Finding a home from home

3rd March 1995 at 00:00
Refugees provoke strong reactions in their host societies. Reva Klein reviews resources designed to challenge the myths.

The timing couldn't have been more apposite. During the week in which anti-immigrationists' voices reverberated in Parliament and in the media once again, Birmingham held an event that quietly, intelligently, entertainingly destroyed the myths about one aspect of that debate refugees.

Refugee Week, held at the Midlands Arts Centre last month, was a unique partnership between Save the Children, the Refugee Council and Birmingham's Development Education Centre.

In a city that is sanctuary to 6,000 registered refugees from around the world, the event was an opportunity for teachers and pupils to understand why refugees come to Britain, what they have left behind and what they face when they get here. It also served as a showcase for a large number of resources on development education, of which refugee issues is a part.

Birmingham's Development Education Centre is one of about 50 in the country. It is also probably one of the oldest 21 next year and most active, publishing its own material, written by and for teachers. While varying in size and activities, the aim of all the development education centres is basically the same: "to offer teachers a forum in which to discuss issues to do with multicultural education, gender and race issues, moving towards a global perspective," in the words of Francisco Salazar, who works at Birmingham's centre.

Their range of materials relating to refugee issues runs from key stages 1 to 4 as well as including materials for staff development.

What is clear in looking through these books and packs is that, in the hands of a motivated teacher, any lesson from science to English to religious education can refer to and shed light on aspects of refugees, ethnicities, cultures and nationalities. Start with a Story for key stage 1 is a good example of a cross-curricular resource that is as flexible as it is accessible; a handbook which guides teachers into the possibilities of discussing issues surrounding gender, conflict and race with young children, using stories as a starting point.

Forty Years On (referring to the publication of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is a secondaryfurther education handbook which explores how a variety of resources, including music and newspapers, can be used to look at human rights issues in a global context. For key stages 3 and 4, Can You Be Different? is a teacher's handbook that comes with colour photographs that offers ideas for investigating cultural transformation and community change.

All these books are published by the Birmingham DEC and all deal in part with refugee issues.

One of the most moving, riveting books on display was Sybella Wilkes's One Day We Had to Run, a joint United Nations High Commission for RefugeesSave the Children publication. It is a remarkable collection of teenage refugees' stories. Three young Somalis, Sudanese and Ethiopians talk about their journeys in vivid, sometimes harrowing detail, illustrated with striking photographs and drawings by the young people themselves.

Chol Paul Guet of Sudan tells of his incredible 2,000-kilometre journey on foot from his home in southern Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and finally, to Kakuma, Kenya, where he now lives.

With such a highly-personalised, detailed account ("We were playing at about five o'clock when these people, the soldiers, came. We just ran. We didn't know where we were going to, we just ran"), with the contextualisation of Chol and the other children's lives, stereotypes are eradicated in one fell swoop. What the reader is left with is a clear sense of these young people's humanity, their ordinariness and their wish for a return to normality.

New Faces, New Places Learning About People on the Move is another Save the Children publication. This resource for four to seven year olds incorporates a teacher's handbook and four illustrated first- person stories of children's flights from Kurdistan, Vietnam, Mozambique and life under occupation in a Palestinian camp in Gaza.

They are a mix of dramatic and domestic detail, again showing that even extraordinary events do not obliterate the everyday things that children everywhere like to do, such as play football or run with friends. The teacher's handbook suggests activities, many of them role play, looking at the theme of journeys.

For teaching eight to 13 year olds, Jill Rutter of the Refugee Council has written Refugees. Rutter, who is the foremost authority on refugee education in the country, has put together a compendium of classroom activities, factual information and young refugees' stories from around the world, illustrated with cartoons, drawings and photographs.

After the distortions and hysteria surrounding the European Union immigration laws a few weeks ago, this book should be required reading by MPs, government ministers, journalists and everybody else.

Refugees by Jill Rutter (Pounds 3) is available from the Refugee Council, 3 Bondway, London SW8 1SJ.

New Faces, New Places (Pounds 10.35) and One Day We Had to Run (Pounds 12.99) are available from Save the Children Education Unit, 17 Grove Lane, London SE5 8RD.

Start with a Story (Pounds 5.95), Forty Years On (Pounds 3) and Can You Be Different? (Pounds 12) available from Birmingham Development Education Centre, Gillett Centre, 998 Bristol Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 6LE.

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