World Refugee Day: An education in compassion
June 20th has been declared World Refugee Day by the UN. For the young people in our classroom, this is an opportunity to appreciate the suffering in the world. Compassion is not to be taken for granted. Our role as teachers is to role-model and develop kindness and a desire to help others. World Refugee Day is the perfect opportunity for Primary School Classroom Teachers to offer an education in compassion.
The violence that drives people from their homes is difficult to address sensitively. The plight and poverty experienced by refugees could be overwhelming. Here are some suggestions for ways you could explore World Refugee Day in your classroom.
Coming up with some rights for humans
Before you start looking at how some people live difficult lives, you may want to explore what every human deserves. Ask students to imagine what they believe every human should expect to receive no matter where they live in the world. Another way to explain it would be: what is it only fair that all children should have.
To make this activity more accessible, you may want to give students a list of 10 or so rights. You can then ask students to either a) pick out 5 of these rights to enact – if achieving all 10 is too much work or b) put the rights into order of priority and to explain why some things are more important than others. You may want to include such suggestions as: safety from war; food every day; care from an adult; the freedom to play; an education, and more.
Once the class has negotiated a list of human rights, you could encourage students to design a poster that will be displayed on the wall.
Another good place to begin to understand the aims of World Refuge Day is to explore the different logos used by organisations who join in the events. The UN Refugee Agency uses the UN logo. This is a symbol that is a simple blue on white design. You could explore the reasons for these colours. There is the image of olive branches. You could explore the stories about peace that these symbolise. The olive branches surround two hands that are facing each other with a person in the centre protected by these hands. This symbolises the desire for those with power to protect those who don’t.
In Canada, the organisation uses an image of two figures. One figure is smaller. The two figures are protected by brackets or half circles – showing they are protected.
Once you have considered the two (or more) logos, you could encourage the class to design a logo for World Refugee Day in your classroom. What ideas do they want to convey? You could provide them with some simple symbols related to homes, friendship, safety and more – which they could choose to have in their design. They can also choose an appropriate colour. You could then get the class to vote on the logo for your classroom – noting that the chance to have a say is part of their rights.
Introduce them to the story of a refugee
If you visit the UN website you will find information about the lives of refugees. There is a video that shows Yusra Mardini and the success as she finds her new home. You could encourage the children to write letters to Yusra or to other refugees who have yet to find a home. You could encourage children to acknowledge the difficulties the other person may feel at not having the safety of a home and not having somewhere that is your own.
You can find other case studies of refugees on the Amnesty International UK website. The case studies are aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 8 and include some interactive activities that prompt understanding of the lives of refugees. There is also a presentation created by Christian Aid.
You may even want to ask students to write a letter to someone in power – a local MP or to the UN or maybe even to the Foreign Secretaries office. You could encourage your students to write about the life of the refugee they have learnt about. You could suggest that they ask the person in power to do something to make a change and a difference.
If the idea of letter writing is too much for all the individuals in the class, then you could teach children about the power of petitions. Then, you could encourage some students to write a letter and then ask each child in the class to sign their name to show they want to add their support to the ideas.
Most important is the need to explore the emotions around World Refugee Day. The life of another in a far away country is difficult for a young person to conceptualise. You want them to empathise with the suffering without distressing them too much.
If you visit refugeeweek.org.uk you will find activities that are more creative but are aimed at developing emotional intelligence in relation to the plight of others. The activities offered include writing a poem; writing a song, learning the songs and stories in the musical As Free as a Bird… and more. The musical is wonderful as it focuses on a group of rabbits who are forced to leave their home and go live somewhere much more dangerous. This is a much simpler way for younger children to understand the issues that face refugees.
This day, June 20th, is about commemorating the strength, courage and perseverance of refugees around the world. These three qualities are ones we would also desire in our children. We would also hope that our young people would develop the compassion that prompts action against the suffering of others. World Refugee Day is about raising awareness; it is about celebrating impressive human qualities and it is about promoting a desire for things to be different in the future. To impact the future, we must enlist the help of our children – the ones sat in your classroom right now.