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Helping young people learn about refugees

Syrian-refugee-JPEG2Many years ago, I worked as a volunteer in a refugee camp on the border between Uganda and Rwanda.   The experience changed my perspective on life and fuelled a thirst for social justice.

Over the last few days I’ve been contacted by a number of people, asking if I could recommend any materials to help them explore the current refugee crisis with young people.   Here are a few ideas, with thanks particularly to the folks who organise the annual Refugee Week in the UK (the next one is in June 2016) and colleagues at The Guardian Teacher Network, who suggested some of these resources as being particularly good.

For younger children:

As the number of people fleeing Syria to escape the civil war reaches the point of being the biggest global exodus since the Second World War, this resource for 9 – 11 year olds from Action Aid encourages pupils to compare and contrast their lives with that of Israa, a 13-year-old Syrian refugee, living with her family in Zaatari Refugee Camp, northern Jordan. Young people will find out what life was like for Israa before and after the civil war started and try to put themselves in her shoes by writing a newspaper article or blog post about her story. The resource includes a poster, lesson plan and PowerPoint presentation.

The organisers of Refugee Week have created a number of useful resources for schools. These include a quiz about the life and positive impact of refugees in the UK, and three lesson plans for use with young people aged between 10 and 14. In the first of these, children think about the needs a refugee has when moving to a new country and they identify items that would be most useful after a sudden evacuation. The second challenges children to research their own family history, and the third asks children to find five surprising facts about refugees. There are additional ideas on the Refugee Week website and the Simple Acts website, which lists 24 everyday actions designed to change perceptions of refugees.

Teachers and youth workers who are looking for a novel to share with their young people that explores what it’s like to be a refugee, might try In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda. It tells the true story of 10-year-old Enaiatollah Akbari and his five-year journey from Afghanistan to Italy to claim political asylum. This reading guide contains starting points for discussion.

For older young people:

Introduce young people of 11 years old and above to the topic with this British Red Cross lesson plan and presentation about seeking safety. Students are encouraged to think about what it would be like to feel unsafe in their homes and the belongings they would take if they were forced to flee. Working in groups, ask the young people to list some of the reasons why people migrate. Can they identify some similarities and differences between being a refugee now and in the past?

Use this case study and role play from Amnesty International to help young people consider why people become refugees. The case study looks at the story of Farzad, a refugee who arrived in the UK from Afghanistan. The activity focuses on developing empathy for refugees and an understanding of the complexity of their situation. The resources come from Everyone Everywhere, a pack of eight lessons designed for teaching human rights across the curriculum in schools.

A fantastic resource is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) photo library. It covers the past 60 years and contains more than 250,000 images, making it the world’s largest collection of refugee-related photos. It includes recent photographs from the Bay of Bengal and Mediterranean Sea. What would young people like to ask some of the people featured in the images? Working in pairs, get members of your group to act out one of these conversations and maybe write a newspaper report to accompany the picture. Alternatively, choose some of the statistics included in the captions to create an infographic, or use them to inspire a piece of artwork.

Oxfam has produced a set of resources for schools in partnership with Schools of Sanctuary,  enabling learners to think about why refugees leave their homes, what challenges they face, how welcoming the UK is to those seeking asylum and our fundamental human rights. Young people can then turn their attention to their own school and the welcome it provides.  I reckon this could easily be adapted to suit the needs of a youth centre or youth group.  The aim of the resource is to encourage young people to initiate their school becoming a School of Sanctuary. The structure and content is suitable for all schools, no matter how diverse or homogenous; because when students feel safe and welcome, they can all thrive and reach their potential.

On Syria:

Concentrating specifically on the situation in Syria, this website may be of help.

Please note, the website was published in September 2013, so whilst the links are still valid you may want to check news sites for more up-to-date information.

And these short videos by Save the Children provide an insight into what life could be like for people in the UK, if Surrey were Syria.

Save the Children is also part of the No Lost Generation initiative a coalition of aid agencies working together to help Syria’s children.  The resources on their website provide useful background information for adults.

And finally:

This little animation reminds us that it only takes one Simple Act to change the way we see refugees, and ourselves. This is a film done by the charity Refugee Week as a part of their Simple Acts Campaign.

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