June 20th is United Nation’s World Refugee Day, and it makes us think about the importance of addressing this topic with our students. Is there a way to talk about refugees, to bring this topic into classroom conversations? The refugee crisis is one of the most obvious global topics we see on every news channel and newspaper on a daily basis. We believe that it is important to give time and space to this topic in our classrooms. Some of our students may be refugees and others may have questions and opinions. By giving them the chance to reflect they can come to a better understanding of what is happening around them and how the world perceives refugees in general.
Talking about the facts is one way of addressing the topic of refugees, but it is certainly not enough to only give our students historical events and statistical figures. It is also important to approach the affective aspects of the refugee crisis, and by creating a context we can also paint a more detailed picture. We can turn to the power of narratives and music to help our students and ourselves get a deeper understanding of the chaos around us.
We have collected some resources which you can use with your students.
The Beach (written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Agilulfo Russo) is a picture book for young learners. It tells the story of two little girls who come from very different backgrounds and meet on a beach. Nina arrives at the beach on a boat, and Anna is there on holiday. When the two girls meet, they decide to be friends and start playing with their dolls. In this short, heartwarming and eye-opening story we see the sadness and danger in the reality of refugees through Nina and her parents’ story, and there is a sharp contrast between their life and Anna and her family’s life as it is represented through their beach holiday. All through the story we can see a doll in both little girls’ hands, accompanying them in their happy and sad moments. When the two girls meet, we see that their dolls look the same, as if these dolls represented something about their innocence and youth.
In Roger Waters’ video for the song ‘The Last Refugee’, we can see the same symbolic function of the doll in the story of a dancer who remembers her previous life in flashback memories, living through all the pain and suffering she experienced as she left her homeland. We would like to thank Rick Sampedro for drawing our attention to this, and for his constant work towards a more equal world for all.
The story and the song in the classroom
We recommend reading the young reader with young learners and working through before and after reading activities in the classroom. You can also do the project at the end of the book and make a sand bottle.
With older students – and by older we mean teens as well as adults – you can also read the story and ask more complex questions. Although young learners will be sensitve to the differences in the visual reseprentation of the lives of Nina and Anna, they will not have the language and the knowledge to reflect on it. Teens and adults will be able to compare and contrast the events of the little girls’ lives as it is told through the words as well as the images. There are differences in the setting of the two parallel stories, and it is visually represented through the colours of the pages. Ask your students to respond to the images and describe what is going on in the pictures as well as how these pictures make them feel.
Then, you can watch the video and find similarities between the affective aspects of the reader and the video. After watching the video, they can reconstruct the woman’s story through her childhood memories and make inferences about her life based on what they see as she is dancing. Apart from classroom discussions, you can also ask your students to write a reflective essay on the stories in the reader and the video and to draw parallels between their lives and those of the families in the book and the woman in the video.