The Branch was delighted to be invited back to the Parkdale Montessori School for a fourth consecutive year to present to Ms. Linda Wrigley’s students, aged 8-10. This year, a special request was made to discuss refugees and children’s rights, in light of events prominent in the news. Shane Roberts and myself were blown away by the students’ existing knowledge and interest in the topics and global affairs more broadly. We started off by discussing what it means to be a refugee and the various emergencies that can lead to a refugee crisis. While conflict is often a focus in the media, natural disasters are becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide and have already and will probably lead to more refugee crises. After explaining that refugees often have little-to-no time to pack a bag before fleeing their homes, we asked the students to reflect on what they would miss most about their own lives if they had to suddenly leave. Although, like many of us, they listed various possessions such as toys and books that they would be upset to lose, they were most concerned about having to leave their friends, communities, and family members. This allowed the students to just for a moment, step into the shoes of a refugee fleeing their home. They seemed to understand how scary these situations can be, allowing them to contextualize the severity of a refugee crisis.

Next, Shane led the students through the construction of a model UN refugee camp. It was equipped with a water filtration center, pipes to move water around the camp, tents for housing, a garden, a road to transport supplies, and a headquarters which housed a school, hospital, and cafeteria. (please see the attached photo) This scaled down version of a refugee camp allowed to students to imagine how refugees live once they make it out of their home countries safely. We linked each of the parts of the refugee camp to the various UN entities, such as UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, WHO, etc. that provide the logistics and materials. We tied in the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by explaining that the UN is working towards these goals both during and after refugee crises, to ensure that the rights of all people, including children, are met so that they can live a long and prosperous life. These are complex concepts for students of this age to understand but they were sure to ask questions along the way, helping us to gauge where further explanations and examples were necessary.

We ended the session by asking the students to each draw what they believe refugees need to survive. (please see the attached photo) This allowed them to reflect on what they had learned in a creative way and confirmed for us that they understood the major concepts that were covered. Moreover, each of them identified several of the SDGs in their drawings, signifying their relevance and importance.

These types of engagements with students are extremely important to the Branch because they allow us to reach out to a new generation of future leaders. While a substantial amount of hard work goes in to planning these interactive presentations, the rewards are immense when the students are so engaged and keen to learn more. Children in this day and age are exposed to much more media coverage than generations before. They have questions and concerns about what they are seeing and it is our duty to address these. For example, Ms. Wrigley’s students’ interest in this topic spurred from stories they had seen about the Rohingya refugee crisis. Helping them to understand what it means to be a refugee and how the UN works to help in these situations can help them to make sense of the often alarming accounts they see in the media. One student even asked us how she can donate part of her allowance to the UN to help in refugee crises – if only all world leaders could be so generous. Our spirits were lifted following this engagement because we saw the potential that is already there in our younger generations to bring about positive change in the world. Please contact the Branch if you have a request for a similar engagement with the youth in your community.

To learn more about the work of the UN in refugee crises, please refer to:

http://www.unhcr.org

http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/refugees/

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