Report on ARCA – FRRM’s first educational programme for children on the topics of asylum and human rights
by Lucia Mădălina ROMAN
Starting late April 2012, ARCA – Romanian Forum for Refugees and Migrants (ARCA – FRRM) expanded its array of activities in support of migrants and refugees’ integration into the Romanian society with a two months pilot project aimed at raising awareness about our beneficiaries’ situation among the Romanian youth; in particular, to foster the feeling of tolerance and respect towards diversity. Our implementation partner was School no 177 “Nicolae Grigorescu” represented by Ms. Emilia Roșu – the school’s coordinator for projects and programmes. For eight sessions, our facilitators worked with a class of 24 pupils aged 12, with a mixed social-economic background, teaching them about notions such as persecution or asylum with the use of non-formal education tools.
This report consists of short descriptions of each session, with details on the topics discussed and the methods that were used. The course was coordinated by Lucia Mădălina Roman from ARCA’s staff, and implemented with the help of its volunteers, Andreea Anastasiu and Larisa Pătrascu.
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Introduction –April 26th2012
After a first round of exercises though which everybody got to know each other and agree on the working rules, the participants were introduced to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the simplified version for children. Working in groups, they were instructed to rank the rights they had been assigned according to the importance they attach to them. The resulted hierarchies had on the first rank the right to life, the right to be free of slavery, the right to education, the right to a social service system and the right to be treated as a human being. Each of the groups presented their hierarchies to the others classmates, so that, at the end of the day, every child got to know all the provisions of this important document.
Diversity and tolerance – what do these values mean and how can we foster them? – May 3rd 2012
On this second session, we zoomed on these two specific values we wanted the children to be better acquainted with, considering both the mixed social background of the group, and the overall objective of the programme. The chosen method relied mainly on using movie clips created during previous projects coordinated by ARCA as a basis for discussion among the children. The children got to express their views and debate on the topic, exercising their public speaking skills. By the end of the day, they all agreed that we should show tolerance and respect towards others, in spite of their distinctive traits for at least one reason – diversity makes our world more beautiful and interesting, and not monotonous as it could be if everybody was alike.
What does it mean to be a refugee? – May 10th 2012
Using the real story of Jacob, a child from South Sudan, that was forced to flee his war-thorn country, the children were introduced to the notions of persecution, serious threat and asylum. They found out about the reasons that make someone leave and how the road to safety is life-threatening in itself. The children related easily to the character and imagined how they would react if placed in similar circumstances, where they would be deprived from what they need most to feel happy, healthy and secure: their home, family and friends, unrestrained access to school and free practice of their religion.
Getting on the other side – May 17th 2012
Through a very dynamic exercise, the children got to experience the flight of the refugees. Storytelling helped depicting the plight of asylum seekers;the children easily immersed in the atmosphere. The main part of the exercise consisted of a roleplay: all the 24 children played the roles of asylum seekers trying to cross a closed, highly guarded border.
Though the chidren did not played their part all the way through, they showed throughout the entire activity the feeling of nervousness and excitement. During the reflection time, they shared their thoughts and impression, some insights being surprinsigly deep. The children adressed the difficulty of leaving one’s country and leaving your family behind, in unsafe conditions; the hard decisions one has to take when crossing the border, sometimes illegaly and with the aid of smugglers and mentioned as well the problems a person seeking asylum would face on the other side, from finding a new house to fighting discrimination.
How do I prove you I am a refugee? – May 31 2012
In this session, the children learnt how a person is granted asylum. They were explain that not every person qualifies for receiving protection and that the recipient state has to inquire every person seeking protection about the reason that made him leave his or her country. This was exemplified through a role play, with one facilitator being the asylum seeker and the other the state official. Afterwards, the children themselves had the opportunity to play those parts, using the set of questions prepared by the organisers. Building on the knowledge acquired during previous sessions, the interviews went very well, each “asylum claimant” confronting easily the “officials” with sharp and consistent answers, while the former demonstrated insight in the way they conducted the interview and adjusted the scenario. During the reflection period, the children emphasised that the main difficulties they had experienced as “asylum claimants” were to remain calm during the interview and to make sure that they answers would be clear and not misinterpreted.
The making of the “Refugee Magic Carpet” – June 7th and 14th
In the remaining two classes of the pilot programme, the children’s efforts focused on producing the main output of the programme: a series of drawings that would reflect all the information and experience they had acquired during previous meetings. Divided into four groups, they addressed the following themes: the reasons why someone leaves his or her country, the road to safety, how difficult it is to receive the refugee status and what do the refugees need to enjoy a life in dignity and safety.
Each of the drawings represents a child’s reflection on the situation of refugees the world over, children or adults alike, and shows a deep and subtle understanding of a topic still difficult for their age. Their combined effort resulted in what we decided to call as The Magic Carpet – an artwork that aims at making people more aware about what refugees are and go through and calls on the viewer to become more active in supporting their quest for a life in safety and dignity.
Official closing ceremony – June 20th – International Refugee Day
On the 20th of June, ARCA – FRRM had two reasons to celebrate: the International Refugee Day and the closing session of the first edition of its education programme for children about refugees and asylum seekers. We decided to mark the moment through a ceremony were both the children and their families were invited.
After the opening remarks of the programme coordinator, the children reviewed some of the best moments of the programme, followed by the viewing of a presentation clip compiling the most representative pictures and movies shot during our sessions.
Finally, they presented to the audience Magic Carpet they had created, explaining the message behind it.
Throughout the event, they have demonstrated not only the knowledge and the skills they had acquired, but also raised the awareness of their public – the family and friends they had invited – about the situation of refugees in Romania and over the world.
The ceremony ended with awarding every child a certificate recognising his active participation in the programme. The closing remarks of ARCA’s executive president – Mr. Răzvan Samoilă and of Ms. Roșu, emphasised the benefits this pilot education programme brought to the children in terms of personal development, especially in making them more aware of the realities of the modern world. The positive outcomes of this experiment encourages ARCA-FRRM to continue and expand its educational activities from fall 2012.
Lucia Mădălina ROMANProject Assistant
ARCA – Forumul Român pentru Refugiaţi şi Migranţi