accessibility & help



Man gives water to a man draped in a towel on a beachThe story behind the photos in this resource is slowly unfolded, at each stage inviting students to think about and comment on what is or seems to be happening. The combination of a strong narrative and a real life story has proved successful for teachers in many settings. The learning outcomes are deliberately non-specific about the story, to assist those educators who share them with students at the start of the lesson.

All the photos in the lesson plan are in the powerpoint presentation. The copyright holder, Arturo Rodriguez, has very kindly agreed to let them be used for educational purposes and in this format. Please respect this by not using them in any other way.


Age group
Learning outcomes
Phase 1
Phase 2
Phase 3


Download the lesson plan as a WordPDF or powerpoint document or continue reading this page.

Age group

Seven to 16 year olds, as well as adults and students aged over 16

Learning outcomes

  • Students will gain a wider and deeper understanding of the practical realities behind one of the major global issues of the 21st century.
  • Students will explore their own and other people's humanitarian instincts and behaviour.

Phase 1

Man gives water to a man draped in a towel on a beachStart this phase by showing students a single photograph – slide one of the powerpoint.

Ask students what they think is going on. Where might this picture have been taken? Who do students think the two men are? What is the relationship between them? What circumstances might explain what seems to be happening?

Invite and gather ideas, without commenting.

Stimulate contributions, if necessary, by asking students to guess the feelings of the two characters at the time of the photograph. Is one suffering and one helping? Why might that be? Point out that the scene is very crowded, with glimpses of other people lying or standing in the background. Is the man on the right really wearing no clothes?

Once all the ideas are in, ask the class to try to agree which they collectively think is the most likely explanation. Try to discourage settling the matter by a vote. Instead try to reach a consensus that everyone can agree with before moving onto phase 2.

Phase 2

How right were they? Unfold the answer over the course of this phase.

Invite students to think about a beach holiday. Ask them to imagine they are relaxing on an idyllic beach in the Canary islands. Say they are in Tenerife, with the hot sun and the warm Atlantic waters lapping on the shore. They might close their eyes for a minute or two, to try to get into the spirit of privileged tourists. They are enjoying the best that sun, sea and sand holidays can offer.

When they have that idea fixed in their mind, show them slides two and three of the powerpoint:

Boy on beach in a towel helped by sunbathers

These were taken on the same day, in July 2006. Invite students to review and clarify their thoughts about what might have occurred. Take time to let them study the photographs, gathering evidence and speculating on who was doing what and why. When they have finished discussing the photographs, explain the following (note that Tejita is pronounced te-CHEE-ta, where CH is like the Scottish loch):

Two exhausted men are helped by a woman on a beachThe photographs were taken on Playa La Tejita, a tourist beach on the south of the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. It is a Spanish-owned territory, but the nearest land is the north-western coast of Africa.

The Canary Islands are not just popular among tourists. Over recent years they have been a destination for people smugglers. Large profits are made by gangs who offer places on small fishing boats to migrants desperate to leave Africa and start a new life in Europe.

Hopeful migrants, who pay large sums to the smugglers, are crowded into open boats designed for local fishing in coastal waters. They set off with little protection from the sun or adverse weather, facing a journey on open seas of at least 600 miles. They expect to be at sea for days. Some are caught by police or coastguards and returned, perhaps to try again later. Some boats are so unsuited to the voyage and the overcrowding that they do not make it: they sink, most likely with the loss of all life. Some passengers die on board the boats, unable to cope with the dehydration, hunger and exposure of the journey. Others do survive the voyage, and the boats reach land... on the tourist beaches of the Canary Islands.

Explain to students that this is not an isolated, or even rare, occurrence. An estimated 31,000 migrants arrived in the Canaries during 2006. Hundreds are thought to have died during their journey.

Invite students to say, based on the photographs they have seen, what the response is when a boat with such migrants lands on the beach?

If you wish, show slides four to nine of the powerpoint.

Red Cross workers stretcher off a man on a beachEverything is very much clearer in these extraordinary photographs. The beach has become a first aid arena, with response teams from the Spanish Red Cross (Cruz Roja Española) treating dehydration, hunger and exposure.

Man helps another man on a beachBut the sunseekers are not concerned on-lookers. They are deeply involved, handing out blankets, drinks and basic food. They are holding drips, checking breathing and responsiveness, assisting with stretchers and providing shade.

Writing activity

As a written activity, in class or for homework, ask students to imagine they were on that beach when a boat arrived carrying many very distressed people – just as in the photographs. They could write as if they were:

  1. one of the migrants on the boat, remembering the day sometime later
  2. a first-time holiday maker on the beach, who was shocked by what was happening
  3. a resident of Tenerife, now very familiar with the sight of migrant boats.

Ask students to structure their writing so that it brings out the following elements:

a) how they felt
b) how others around them reacted
c) what they would like for the future

If a written activity is not appropriate, continue discussing in class, along the lines of the written exercise. The group could be split into three, each taking one of the personas. Give time to prepare on each of the three elements, then let each smaller group present their thoughts.

