Thanks to Kirklees Councils Cohesion Team working alongside Kim Strickson and colleagues this fantastic programme has taken place and plans and developments are well underway for 2021!
The information below has been extracted from page 3 and 4, of the: SUMMER TERM- EDITION 3, SCHOOLS OF SANCTUARY NEWSLETTER
Linking Programme in Kirklees, West Yorkshire
In Kirklees, West Yorkshire, a team of 3 education and community heritage specialists lead a school linking programme with over 30 schools called Carry My Story. Following a process of exploring individual and group identity, the focus for this work has been the collecting and exchanging of personal and local stories. As a pupil said, “You don’t know who people really are or what they go through in their lives until you take time to listen to their stories.”
In 2017, as a pilot project, we introduced a group of refugees and asylum seekers to a school in Huddersfield, to share their life experiences and exchange stories with pupils. It was very powerful and elicited great empathy from the children, so that they wanted to go home and talk to their parents and families about the amazing, resilient and gifted people they had met. The children were challenging preconceptions and negative stereotypes even within their family networks
Since then, with the generous help and support of Kirklees Council as well as The Linking Network who fund school linking nationally, every school group has met a refugee or asylum seeker and built a relationship with them. It begins with each person talking to our team about their story, making choices about what they would like to share, decorating a story box and making a tiny book to hold their story. These beautiful boxes are posted to schools and pupils have the pleasure of receiving a parcel and unwrapping the treasure inside.
The children and young people “carry” the story for some weeks with their teachers, collating questions they want to ask, researching the country and culture of the person whose story is shared.
The sanctuary seekers visit the school and pupils are able to ask pre-prepared questions, the depth of which continues to amaze us:
“What gave you the strength to leave your country?”
“How have you had to change your identity to live here?”
“How do you stay happy without your family and friends around you?”
Children are excited to discover that amongst our group of sanctuary seekers is a biochemist, a chemical engineer, an international footballer, an expert beekeeper, teachers, musicians, a computer scientist, a vet, and an industrial manager.
Following the visits, the children begin to form a creative response to the shared stories that can be presented to parents and fellow pupils in schools during assemblies and with a wider audience at finale events. It is a time of creativity, pride, confidence, empathy, understanding, encouragement and real love. One refugee said “Today we feel part of a big family. You have helped to create out first happy memory in the UK.”
In spite of the challenges of the past year due to the pandemic, the linking programme is continuing with 32 schools signed up and story boxes being sent out, as I write this article. Some schools are interested in becoming Schools of Sanctuary and we are working with Sanctuary Kirklees to make sure they are supported throughout this process. The benefits of the project have exceeded all expectations. At a time when our communities, our country and indeed the world seem ever more divisive and fractured, this work is more important and relevant than ever!
by Kim Strickson, Monica Deb and
Carry My Story Team
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