Across the UK, volunteers and staff regularly promote positive messages about refugees by visiting schools – but what exactly goes on during these classroom sessions?
In the space of just five days during Refugee Week 2009 – from 15 to 19 June – one volunteer and staff team presented the British Red Cross’ anti-discrimination Look beyond the label message to a jaw-dropping 650 young people throughout Manchester and Merseyside.
The team – comprising three staff members and six volunteers (one of whom is also a refugee) – visited schools, Scout and Guide meetings, and even threw in a couple of woodcraft groups for good measure.
But what do these tireless people actually do when they reach the classroom? On 15 June, one team turned up at Manchester Academy in the city’s deprived Moss Side area.
Becky Forecast (23), a volunteer with the British Red Cross’ internship programme, led a fascinating interactive session that in no time had a packed – and very diverse – class of 12-year-olds shouting out answers and energetically debating serious issues.
The ingenuity of these sessions lies in taking weighty issues but packaging them in a way that makes for a fun and exciting learning experience. It works like this: after watching a moving online video featuring three refugees’ stories, the students are thrown straight into a quiz.
First, they are shown images of popular figures such as Bob Marley, Mika and Madonna, and asked ‘Which of these people is a refugee?’ Then they are thrown off-balance by a series of tricky questions. (And what a treat it is to see the surprise on some faces as they realise that two per cent, not 80 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers come to the UK.)
Getting facts across
The session, rather than ‘telling’ pupils the facts, encourages them to work through a series of complex issues independently and come to their own conclusions – with a little guidance where necessary. Thus there is a heated debate on what constitutes refugee status, during which one young Asian boy asks: “I was born here. If I go back to Pakistan on holiday, am I then a refugee?”
As the lesson unfolds, there’s a real sense of the facts getting across. When told that most people perceive refugees to be generally less well-educated, one girl pipes up: “How willing you are to learn has nothing to do with where you come from.”
And right at the end, when asked how they should treat young refugees, one young boy offers the following: “You should treat them well, show them around and be their friend.” From the murmurs of approval that met this comment, it’s clear that the pupils have learned a lot in just a short hour.
The bigger picture
Following the session, area youth manager Rebekah Dickson was pleased with how things had gone. She said: “There are quite a few refugees in this school so it’s especially important that pupils here know about the issues and can see the bigger picture.”
Romy Cassel, project manager, who co-led the group, added: “It’s going to be an exhausting week delivering so many sessions, but it’s all worth it when you see the kids engaging and the message getting across.”
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