A Tale of Two Students

Duke student co-authors book to bring attention to the Syrian refugee crisis

Geo Chen with his book Dear Tariq

“We really wanted this to be an authentic project and we wanted to keep it young, which is why we reached out to Sirin to help with illustrations,” Chen says.

While most high school projects end after the semester, this one took on a life of its own. The project was more than two years in the making, says Chen, who co-authored the book with Selena Morse, now a freshman at Arizona State.

Illustration of mother with son from Dear Tariq
Illustration from Dear Tariq

“Our teacher said, ‘I would love to do more with this. I feel like this is such a good product you guys made, this could get published,’” says Chen.

They agreed that rather than send it off to an unknown publisher, Furth would launch New Day Storytelling Advocates, a nonprofit publishing agency “that believes in creating unique publishing platforms and experiences for youth passionate about advocating for our planet and its beautiful people.” Furth moved back to the U.S. last year and is living in Washington State.

Getting the book to press was no easy task; they had people from all over the world reading it and providing input, says Chen. “It was a really hard and long process,” he says. Not only that, they also were working across various continents, time zones and different languages.

“I was very honored to stay with them and to keep encouraging them,” Furth said.

Although it’s been 12 years since the Syrian refugee crisis began making headlines around the world, there are still tens of thousands who remain displaced. Chen says that while many look at the situation in terms of materialistic needs, he learned that it’s about a lot more.

“What they want from the world is empathy and for the world to see their story and hear their story for what it truly is,” he says.

The book is available through Amazon and so far, has sold about 150 copies. Furth’s hope is that it will be purchased by schools around the world. She is working to get it translated into Arabic and Mandarin.

“That will be the culmination for Sirin to finally see her book in a tongue that she speaks and reads. Yeah, that's going to be a beautiful moment,” says Furth.

In addition, proceeds will go to Hamada and her mother.

“The students all collectively agreed no matter how the book does, they said, ‘We don't need any of those royalties,’” Furth said.

Although he has not yet declared a major, Chen is interested in pursuing a career in psychology, though he said he will continue to pursue his interest in creative writing.

“I'd be open to like whatever comes my way because it's not like I was actively searching to make this book, it just was an opportunity, and I took it. So, if any future opportunities do arise then I would be down, yeah.”

Selena Morse and Geo Chen in their Applied Learning Storytelling Agency course.
Selena Morse and Geo Chen in their Applied Learning Storytelling Agency course.