Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Escape To Safety

This morning I was invited to visit The Norton School for the opening of the exhibition “Escape to Safety”. This is a multi-media exhibition demonstrating the experience of people seeking asylum in the UK. It takes students on a journey from a war-torn part of the world to Heathrow and eventually to a detention centre. Using an MP3 player and headphones each person moves through the exhibition which is set up in a large trailer. Hearing the stories and seeing the pictures and other items in such confined spaces really brings home some of the desperation which drives people to put up with such terrible deprivation in order to seek freedom and basic human rights.
A story from Afghanistan reminded me of the students I taught who’d fled that same regime for those same reasons. Nowrooz, whose house was flattened in a bombing raid while he was at work and who had to leave, assuming that his wife was buried under the ruins. And then I started to think of others and wonder where they are now. The Kosovan whose name I won’t print here who just wanted to be able to go back and help rebuild his country but couldn’t because his village wasn’t there any more and his friends and family had scattered to the four winds. The young man from Sierra Leone who couldn’t go to school because of the fighting but whose friend risked his life to teach him what he had learned before the school closed. The very first refugee I met from Afghanistan who’d paid a fortune to be transported to London with his family only to be deposited in Kiev and told that he was in London. The Turkish Kurd whose wife was killed in a bombing raid on their village and who was shot as he tried to locate her body.
I could go on and on, each story an individual tale of pain and suffering, but each person sustained by a belief that England is the land of the free, the land of safety where people are kind and tolerant. And then there’s the fresh pain when it becomes obvious that the truth isn’t quite as rosy as that. When immigration officers don’t or won’t make allowances for the trauma someone has suffered. When newspapers print untrue “facts” and people read and believe them.
Today’s exhibition reminded me of why I enjoyed teaching those refugees and asylum seekers English language and culture. It reminded me that there are times when I don’t do enough to support now that I’m not teaching and meeting them every day. And it made me determined to do more to support those who do have the time and the skills to give practical help.
Thank you Hilaire and RAPT for inviting me. Well done Norton School for spending the time to help students to understand the issues. Egglescliffe school did the same in the spring. Two different schools serving very different communities but both trying to help their young people to be better global citizens.

No comments: