What questions would the children ask their peers in a refugee camp?
By Karolina Domagalska
What would you do when a kid asks you what war is? Who are the refugees? And what about Syria, Iraq, Yemen? Would you answer these questions, or would you just let them go? Answers are difficult, we tend not to hear all those news, you know, about another migrant crisis, about another boat on the Mediterranean Sea with all the victims. And if, when you talk to them, what would you say? “They have escaped war, their home have turned into dust, parents are gone, no longer here, and there’s all that trauma, nowhere to come back to. A refugee camp? And what about school?”. That’s the truth, but isn’t there something beyond it? What if we give the kids a say? Just to find out what they really do care for? To let all those little refugees speak on their own.
Those were the questions that came to my mind whilst being at the Silence Hate European Media Camp in the spring of 2018 in London. These workshops were to create some new narrations (both in terms of journalism and social campaigns) addressed at the hate speech: to overcome it, especially when migrants and refugees are considered. Letting kids speak seemed something natural and obvious in this context.
That kids want and know how to get involved in such actions became quite clear to us during the “In the Name of” campaign of 2017. An eight-year-old Ignaś once asked his mother: “Why there’s a war in Syria and how can we help people who are living there?” Agata Grabowska, his mother, said: “You can give your pocket money for the charity and make an action at your school”. And that was the beginning. They gathered together with a group of parents and made posters. Just like this one:
“Antoś and Ignaś would like to help children from Ghuta and some other Syrian cities. But Ignaś is only 8 years old, while Antoś is just 4. They are too small to do anything on their own, so it’s our, that is the adults, turn to help. In their name.” This watchword evoked a great response and more and more schools joined the project; there were also refugee-oriented workshops organised, and as a result more than 200.000 złotys have been transferred to the account of the Polish Humanitarian Action.
A year later I proposed the same group to make an experiment. Let’s get together, record questions that children involved in the action would like to ask the kids that live in refugee camps, let’s make some souvenirs I will hand out the kids in need in Greece. Then I will return with answers to the questions asked. Children turned out happy to do so and they wanted to continue the action, but they did not know how to do that.
The most common question was: What are your dreams? But there were other questions: What is your favourite colour? How it is like to live in a container? People from the Lighthouse Relief – an organisation that carries out classes in the Ritsona camp, where we went with the photographer Alina Gajdamowicz – advised us against asking the latter. “We don’t want the children to reflect on the very issue that something is wrong about where and how they are living” – said Kylen, the project coordinator.
It’s amazing how quickly a question, the one that seemed neutral from the perspective of the Warsaw’s Żoliborz workshop, gained a different meaning. Of course, there’s no sense to ask how is it like to live in a container, especially as that container is somebody’s home for months, or even years. A provisional one, but anyway a home. And we came there for four days, not for four months. Do we have a right to evoke negative memories just because we want to collect some data and then go away, back to the safety of our own homes?
Lighthouse Relief – a Swedish organization founded during the 2015 crisis – works with refugees at the Lesbos island and tries to activate the youth in Ritsona. Four days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.) the LR workers and volunteers invite children to colourful containers, where they can lie down on pillows, play with blocks and board games, read books, do jigsaws and play their favourite UNO playing cards.
For the first two days me and Alina were volunteers, we helped to take care of children, that is to play with them. The first hour was a kind of free time, kids could do whatever they wanted: to draw with chalk on a black wall, to build a house, etc. But UNO was what made the noise. Volunteers spoke in English, so the kids had a chance to learn it. The rules were very simple: you could play whenever you wanted, you could leave whenever you wanted, but no aggression was accepted. After an hour, Leah intoned a song that went like this: “clean up, clean up, everybody clean up” and the kids started to sing it along with her, tidying up the premises. Then we went out, children sat at small tables, and the workshop-based part of the classes began. That day we were making an octopus out of a piece of a paper plate and some cotton.
The last day, we did our workshop in one of the containers. Children were given frames with fluid glitter and drawings made by their peers in Poland (please take a look at the photos) and then we screened a short movie with kids from Poland speaking Arabic. Unfortunately, none of the participants of our workshop in Ritsona understood a word, just because they were Kurds and they only spoke Kurmanji. Anyway, they also filled the glitter frames that we planned to take with us back to Poland. There was a lot of fun mixed with a little bit of stress when we started to record what was going on.
Children. What they need the most is their childhood.
To watch the video of the project, click here.