Haitian resource fosters empathy with the stricken

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Red Cross teaching aid promotes greater understanding of earthquake victims' plight

In a large crowd, you become separated from your parents. The streets are filled with panicked adults and there is no mobile phone signal. Where your home was, there is only rubble; you cannot recognise once familiar places.

How do you find your family?

This is one of the questions pupils are asked to consider in a series of exercises designed to help them understand the impact of the Haitian earthquake.

The exercises are part of a new online resource produced by the British Red Cross to promote discussion about the situation in the beleaguered Caribbean republic.

Nadia Robinson, who developed the resource, said: "When there's such a big emotional event, it feels crass to respond by saying, 'Here's an all-singing, all-dancing teaching resource.'

"But school is a safe place to express thoughts. We wanted to fill in the story about how resilient people are, about local people helping each other."

Pupils are asked to look at a photo of an injured boy being carried to safety in a wheelbarrow and to contrast the sensitivity of the rescue with the basic equipment available.

Another photo shows a makeshift mobile phone-charging station. Pupils are asked to discuss how Haitians might use their phones in the aftermath of the earthquake and look at the pros and cons of locally run services.

Other sections invite pupils to look at the practical problems faced by Haitian children and teenagers. Pupils use role-play to imagine what it might be like to be separated from their parents and awaiting news of their survival.

"We wanted to help young people see threads of common humanity... to bring things down to a personal level," Ms Robinson said.

"We wanted a one-person level. You're not thinking about the politics of it, or whether the media should be doing this or that. You're looking at a real person in a photo.

"If children can translate Haitian experiences into their own lives, rather than saying, 'Look at those people - aren't they different?', that just helps them get it, really."

Andy Thornton, of the Citizenship Foundation, believes that resources of this type are vital. "On an emotional level, this helps people who might feel vulnerable to natural disasters," he said. "Are they at risk? Is the earth a precarious place?

"And on a social level, it raises global-citizenship questions: why are some people vulnerable while others are not? It becomes a natural trigger for some of those bigger questions."

The resource is intended for use in citizenship and PHSE lessons and assemblies l www.redcross.org.ukhaitiak

Question of humanity: points for discussion

Discuss the uses for a mobile phone after an earthquake, and problems in keeping them working.

- Compare the speed and flexibility of services offered by local businesses with those of outside agencies. What are the pros and cons of locally run services?

- Is it a good idea to take vulnerable children out of an emergency zone and give them a new home overseas?

- Discuss the importance of laws protecting vulnerable people. Are these less important after a disaster?

- Have you ever been separated from friends or family in a large crowd? How did it feel?

- Imagine what it would be like waiting for news of loved ones. How would you trace them?

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