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Refugees: Celebrate

Learning objectives

Through the activities within this resource young people will be able to:

  • Understand what might cause someone to flee their country and seek refuge elsewhere.
  • Empathise with the experiences of refugees (exploring emotions, feelings and the practical impact of having to leave home, country and family).
  • Explore the contributions of refugees to art and culture as well as their wider contributions to society.
  • Consider the impact of individual experience on art and how this can contribute to a shared humanity.

Age range: 14–19

Curriculum links: PSHE, Citizenship, Art and design


­­This resource is inspired by celebrating the contributions of refugees to arts and culture in the UK.

This resource builds on an online project created by Counterpoints Arts called the Traces Project, the project includes a timeline and profiles about people who came to the UK as refugees and have made a significant artistic or cultural contribution. 

The activities in this resource enable young people to learn about refugees and explore their positive contributions, inspired by the theme ‘celebrate’.

Activities could be adapted and used with any of the artists that feature in the Traces Project. For the purposes of this resource, five artists have been chosen for their variety across art forms and timeframes.

Artist’s name

Art form

Country or place of origin

Year arrived in UK

Marina Lewycka




Hong Dam

Visual - digital



Rita Ora





Visual – painter



al-Saddiq al-Raddi




Access to the Internet and suitable viewing devices (computers, tablets etc.) are necessary to use these activities to their full effect. 


Start with the art

1)  Before giving any information about the artists, young people should be given the chance to ‘start with the art’. Provide them with the art (details below) in groups appropriate to your setting, giving each group one of the five artists to focus on.

The art is initially accessed through downloadable hand-outs (below), with the exception of Rita Ora, whose music is accessed via a YouTube link:


2)  Provide a large sheet of paper and pens/pencils for each group. Ask them to consider the artwork they have been given, they can choose to work through some or all of the following prompt questions using their paper to record their responses. They could record these through words and images or a mixture.

Allow around 15 minutes, encouraging discussion about the art and their responses to it.

  • What does the art depict?
  • Do you think the art has a particular message and if so, what is it?
  • How does the art make you feel? What emotions does it trigger in you?
  • Does the art raise any questions for you?
  • If you could meet the artist what might you want to ask them about their art?

3) Provide each group with the basic profile of their artist, available to download here.

Allow a further five minutes for them to consider the additional information from the profiles.

Suggested prompt questions:

  • Does this additional information help them to understand anything further about the art or their responses to it?
  • Does it create any new questions for them? Are these questions about the art or its creator? 
  • Do they want to know more about their background? How do they think this might help them to better understand the art they are looking at?

4)  A tip sheet providing useful prompts for research around the five featured artists is available here to support learners in this next activity.

Ask learners to use the Traces Project website to find out more about their artist  (the website will give some information about the artist and further background details in the two clickable blue questions and links at the foot of each page).

Give learners around 20 minutes to explore their artist and find out more about them. Provide them with the following questions to help guide their exploration:

  • What do you think the artist is trying to express through their art? (Examples might be pride, belonging, loss, pain, separation, identity, shared humanity i.e. we are all human with our own experiences that inform how we express ourselves, artistic or otherwise.)
  • What do you think the artist was motivated by? (Examples might include raising awareness, personal coping, storytelling, anger, celebration, etc.)
  • Why do you think the artist is now in the UK? (Examples might include personal safety, grew up here, they are able to express themselves here, choice, no choice, etc.)

­The following activities focus on the theme ‘celebrate’. They begin with the artists from the previous activities and then broaden out to think about themes of contribution and celebration more widely.

5) Ask each group of learners to ‘celebrate’ their artist with their peers through a presentation, they can choose how they would like to present their artist [for example they might choose a PowerPoint format, or create a short film, they may perform or read out some of the work of the artist or ask questions to the rest of the group] and should aim to include the following key information:

  • Name of the artist.
  • The type of art.
  • Country or place of origin.
  • When they came to UK.
  • An introduction to their art (reflecting on the art they started with).
  • A summary of their responses to the art.
  • Some detail of the artists’ story, using information from the Traces Project website.
  • Reflecting on what the artist might be trying to express through their art form, and how their background may have contributed to or influenced their art.
  • Insights as to what they think might motivate the artist and subsequently what they have contributed to the UK through arts and culture.
  • Why art might be important to understanding others’ experiences or relating back to our own experiences, linking to ideas around a shared humanity i.e. we are all human and our experiences shape us, we can gain greater understanding of others through considering their experience.

