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Pupils talk about seeking sanctuary

A new project welcomes refugees and asylum seekers to Sheffield schools, helping children learn about their lives and what it's like to seek asylum far from home.

Riad and Gad

Riad and Gad.

I want to help kids learn about what is going on in the world. Most people come here for a reason and can’t stay in their own country. I want people to understand that.

Gad

We read about refugees in the newspaper, fundraise on their behalf, but rarely do we ever get to speak with someone who has come to the UK seeking sanctuary.

A project linking up asylum seekers, refugees and schools gives children the opportunity to make connections and understand why people leave their homes and families. For the last three years, Hunters Bar School has welcomed asylum seekers and refugees into their classrooms to talk about their home countries, their journeys to the UK and how they have settled in Sheffield.

"It’s not just been a one-off activity, the children study all about refugees as part of our theme when exploring whether or not everyone is equal on Earth, said Year 5 teacher Mr Goodhand. They learn about what causes people to have to leave their homes and the journeys these people then undertake to find safety."

After pupils have learned about why people seek asylum, they have the opportunity to ask questions to a group of refugees about their home country, their journey and how they have settled in Sheffield. "Having a visit, albeit virtually this year, really helps with pupils understanding and makes the learning about refugees so much more concrete and relatable," said Mr Bainbridge, another Year 5 teacher.

Both Riad and Gad’s journeys took them from Sudan through the Sahara desert, Libya and across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Care is taken to make sure that the conversation is age appropriate. “I don’t have a problem talking about my journey – it’s just the reality of my life – but I don’t want to upset the children by talking about the difficult times,” says Riad.

Welcomehome2

The banners made by children to welcome refugees to Sheffield.

"Having refugees visit was useful because we got to know what it was like to be a refugee and all their stories,” says Tegan, a pupil in Year 5. “It was also helpful because it helped us with our learning so that we could actually feel what it is like to be a refugee."

The visit isn’t enjoyed only by the children, but by the speakers too. Many of the refugees come from multi-generational homes where they would spend a lot of time with younger family members who they miss. The talks give them a chance to chat to the younger generation and tell their stories about growing up in their home country. Gad says “I love spending time with kids but it’s very rare that I have the chance since I left Sudan. I used to share my room with my little nephew.”

Following these conversations the children raised money for ASSIST, a charity that supports destitute asylum seekers in Sheffield. This year they have created ‘Welcome to Sheffield’ posters that have been put up in asylum seeker houses through Mears, the accommodation provider in Sheffield.

"The children have been really engaged in the learning about refugees and being able to speak with people who have lived these experiences is invaluable," said teacher Mr Adebola. The interaction is simple, but we hope the impact is long-lasting.

The refugees welcome the chance to speak – “I want children to learn that you should help other people so that those that make the journey in the future don’t have to suffer like I did,” said Riad.

Learn more

This work is coordinated by partner organisations including Migration Matters, City of Sanctuary Sheffield and Cohesion Sheffield. For more information, or to get involved, please contact pughkaty@gmail.com.

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