from coming into the states for 120 days.

Since then, the order has been reversed by a federal judge in Washington on Saturday February 4.

“Just imagine, if you’re a PhD student, if you’re a master’s student, if you have worked hard for your degree. And just think about it, at the moment you get a phone call, there’s an emergency back home. Something may have happened to your mom, something may have happened to your dad. Maybe for other members of our community, the first thing on their mind is to get back home as soon as possible. But for Iranian students and other students from the other six countries, the first thing though, will be, ‘What do I do?'” says Mohammad, a PhD student at UMass Amherst who has lived in the United States for six years.

Many Iranian graduate students are set to graduate as soon as this February. Trump’s executive order halted immigrant application processes, like the OPT – Optional Practical Training – which would allow foreign students with F1 visas to work for 12 months under a US employer.

“I [will] graduate this February. I cannot work on campus. I have no income. I have to pay rent. I have medication that I have to take everyday. This is not fair for us. We came here for the best, not for this. This is not the America I came to. If it’s changing this much, I’m going to go back [to Iran,]” says one PhD student who studied computer science at UMass Amherst.

Standing Rock: a significant moment in history of our generation

Mike Wardynski is a landscape photographer based in Oakland, California who teaches photography to people from all over the world. He was driving home from work one day when he felt a pull to go to Standing Rock.

“I felt like this is a part of American history that may be more important than a lot of other things that have happened in my life time. I felt driven to go,” says Wardynski, the founder of his new photography project, “A Sign of the Times,” which looks into social injustice in the US.

Wardysnki visited Standing Rock as the news of the denial of easement was announced by the Army Corps of Engineers on Dec. 4, 2016. The denied permit allegedly should have stopped construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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Courtesy of Mike Wardynski: “A line of water protectors wait to heat up in blizzard like conditions near the center of the Oceti Sakowin camp on December 5th. Despite the severe weather, spirits remained high in camp.”

“Standing Rock is a very difficult thing,” Wardysnki explains, “when you’re on the ground there, it’s difficult to know what’s actually happening.” Miscommunication and rumors spread frequently as there is a lack of internet and cell phone service at the camp.

But what Wardynski can be sure about is that the folks still remaining at the Oceti Sakowin camp aren’t going anywhere until “they can walk to that drill site, and see that the Energy Transfer Partners have left.” He estimates that around 1,500 water protectors are still on the site.

Meanwhile, Energy Transfer Partners’ intentions are to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline no matter what.

“When I was there, even when the easement was denied, I could look out at the hillside and I could see excavators still digging in the sand,” Wardynski recalls. “So I think there’s a false notion, out in the real world, that this thing is over. But in reality, it’s still happening. There’s still people out there and they’re still fighting for clean water.”

Courtesy of Mike Wardynski: “Tropix Knight is a Navajo Native American as well as an eight year Marine Corps veteran. She traveled from Hard Rock Arizona with her teenage daughter to stand with 2,000 other veterans fighting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is directly threatening the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux as well as millions of other people along the Missouri River.”

All of the photography featured in this article was taken by Mike Wardynski. To learn more about his project, “A Sign of the Times,” check out:

You can also support Mike Wardysnki and his project through his kickstarter:…e?ref=user_menu