6)  Once all groups have celebrated their artist with the wider group, ask them to collectively identify what the different artists might have in common with one another. The following prompt questions and response ideas can support learners:

  • Where do they come from originally? (They all come from another country.)
  • Where have they all settled? (They have all settled in the UK.)
  • What caused each of them to leave (flee) their country of origin? (They, or their parents, were all threatened in some way.)
  • What might the humanitarian impact of having to flee been on these artists?
  • What have all of them been granted by the UK authorities? (They have all been granted refugee status – they are all refugees.)

If the latter point does not come up, then it is important to draw this out. These artists have been chosen because they are refugees and this resource is about celebrating the contribution that refugees to the UK have made to art and culture.

7) Clarify that learners understand what the term refugee means:

‘A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it’

 Article 1, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

Using one of the methods below, ask learners to imagine what it would mean or how it would feel to be a refugee, perhaps forced to move to another country with a different climate, where you don’t speak the language and where you know nobody and have no family, friends or possessions.

Method one: Hand – pair – share

>     Once the learners have had a moment to reflect on what it might mean or how it might feel to be a refugee and are ready to share a reflection they raise their hand to signal their readiness.

>     They then look for someone else who is similarly ready and move towards them.

>     Once together they pair and share their thoughts/ideas/reflections, each taking it in turn.

Method two: emotion wall

>     Ask learners to share their responses to the phrase: ’Refugee – how would you feel?’

>     Stick a large piece of paper (flip chart, sugar paper etc.) to a wall or use a display wall - write the phrase in the centre.

>     Ask learners to share their responses in images or words in the space surrounding it.

>     You could extend this by asking them to represent the different feelings that might emerge at each stage – leaving, travelling, arriving. Imagery could be used to represent these stages (for example, a suitcase for leaving, a map for travelling, and a house for arriving).

Extension opportunity: Further insight into what it might mean and how it might feel to be a refugee can be found in other refugee stories.

Learners could consider the humanitarian impact of having to flee on people who have become refugees.


Next ask them to think about being forced to flee to another country tomorrow. What one thing would they want to take with them? If using the hand – pair – share method, repeat this asking them to pair with someone different this time.

If using the emotion wall method, ask learners to complete a sticky note with the phrase: ‘If I had to flee tomorrow I would take …’ and to place their responses around the edge of their emotion wall, perhaps clustering similar responses together and reading others’ ideas.

If comfortable, learners can be encouraged to share why they chose their item. Were there many similarities? Did any of the items chosen surprise them? Has listening to others made them want to change their own choice?


Extension opportunity: The same question was asked of a number of celebrities and their responses can be viewed here – how many are similar to your own chosen item? Were there any surprises in the things chosen by celebrities? Why do you think this is?

Now look at this gallery of images from a photographer asking Syrian refugees what the most important thing to them was.  Are there any differences or similarities between their choices and the celebrity choices? Does anything surprise or move them?

Learners could use social media to share the thing that they would take and ask others to reflect on the same question. The Traces Project has a Tumblr site to encourage further sharing and reflection.

8) This resource has looked at ‘celebrating’ refugees in UK arts and culture. Discuss with learners that this is just one way of many to consider the contribution of refugees to society. Provide learners with the following quote (below) and some sticky notes and pens, and pose the question:

What other contributions are made by refugees and what can we celebrate about these?

Ask learners to write each new idea on a sticky note and create a ‘contributions wall’ (or floor) to showcase their ideas. You could try and cluster the contributions by category to show patterns of thinking and recognition; they could choose to think about broad contributions that link to ideas in the quote such as innovation, cuisine, industry etc.

The quote is taken from the Refugee Week ‘Simple Acts’ website:

“Did you know that toilet paper rolls were introduced to the UK by a German refugee in the 1930s? Or have you ever thought about the most classic of British favourites: fish ‘n chips, which were imported by refugees from Portugal in the 17th century? The Mini was designed by a Greek, who fled Turkey in 1922. There are a million of things all around us that were brought to the UK from other countries by people who had to flee war, persecution or injustice. Your Burmese restaurant down the street might be run by refugees. Your corner shop, your favourite dish, the music you just listened to or the video you’ve just watched on YouTube might be another example. There are books and poems, songs and painting, graffiti and raps, patterns, fabrics, scents, sounds, photography, clever ideas and all this food that arrived over here in this context. These are things that make all of our lives just that little bit richer and more interesting.”


The next activities move learners on to think about how they might communicate their learning through art, by returning to art as the stimulus.


Working in groups (these could be the same as their original groups) ask learners to create an artwork which draws on their learning about refugees and ‘celebrates’ the contribution of refugees, by following the stages below.


