Last week, I, my fellow staff and over 500 pupils at Mora Primary School in Cricklewood celebrated our 'International Day'. As usual, the children burst through the front gates as they brought in home-cooked food and couldn't wait to show off their traditional dress from around the world. But for all the fun and excitement, this year I chose to teach them about a rather more serious subject - the refugee crisis.
Some children in Year 4 had heard the word ‘refugee’ used at home or on TV but, for most, the idea of being forced to abandon a crumbling city and a war-torn homeland was completely alien. Home for them is a place of security, not a place you try to escape. These are their reactions to a lesson on the refugee crisis using ActionAid's ‘What would you take?’ refugee resources.
A glimpse of life in a refugee camp
Using the photos in the resource pack, I was able to take my class on an imaginary journey to the refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesvos. We saw young families arriving on crammed boats, children with wide smiles posing together in tents, and women and children relaxing in ActionAid’s mother and baby centres.
The children were particularly captivated by the photo of a lady in a wheelchair: “She looks worried but she must also be feeling safe now that she has arrived in Lesvos and is being looked after by the ActionAid man,” Sara said.
Pedro pointed out what many people much older than him forget: “It is important that we help these refugees,” he said. “The children are just like us!”
It is important that we help these refugees. The children are just like us!
Iraq to Lesvos: Hamam’s journey
Next we were able to read the story of Hamam, a 10-year-old boy who fled Mosul, Iraq, with his family last year. His story of escape, particularly the section where he crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a small boat, was gripping and perilous.
Despite the differences in background, culture and circumstances, the children saw themselves in Hamam and the empathy which we try to instill in all of our pupils was soon on display. “He must have been so scared,” commented Aisha.
The empathy which we try to instill in all of our pupils was soon on display.
The children were proud of Hamam for staying on the boat but interestingly they were not surprised by his bravery. “It must have been so terrifying for Hamam,” Ayah added. “But I’m pleased he decided to stay on the boat.”
Using ActionAid’s free school worksheets
To end the lesson, we asked each other the question: “What would you take if you were a refugee?”. We focused on the essentials needed for survival - the children understood that they’d have to leave their PS4s and Xboxes at home. We used the worksheets included in the resources to draw pictures and write sentences about what we would take in our hypothetical backpacks.
There were some beautiful, selfless ideas: many using up space for nappies for babies or medication for family members. One child wanted to take their starry alien glasses to make sure the other children had something to laugh about.
That they could recognise the need for joy, the innate human desire to strive for happiness in all situations, at the age of eight, overwhelmed me with pride.
Why is global education important?
In my school, as with most schools, there are children who know too little about the outside world and there are children who know far, far too much. I feel it is important, imperative even, for schools to help all pupils understand their place within the world.
Children often don’t have the immediate negative reactions that adults resort to when faced with changing and challenging situations. They seek to see each other for what they are: fellow human beings, fellow children who are vulnerable, scared and in need of help. We should look to foster these empathetic impulses if we hope to raise a generation which can look to solve some of the global issues that they will inherit from us.
To download ActionAid's free refugee school resources or to donate to support ActionAid's vital work please click the links below.
Photos: Emma Radhanauth, Anna Pantelia/ActionAid, George Makkas/Panos Pictures/ActionAid