Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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1947 This suitcase carried belongings of mother and her four young children to Canada to start a new chapter of life

It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015.  Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis.  Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety.  They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.

This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.

Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board.  Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts.  Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home.  They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style.  Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.


#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

   Welcoming Syrian Refugees

 

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I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.

The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students.  This year has been magic.  One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students.  I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a  fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.

I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause.  My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia.  She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.

I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life.  At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase.  Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees.  Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area.  The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.