9) Explain that the contributions celebrated, and the understanding of refugee experiences learners have worked through in the activities can help and inspire them to create a piece of original art that celebrates the contribution of refugees to society.


The art could be a single piece worked on in each group, or one larger piece with the whole group working together. The piece could even be divided into sections or different art forms.


Whatever process is chosen ask learners to begin by thinking carefully about the key theme or message their art is trying to communicate. What is it they want to share from their learning about refugees and their contributions? How best can they express this?


The art could take any form, perhaps inspired by the artists they have explored, or by their deeper understanding of refugees, their stories, including the humanitarian impact of becoming a refugee, and their contributions. Possible art forms might include:



Painting                       Collage                        Poems                          Drama                         Story


Sculpture                     Song                            Music                   Sound installation             Textile



Once completed the artwork(s) could be exhibited to raise awareness of the positive contribution of refugees to society and to demonstrate an understanding of our shared humanity. This could act as a link to others’ experiences gained by understanding personal stories, shared experiences and the idea that first and foremost we are all human. This could be done through a write up explaining the art work or form part of the art work.  They could also be added to the Tumblr site of the Traces Project where others (including schools, youth and community groups) are encouraged to share reflections.

Reflective activities

Choose between the reflective activities, to support learners to close and reflect on their learning.


Reflective activity one: art and humanity


10) The activities in this resource began with some works of art before broadening out to explore the stories of refugees and their positive contributions to society. The artists featured all use aspects of this relationship between art (their work) and humanity (their experience), as have the learners in working through the activities including creating their own artwork.


Guide the learners through a discussion about the relationship between art and humanity. You can use the following suggested prompt questions:


  • What is art for?
  • Does art help us to better understand humanity? Why?
  • Can art help develop our understanding of other experiences?
  • What can art contribute to society?
  • Can art change or develop our understanding of humanity (human experience)? How?
  • To what extent does art depend on our personal or shared experiences as humans?

This relationship between art and humanity can be further explored using the following quadrant:























Introduce the four relationships within the quadrant, taking time to discuss the different concepts, ensuring the difference in each is understood. You might consider some of the questions above to support learners understanding.


Write out each statement on a piece of paper, and then place each one at four different points in the room or space available.


Ask learners to personally reflect on the four different positions, inviting them to walk between them to consider each one. Explain that once they have decided which statement they most agree with, they should move to stand next to that statement to indicate that it is their personal choice.


Once learners are in position, ask for volunteers at each statement to share why they chose to stand there. Create the opportunity for learners to hear from those with different perspectives.


You could also give them the opportunity to move once they have heard others' perspectives, in case anyone has changed their thinking based on the view of their peers.


There is of course no correct answer to this – the activity is designed to encourage reflection.


Reflective activity two: we are all artists of humanity


11) Some art critics believe that all art is a window on human nature (humanity) and that as such all human thoughts and actions could be described as art. From this perspective we are all artists contributing to humanity in our own way, whether big or small, whether recognised as conventional art or not.


Ask learners to take a moment to reflect on their role as an artist of humanity – they can do this quietly and individually or share their ideas with the group.  They might consider the following questions:


  • Do our behaviours and actions contribute to others' experiences and therefore to our shared humanity? 
  • What would learners like to do more of or change in their own lives to positively contribute towards humanity?

Then ask learners to consider how they might express their ideas about art and humanity, or how they might express their own experiences through an art form – the following prompt ideas can be considered quietly and individually, they can be written, or form part of a group sharing exercise.


  • What picture might you paint?
  • What story might you tell?
  • What spaces might you occupy?
  • What structures might you design?
  • What notes might you compose?
  • What figure might you sculpt?
  • What fabric might you weave?
  • What scene might you perform?

Learners can add their own if none of these art forms appeal to them.


Learners could be left with these personal reflections, or they could form the basis of a shared reflection that could form part of a display. They might even result in a remote follow-on such as a piece of work outside the session that is presented back to peers or as a personal diary style entry or an actual creation of their idea.


Taking it further




­The activities in this resource were inspired by the Traces Project of Refugee Week and learners can take their engagement on this subject further via the Simple Acts website. This provides a wealth of further information and practical ideas of how to connect more closely with refugees.



Other useful websites that have further information to supplement this resource include:



  • British Red Cross –

Explore more teaching resources on migration

Learn more about our refugee services



These resources were written by Rob Bowden and Rosie Wilson of Lifeworlds Learning with associate Claire Plumb and published in June 2015. Reviewed September 2017.


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