Refugees gain a voice via their art

WHEN the Taliban caught Javid Mehdi playing outdoors after curfew, they beat him around the head until he fell into a roadside bonfire.

Javid, now 14, pulls back his sleeve to show the scar down his forearm. Otherwise, he looks like any other pupil at Villiers high school in Southall, west London.

Javid was left in Afghanistan when his parents and four of his younger siblings left for Britain without him. His parents did not have the money to take all the family, so the eldest three children were entrusted to their uncle.

Javid and his sister and brother made the long trek to Britain in a convoy with other Afghan refugees: Javid, as the eldest, was responsible for the other two. "It was hard for me looking after them," he said. "But I was very happy to see my mother and father. I like being part of a family living all together now."

Javid's 13-year-old sister, Shabnam, is also happy with her life in London. "In Afghanistan there was no school - all day I was messing around and helping my mum," she said. "Now I'm learning and studying."

Shabnam can recognise her own name in the Afghan language Dari, but she was not taught to read. Now she enjoys learning her ABC. "I pray to God that one day I will read something. One of my brothers is in Year 5, and he can read. When I ask him to help, he doesn't. If I could read, I would help everyone."

In order to tell the stories of refugees such as Javid and Shabnam, Villiers' pupils decided to put together a project that allows immigrants to speak for themselves.

Of the 1,200 pupils at the school, approximately 100 are refugees, several from Afghanistan. Post-September 11, the school, concerned that not enough was being done to support its immigrant community, held a series of workshops, at which pupils expressed themselves in poetry and paintings.

"We knew that pupils had been mutilated, burnt, that they were here without their family, but we thought it was best not to talk about it," said Dai Jones, the assistant head. "Then we discovered that kids were really mystified about why we were not more interested in their backgrounds."

Using many of the ideas that emerged during these workshops, the pupils devised a play, Migrating Swallows. Through drama and dance, it aims to correct misrepresentations of refugees, creating a genuine insight into the confusion faced by new arrivals to Britain.

The play will be performed on June 26, and all proceeds will go to The TES-UNICEF Afghanistan appeal. "The appeal is aimed at recreating education for kids who did not have it," said Mr Jones. "Many pupils at this school arrived having had no education throughout the Taliban period. It's the same starting point."

For tickets and more information about Migrating Swallows, contact the school on: 020 8813 8001.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you