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AGS Alumna Celebrates Two Years of the NGO She Founded

Friday, 21 February 2020

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Kryssandra Heslop graduated with a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from AGS in 2013, after earning a Bachelor’s degree in psychology. She wrote her thesis on children's rights and unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in Italy, and also completed the NGO Management Certificate Program. Since her time at AGS she has worked and volunteered with vulnerable children and young people.Two years ago she co-founded a non-profit called Soul Food, dedicated to supporting young refugees and unaccompanied minors through art and culture. This Sunday Soul Food is celebrating two years of existence.

Kryssandra explains how she was able to take the expertise in international relations and migration issues that she built at AGS to the field, to help the future of vulnerable populations who have been impacted by the political situation of their country.

 

What are the purpose and goals of Soul Food?

Our principal purpose is to help young migrants (primarily unaccompanied minors). We do this by promoting positive integration and providing safe spaces for them to learn, express themselves and enjoy another side of life in Paris, through our cultural excursions and artistic activities. These include dance workshops, studio sessions, gastronomic meals at the Refettorio Paris, museum visits, film screenings, drawing sessions, concerts, a book exchange program, and an English Club. We have a professional development program for those young migrants who are interested in careers in cultural fields, such as fashion and the culinary arts, and we have been able to connect several of them with internships, volunteer opportunities, and an apprenticeship program - all in prominent establishments, working alongside professionals who are considered to be the best in their field and/or where important issues such as sustainability, equitability and fair trade are at the core of the work they do.

We hope the accumulation of all of these activities and opportunities will improve the quality of life of these young migrants, now and in the future. We also strive to change the narrative of migration because we envision a world where migrants have this type of positive visibility, attending concerts and visiting museums, working within different cultural fields at their own world-renowned restaurants and for sustainable fashion brands, and not one where we only see them sleeping in tents in crowded cities and refugee camps.

How does this project relate to your studies at AGS?

Soul Food is directly related to international relations as we work primarily with migrants, within a political landscape that has made it necessary for us to do what we do. The AGS Master’s program allowed me to research and write about issues faced by children and youth from a different perspective: Previously I was more focused on the psychological issues faced by vulnerable children, and at AGS, I learned about the political, human rights, children's rights and legal issues they face. During my time at AGS, I researched and wrote my thesis on human rights violations against unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in Italy. I thoroughly enjoyed this work and continued looking for opportunities in this sector after I graduated. I continued this research and published an academic article on it, and then I started volunteering with unaccompanied minors to gain more direct experience. One of my biggest take-aways from the international relations program at AGS was how international relations impact so much of the tragedies that migrants face both in Europe and in the countries they are often forced to leave.

How did the idea of creating this NGO come to you?

I have been volunteering with unaccompanied minors in Paris for four years now at ADJIE (Accompagnement et Défense des Jeunes Isolés Étrangers), mostly helping them with administrative and legal issues. Through this work, I have been able to see firsthand what is lacking. Even though in France minors have certain rights, such as the right to go to school and the right to live in a safe place, it takes a long time to access these rights. Even after these young people are recognized as minors and taken into care by the French child services, they often have to wait months and years before they are allowed to attend school. This is precious time wasted. These are formative years for anyone, but especially for someone who is working against the clock because once they turn 18, their problems in France only multiply. That is why we had the idea to create Soul Food. We wanted to fill in these gaps of wasted time, with something meaningful that could feed their souls, give them hope, encourage learning, help them integrate in a positive way, and bring them joy.

François, the other co-founder of Soul Food, and I are both art and music lovers. He is a jurist but also a musician, so one day we had the idea to take a group of kids from ADJIE to a concert. After that first concert, we went to a few others. Each time the young migrants we brought seemed to come out of their shells. Some were generally more outgoing and got into the music right away. Others started off shy, sad and reserved (understandably as many have been through unthinkable traumas), but ended the night dancing with their new friends. We realized we had something special going, and that we should expand it. Next we started going to museums, which was also a wonderful experience. We understood that through these excursions, it was the first time that most of the young migrants were able to experience Paris the way we do. This really inspired us to start something more concrete and so, the official Soul Food was born.

How do you envision your NGO in ten years from now?

A lot can happen in ten years and we have a lot of ideas! In general, we would love to grow and expand our initiatives to other countries. It would also be great to have a space (or multiple spaces) where we are based, to provide a safe, artistic, educational place where these young people can come to participate in free art classes, language courses, check out books, listen to music, eat healthy food, etc. Some of the young migrants we work with are homeless so it would also be nice to be able to provide a place where they can spend their time off of the street. We would also really like to find ways for them to stay involved with Soul Food as they get older. I would love for those who are interested, to eventually work with us in different ways and to be positive role models for the younger generations. Representation is so important, so that's something we already have in mind. Finally, I am still very much interested in research and would like the opportunity to explore short and long-term effects of these kinds of initiatives on topics such as the extent of positive integration, levels of education, mental health, and professional success rates.

More information on Soul food activities and how to donate at soulfoodparis.com and on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn: @soulfoodparis

 


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Chrissie Graham USA
M.A., School of International Relations
Class of 2007

quote leftThe people that I met at AGS will remain my friends forever, despite the fact that they are now all over the world. I know each one of my professors personally and keep in touch with them. I don't think that I would ever have been as involved in my grad school if I had gone to a larger institution.quote right

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