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Awareness through arts and literature: Sophomore Melinda Wang co-publishes Ukraine anthology

Photo credit: Emily Paschall
Sophomore Melinda Wang reads “Reflect Empathy Ukraine Anthology” in the library. She and sophomore Shayl Khatod, who attends Santa Monica High School, published their book Oct. 21 and said they hope it spreads awareness about the humanitarian crisis Ukraine continues to face. 

Colorful artwork and original poems from several authors in Ukraine and the United States fill the pages of “Reflect Empathy Ukraine Anthology.” The founders of Reflect Empathy — sophomores Melinda Wang and Shayl Khatod, who attends Santa Monica High School — curated the collection. Reflect Empathy is a nonprofit organization “devoted to expanding empathy, respect and sensitivity among young leaders in their communities and globally.”

Wang and Khatod published their book through Amazon, Saturday, Oct. 21. Wang said the anthology is dedicated to raising awareness for the ongoing crisis in Ukraine from the Russia-Ukraine War that began when Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, 2022.

Wang said they began creating the anthology in the beginning of July. She and Khatod spent several months sorting through the art and poetry submissions to pair them together on the pages. They would give notice to their submitters that their work would be included in a published anthology and would only consider their work if they gave permission. Wang said every artist and poet who submitted gave permission for their work to be in the anthology, and from there, she and Khatod collected submissions through an organization called Teenside.

The anthology is composed of four sections: “Bridge,” “Mirror,” “Compass” and “Symphony.” According to Wang, each section represents how people can use empathy to understand crises around the world and the different ways empathy can be expressed and felt.

The collection includes eight poems and 11 art pieces. All proceeds of the book will go towards granting their Ukrainian poets and artists scholarships for higher education opportunities. Wang said she and Khatod want to help them achieve their goals.

“We want to support Ukrainian artists and writers in any way we can, and that also applies to Ukrainian students,” Wang said. “We definitely want to support them and help them achieve their dreams.”

We felt like the best way to raise awareness was through the arts and literature, so that really galvanized us to try and … get Ukrainian artists and artists from the United States to come together and really talk about this terrible war.”

— Sophomore at Santa Monica High School Shayl Khatod

When asked about what motivated them to pursue creating this anthology and supporting Ukraine, Wang said her and Khatod’s passion stemmed from their desire to help people around the world who are impacted by catastrophes like war. Similarly, Khatod said it was their passion for social change that inspired them to spread knowledge of the destruction and devastation Ukraine continues to face.

“I think the greatest motivator was just the feeling we had. We saw the news, and we saw tanks rolling down the streets in Ukraine. We really felt devastated that Russia was trying to destroy an entire population,” Khatod said. “We felt like the best way to raise awareness was through the arts and literature, so that really galvanized us to try and … get Ukrainian artists and artists from the United States to come together and really talk about this terrible war.”

Khatod and Wang met at Lincoln Middle School and have worked together on Reflect Empathy for several years. Khatod said he and Wang have developed a close friendship over the years.

“We met in seventh grade, became really good friends and had this mutual idea of using art and literature to highlight different humanitarian crises and evoke empathy,” Khatod said.

Sophomore Alexa Kagiwada is a close friend of Wang and said she supported Wang while she was choosing and matching poetry with pieces of art for the anthology. Kagiwada described Wang’s dedication to the project.

“Melinda does a really good job of talking to people and being a really good listener. I think that might have helped her a lot in getting information and helping produce her book. I also think she’s a really good team player,” Kagiwada said. “So that probably helped her a lot, and I could see that because I know she was working really hard with Shayl and not just by herself.”

Wang described her and Khatod’s goals going forward and future steps they would like to take regarding Reflect Empathy and the anthology.

“[Our] action plan is probably to email people we know or have interacted with at least in Ukraine from other literary magazines and then see if they have any methods of helping us donate money,” Wang said, “using another organization to donate proceeds.”

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About the Contributor
Emily Paschall
Emily Paschall, Senior Reporter
Emily Paschall joined the Oracle as a staff reporter in 2022. She is now a senior reporter. She participates in dance at Archer. She is also a part of the Ambassador Leadership Team Advisory Board and Dance Leadership Team. In her free time, Emily enjoys spending time with family and friends, listening to K-pop or Taylor Swift, and playing with her dog.

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