Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Packing my Heart : Refugee Week 2016

June 20th-26th is Refugee Week and in this time of the EU Referendum and the hot topic of the day : immigration
the theme of this year's Refugee Week is :-


We live in uncertain times with random shootings in our cities and the biggest movement of people from their homes since WW2. It is hard to be divorced from the world in the era of 24/7 news.I heard about the shootings in a Tel Aviv bar which left four people dead last week within an hour of it happening and then discovered my brother-in-law was in the area thirty minutes earlier. I was in Tel Aviv only last month. How many of you I wonder have visited Orlando and are thinking of all those people shot and wounded this week in a night club?

In the middle of all of these events on our planet, what should the message be to our children? This year I have been invited to run workshops in several schools as they begin their preparations for Refugee Week and as I move from school to school I meet serious, hard working students whose families, like mine, come from all over the world. My grandparents left Poland to escape the pogroms against the Jews 150 years ago. Therefore I have some understanding of why people need to leave their homes and seek asylum - seek a place of safety.

My work in schools focuses on my book HIDDEN which is about two teens who pull an asylum seeker from the sea and hide him to save him from being deported. 

Although the book came out in 2011 it is actually being acted out along our coast lines this summer as asylum seekers attempt the dangerous Channel crossing in open dinghies. In the past two years there has been increasing interest in HIDDEN because unfortunately the story has become so topical. I have mixed feelings - excited about the interest in my writing - disturbed about the souls tossing on the sea and the horrific numbers drowning.

The Welcome theme of Refugee Week this year comes at an important time when we are all considering the implications of immigration to our country and around the world, for whatever reason. I don't think it is wrong to be concerned about how many people the UK can reasonably absorb each year. However, I do believe that when people arrive and enter our country they should feel WELCOME and should be supported to settle here. 

In my workshops I have asked the students to put themselves in the shoes of an asylum seeker. They have done short pieces of writing about what they would pack if they had to leave at a moment's notice and what they would pack if they had more time. We have also written about what they would miss. Some students in Woodside High, Tottenham, said that they would miss takeaway chicken and chips and Wood Green Shopping Centre. All the students said they would miss family and friends.

In the photo above I am reading a poem by Noor, an unaccompanied teenager from Somalia. She wrote a poem about packing her suitcase to leave.

My Suitcase by Noor 

In my pink and black suitcase
I put my black dress
I put in a story, a romance book with a pink cover.
I put my mascara and pink lipstick.
I put the Love that looks like butterflies in the garden.
I don't put anger because it makes me sad.
I put my family photo, it's a colour photo when my family
was happy and everybody was smiling
In the photo I have two brothers and one sister and my parents.

The students wrote their own poems about packing to leave England forever.
Leah, Year 8, wrote :-

My hope is that with this work with HIDDEN;  encouraging the students to engage in discussion and creative writing, I can contribute in some small way to helping our new immigrants feel Welcome, whether they are asylum seekers, have been granted refugee status or are migrants who come  here to work. They need to be given the opportunity to prove that they can settle in our wonderful country and make their contribution like my family did.



Sue Purkiss said...

The work you do is terrific, Miriam, and I'm sure it must help for the children to hear of your own family's experience.

Lynne Benton said...

Well said, Miriam - if only more people here would think about how they would feel if they were suddenly forced to leave their own country, friends and family! And how important it would be to feel welcome somewhere else. You are doing a grand thing inspiring those who have been through it to write about their feelings, as well as explaining it to children who may or may not have ever thought about it. Maybe some of them will explain it to their parents too!

Nick Green said...

The UK isn't an area of land - it's an idea, a ideal, a set of values and principles that are so attractive, people want to share them. And if we start denying our common humanity with people from outside, then we really will lose our nation - not from without, but from within.

Penny Dolan said...

Inspiring sessions! Thanks for sharing your - and your students - work.

Anne Booth said...

Wonderful. What great work - and what great books you write.