Make yourself at home
Tom Deveson looks at a pack that encourages children to welcome immigrants and asylum seekers
It's easy to think of Colchester and Norwich simply as historic towns, complete with ancient castles. The 21st century, however, is transforming them, as new inhabitants, seeking refuge from distant wars and crises, bring with them reminders of the political and economic forces that shape the contemporary world.
Moving Here, produced by the Greenwich and Lewisham Young People's Theatre on commission from the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA), is a positive and vivid response to that change. Key stage 2 children in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, for whom this pack was initially produced, will soon become citizens and voters. Moving Here will help them to take on their responsibilities thoughtfully and generously.
Its central feature is a film on DVD, presented and narrated by children, and ranging widely in mood and method. A quiz clarifies the distinctions between words such as "asylum seeker", "refugee" and "immigrant". The theme is highlighted by the story of Alan, a young Kurdish man who escaped Saddam Hussein's death squads by hiding in a lorry and being smuggled into Britain. He talks of his escape, of sleeping rough at Christmas and of his eventual arrival in Ipswich.
There are many other kinds of useful material on the DVD, but the quiz and Alan's powerful narrative are likely to have the greatest impact. Emily Hunka from the theatre, who wrote the 60-page teacher's guide accompanying the DVD, praises the EERA, both for its foresight in identifying the need for resources such as this and in encouraging open-minded partners.
"We didn't have a blueprint for the film," she says. "We wanted the children to be directly involved throughout, to make sure that their concerns and questions would shape what we produced."
She stresses the interactive nature of the pack. "There are places to stop the film - to discuss and argue. We don't want to tell the children what to think, but to help clarify their thinking."
There are dozens of good ideas for lessons in the guide. Some will enable children to understand why people come to live in Britain and how it might feel to leave home and try to make a new one. This is seen as part of a long and unfinished story, stretching from the time of the Beaker People, about 4,500 years ago, to a future that no one can predict with certainty.
There is a broad exploration of the great variety of contributions made by migrants to the culture they have joined: flowers as well as castles from Normandy; ice cream and pizza from Italy; doctors, nurses and midwives from all over the world. Marx, Freud and Lomana LuaLua make an intriguing trio of refugees.
Background information on topics such as Kurdistan gives depth to Alan's biography. Much of the work suggested, including ideas for drama and role play, will lead children to think about the connections between language and values as they consider moral, political and economic arguments. One method involves looking at anonymous photographs and speculating about what the person is like: what kind of place do they live in? Do they have any family?
This examination of unconscious assumptions leads naturally into the Prejudice Busting Game, in which players construct counter-arguments to a range of seemingly authoritative statements. There is a risk here that the busting of the prejudice might happen too quickly to be convincing.
Teachers will need to ensure that sincerely held views, however intolerant and dogmatic, are allowed a hearing.
The strength of the pack lies in its foundation in lived experience. Emily Hunka recognises that the huge and often confused current debate on multiculturalism won't go away. Yet she is sure from her work with children in pilot schools that "everyone understands that people need to feel that they belong, that being made welcome and feeling loss are emotions we can all share".
That's why the pack can be effective not just in eastern England, but in any school, in any town.