This is a guest post by Ruth Sinhal from Glebelands Primary School.
The Thursday before Refugee Week, I was delighted to take 14 children to an art project hosted by Leicester Artzone and Leicester City of Sanctuary. Talented artist, Ali Agayev created an amazing piece of art for the children to work on. It has pride of place in school now!
Refugee week kicked off on Monday when we had our School of Sanctuary Award presented to the whole school by representatives of City of Sanctuary. As we were the first school in Leicestershire to have this, press were there along with representatives from The Red Cross, The NUT and Leicester City Council who had all helped me to develop the project Leicester Schools Welcome Refugees, which now has 38 schools involved. We were honoured to hear a short speech from Jafur, trafficked here as a child, who told us that as he had never gone to school, he wishes he could have attended Glebelands!
The rest of the day was spent discussing the issues of homelessness and shelter and celebrating Save the Children’s Den Day. The children designed and built shelters for Play Mobil people from wood and recycled materials, then and later in the week we built shelters/dens in the playground for themselves and their friends.
The Tuesday was “Communication Day” and this involved activities covering all aspects of communication which face new arrivals; be they migrants, asylum seekers or refugees.
The Year 5 and 6s were taken into the school hall where tables had been set up with adults at them with paper and stamps. In Spanish, which none of our kids understand, another adult began directing them to the different tables but as they had no idea what they had been asked many lined up and received stamps on their papers denying them asylum, others received it but knew nothing about what to do next. This brought out many amazing responses from the children.
In Year 3 we had a student from DMU who came and taught in Italian, again using no English, the body parts using an anatomical model. The children were asked at the end how it had made them feel. “I felt alone, lonely, confused and scared”. “I was so happy when one word sounded a bit like an English word……intestino meant intestines”. “When I heard English at the end I felt like it was normal again”.
Classes shared many books and extracts from texts and discussed the characters feelings and the messages the authors were trying to communicate through words and pictures. We recorded our work in special folders with colourful covers!
On Wednesday we learnt about how beautiful Syria was before the war, in workshops with the author, A Dassu who showed the children photos of shopping malls, KFCs and incredibly beautiful museums and parks. She read an extract for her novel about a Syrian child from a very rich family who has to leave as a refugee, without time to say goodbye to family and friends. The children wrote letters from the characters viewpoint to their friends, empathising and understanding how every child feels the same.
On this day we also cooked Harisa, a Syrian cake and that was so popular with everyone in school!
Later that day we met, Rand, a 17 year old refugee living here in Leicester who also showed us how great her life was in Syria and what a wonderful country it still could be if the war would stop. She played her Syrian drum, demonstrated a little bit of belly dancing and showed us so much delicious Syrian food! Syrup featured a lot …..and we all loved it!
We learnt a little Arabic and practised sums using Arabic Numbers.
On Thursday we were honoured to have Gulwali Passarlay speak to our whole school assembly A young man, just 22, who left Afghanistan aged 12, and spent a harrowing year struggling on his own, to reach the UK. Since settling here he has written of this journey in his novel The Lightless Sky and is an inspiration to us all on how to live our lives. He spoke to our school and with silent awe we learnt of the reality of life for a child who seeks to find safety and the difficulties they face before being granted the right to remain as a refugee.
Friday June 24th (a difficult day, post EU referendum, for many of us) was “When I grow up Day” and pupils to were shown how refugee kids have dreams just like they do and wish to be doctors, footballers, dancers, builders, painters, lawyers etc. I was inspired to have children in my class arrive as Prime Ministers (surprisingly, the job becoming vacant that day!), Human rights Lawyers, doctors and teachers as well as a plethora of Leicester City Footballers, dancers, and a few pop stars!
Full Cabinet Meeting in progress! The million pounds was allocated to be shared between schools, hospitals and helping refugees.