Phase 3

Feed back and discuss any points that emerged from the last exercise.

Then read out the following, which tells the story through an eyewitness to these events – the photographer who took the pictures. Arturo Rodriguez won an award for the pictures, which were published in a magazine called XL Semanal. A resident of Tenerife, he had been alerted to the boat's arrival by a phone call and taken his cameras down to Tejita beach. The opening remarks refer to the original photograph, seen at the beginning of this lesson plan:

“The man on the right was a Spanish tourist, doing all he could to help the migrants. He was paying particular attention to this one man (on the left of the picture), who seemed to be in a very poor shape.

"The two men were not speaking much to each other. The tourist was using simple gestures to ask if he wanted water or a blanket.”

You may want to break there and compare this account with what students came up with in phase 1, then continue with Arturo’s story.

He wasn't, as the pictures show, the only tourist helping the migrants. “The atmosphere on the beach was one of total solidarity,” says Arturo Rodriguez.

But that was quite a change, as he explains: “A few weeks before, there had been xenophobia on the island. There was a feeling building among residents that they were being silently invaded. On this day, the opposite happened. There was a reaction against such fears, a contrast and a change in people's attitude towards the migrants. I think that a lot of those who had been speaking negatively about them felt ashamed, once they saw how the tourists on the beach had set such a good example by helping.”

Break and discuss. Talk about the difference between your attitude towards people you don't know but may feel threatened by, and when you meet a real human being who needs help. Can students think of examples from their own lives where hostility to a group of people in the abstract turns into sympathy and understanding for real individuals? Some people say that racism and intolerance are based on ignorance. Do students agree?

Discuss the response from the beach tourists. The photographer says that some of the island residents felt ashamed when they saw the humanitarian impulse in action. What do students feel about that? Are they heartwarmed by the reaction?

When they have discussed the actions of the day – point out a simple but telling fact. This wasn't what usually happened. The tourists helping may seem a normal and instinctive response – but it was actually extraordinary.

There have been other similar occasions, when tourists helped migrants in need. But very often all that happens when a boat arrives is that the police and the Spanish Red Cross are called, and they deal with it on their own.

Arturo Rodriguez says, “I think that sometimes we like to see ourselves as heroes, and that is why my photos caught people’s attention. In fact, much more dramatic scenes took place that summer. But they went unnoticed.

“On other days, on other beaches, it would have been possible to take photographs which contrasted with these – showing no one doing anything much to help.”

Discuss this. What might cause people sometimes to help but not at other times? Do people tend to follow the group? Would they be reluctant to do anything until someone else took the lead? What would students feel like if they were shown photos of migrants washed up and suffering on the beach, while tourists ignored them and carried on sunbathing? Would that affect their view of the humanitarian impulse?

Further exploration

There are many potential areas to explore, either in class discussion or in written or project work.

  • When one route to Europe is closed to people smugglers because of additional security, another one tends to open up. Trace the recent history of such smuggling routes.
  • “Week in and week out, our colleagues in Europe pull people in the worst imaginable state out of the ocean,” said one Red Cross expert recently. “It is a humanitarian challenge as much as it is a political one.” Invite students to separate out these two strands. In what way is the humanitarian challenge different from the political one?
  • Explore the practicalities of first aid on the beach. Despite the heat of summer in Tenerife, some of the migrants were very cold. Notice from the photographs that some of the helpers are wearing latex gloves. These were provided by the Spanish Red Cross, and are there to help reduce the risk of cross infection particularly when the migrants’ immune systems will be weak. Some helpers were reluctant to use them, because they felt they dehumanised their assistance. The migrants were so cold and in need of help, one helper thought they needed hugging, not touching with gloves. Discuss the realities.
  • It is not possible to say what happened to the individuals in the photographs. The photographer thinks that the African man in the first picture went to hospital. From there he would have probably gone to a detention centre. “I don't know if they deported him or if in the end he stayed in Europe. The tourist, I suppose, carried on his day at the beach. But I'm sure the situation changed his life.” Explore any of these issues – from the life-changing experience of the tourist to the realities of deportation. The BBC website has a summary of the key issues, the common migrant routes and key economic information.
  • Readers of Spanish might like to see the photographer's website, which includes more examples of his work, and the XL Semanal magazine article.


This lesson plan was written by PJ White. It was produced in October 2007. Teachers and other educators are free to use it, copy it and circulate it for their work.

The British Red Cross would like to thank Arturo Rodriguez for kindly allowing us to use his photographs in this education resource. The photos must only be used in conjunction with this resource. Please contact us if you wish to use them for any other purpose.

This resource and other free educational materials are available at


Related resources

Classroom activities based around learning words of welcome in a refugee's mother tongue.

The Positive Images toolkit is an educational resource on migration and development.

Sign up now

Enter your email address and start receiving newsthink, our free topical teaching resource.