Children Learn What They Live

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Children listening to the story telling

Since history started to be recorded conflicts and violence have forced people to flee and seek asylum in other countries. From among those forced to flee, children are most vulnerable. They miss times to play, learn and build friendships with children their own age. Deprived of the experience of receiving love and attention they witness and experience war, conflict, and violence, often forming memories and trauma that can affect their personality later in life. “If children live with hostility, they learn to fight” writes Dorothy Law in a poem. Accompanying displaced children with often dramatic experiences brings challenges that are not easily solved.

“If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live”

(Dorothy Law Nolte)

“Teacher … hurry here, here! They were pushing me! I don’t like it! “

Suddenly the boy came to the room and took my hand to follow him. I wondered what’s wrong with him. His face indicates that he was very upset. Then he pointed to several children from Somalia playing in the yard. “They pushed me and he hit my head like this. Where are my sandals? Teacher, where are my sandals? “

I asked the children about the whereabouts of Manahil’s sandals and if they would apologize to him. It was a relief to see Manahil shaking hands with them. But after shaking hands, he cursed, looking at them. I was shocked, did not wait long and immediately put my hand on his shoulder leading him back into the house. Such strong emotions. Why is his anger so big? Is this expression of anger typical for children that have experienced violent conflict? If so, how do I have to treat him?

In the classroom, there are many children with diverse backgrounds from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Palestine and Somalia. They all come together on the basic terms of respect for each other to learn. After all, children are still children. Different background, family situation, and the experience of violence in their home countries leads to a variety of behavior.

Through various activities, we learn about values in our life with children of diverse experience. There are times when we sit down together to share and explore what it means to respect others as well as respect for their belongings. Learning and practicing values with each other is a long process that need to be encouraged through a concrete examples at all times. We exist as a friend who provides a space for children to express themselves, give confidence and support them. To children, we also need to be clear and sometimes strict without offending them, in order to show when something is wrong and needs to be solved without giving the impression of patronizing and blaming them. We also learn to honestly praise the virtues that have been demonstrated by the children and explain in an easy way what to do or not to do. Really, this is not easy and requires patience taking step by step. Children are children and not small adults.

By bringing love and peace as an experience in the world of children I hope the values of love, peace, respect, and compassion can prepare them for a better life withstanding abusive words and xenophobia. Hopefully in the future, wars will cease with the birth of new souls and personalities.

One day in English class a child suddenly kissed my cheek and said “This is my friend” pointing to me. I was surprised and thrilled. I hope that expression is a sign of hope for a more better and friendlier future for refugee children.

Pius Marmanta

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