Shut in: relating to Anne Frank

27th April 2012 at 01:00
Young people in a secure unit have been leading the learning in a project on prejudice and the Holocaust. Jackie Cosh reports

How did Hitler get people to believe all of these things?"; "Why did the Jews not just change religion?" As 17-year-old Yasmin rehearses her part of guide at the Good Shepherd's Anne Frank exhibition, she is full of questions herself.

Today the young people at the secure unit have opened up the exhibition to staff and their fellow students in preparation for tomorrow, when invited guests will be shown about. The two guides, Yasmin and Nicole, 16, have learned a lot in the past few weeks, but even now the material is setting them thinking.

They question why and how things happened, as well as relating some events to their own lives. Yasmin thinks about what she would do if she had a child and both she and the child were in danger. She admits that, like many of the Jews, she would have done anything to get the child to safety.

The Anne Frank Trust UK is known for the work it does going into schools educating young people about both Anne Frank and the Holocaust. Over the past two years it has also been targeting secure units and prisons, taking its mission statement - "to draw on the power of Anne's life and diary to challenge prejudice, reduce hatred and promote positive attitudes, respect and responsibility to others" - to where it can make the biggest difference.

At the Good Shepherd, as well as learning about Anne Frank's life through DVDs and question-and-answer sessions, some of the young people have been trained as guides.

Heather Boyce, project manager with the Anne Frank Trust UK, says: "Although our aims are to educate about Anne and to elicit positive attitudes towards others, regardless of difference, we also know that guide training and peer education results in increased social and emotional skills, such as self-confidence and resilience. It also provides an opportunity for marginalised, and often very vulnerable, individuals to have contact with wider society."

Neither of today's guides had much knowledge of Anne Frank prior to the project. "I had heard of her," says Yasmin, "and I was interested in the Holocaust after seeing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I've learned a lot and at the question-and-answer session I answered all the questions with good answers."

Nicole came to be one of the guides late on in the programme, after someone else dropped out. Having taken an interest in the story through the work done in class, she was more than happy to step in at the last moment.

"I was impressed by Nicole yesterday," says Ms Boyce. "She came with a certain amount of knowledge, which she applied."

As Nicole takes her first group round, she is initially nervous, but by the second tour she has begun to relax. Instead of reading from her notes, she barely looks at them and adds in bits of information gleaned from the discussions earlier.

But not everyone will be trained to be a guide and the project is set up to allow for different levels of participation, with some simply covering the topic in class over the three weeks and visiting the exhibition. The level of participation is voluntary and means that those who do take part are genuinely interested in the subject.

Rhona McLaughlin, from the Good Shepherd's programmes department, has worked with the young people on the project. She says: "The DVD was good, but the question-and-answer sessions were very good, as they allowed for conversations and some exploring.

"Our girls can't go out and so they can relate to Anne Frank's situation and can empathise with that. The hope is that they will automatically start to question attitudes to prejudice. If you have that sense of injustice for Anne Frank, and for others in the war, then hopefully you will have this for everyone. It also plants the seeds for looking at other issues later on."

Words such as prejudice, identity and discrimination have slowly been introduced with a view to following them up later. But the project has also provided an opportunity to introduce another concept that they have been looking towards for a while - inter-generational learning.

"We took one of our girls who has mobility (is allowed out of the unit) to Ailsa Lodge Nursing Home," explains Ms McLaughlin, "where she interviewed some of the residents who had lived through the Second World War. Other young people were involved in designing the questions and the interview was recorded."

With today's rehearsals over, it only leaves tomorrow, when the girls will show invited guests round, consisting of social workers, board members, Ailsa Lodge residents and staff, and other groups.

Since Ms Boyce first took the story of Anne Frank into a secure unit in January 2009, it has become an increasingly significant part of her work, and last year she worked in three secure units and one young offenders' institute. While much of the work is the same as in mainstream schools, the visits are longer.

"The intervention in prisons and secure units is longer than in mainstream schools for two reasons," she says, "to maximise the impact of our work and to allow for a more comprehensive and gradual coverage of the history in order for guides who are more likely to have had a disrupted education to feel confident in their abilities."

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