Imagine A Better St. Louis: Play about refugee experiences looks -

Imagine A Better St. Louis: Play about refugee experiences looks to help make St. Louis inclusive

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"New World" play (Credit: KMOV). "New World" play (Credit: KMOV).

According to the International Institute of St. Louis, more people are calling the St. Louis area home, but people aren't just moving here from Cleveland or Phoenix, but rather from half a world away.

So imagine, moving somewhere where you know no one, people look and sound different and everything is unfamiliar. This is a familiar situation for the hundreds of refugees in St. Louis.             

Take Sunita Manu for example, she was born in Monrovia, Liberia, a country in West Africa, but her family fled during the first Liberian Civil War, walking more than 400 miles, to the neighboring Cote d'Ivoire.

"My grandmother was killed by a stray bullet,” said Manu, as was her grandfather.

By the time they arrived, Manu and her mother got separated from her two brothers.

"Growing up in Cote d'Ivoire I was reminded that I am a refugee and I need to go back to where I came from,” said Manu.

Ten years later, Manu and her mother arrived in the United States as refugees.

"It was definitely different than what I expected or imagined,” said Manu, but there was something familiar.

"My first day in school, I was reminded that I'm African and I needed to go back to my country,” said Manu.

That lack of compassion and empathy is what people at Gitana Productions want to change.

The local 18-year arts and education program uses the arts to bring different cultural and economic groups together.

Their upcoming one act play titled "New World" tackles the plight of refugees. The big goal is to help St. Louisians better identify with them.

"When we say the word refugee. Nobody really knows what that means. They leave their country so they can live. So they can stay alive. Literally,” said Patton Chiles, playwright.

Chiles said the play is based on real life interviews with women refugees from Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Congo.

"One woman is asked to throw her child in the water and drown it because it might bring the Taliban if the baby cries,” said Chiles.

The audience will hear how they came to St. Louis to create a new world by healing their old world wounds.

Sunita says these are ordinary people facing extraordinary struggles.

"Unless you've lived that, you cannot really understand what it's like to be a refugee,” said Sunita.

Sunita says she is hoping people will take a moment to listen, learn and become part of making St. Louis a welcoming home for refugees.

The International Institute says St. Louis has seen the largest percentage increase in immigrants compared to other major metropolitan areas.

If you would like to learn more, the play is open to the public. "New World" is showing on October 1 at 7 p.m. and October 3 at 3 p.m. The live show is at the Nahed Chapman New American Academy. You can purchase tickets here.

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