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‘A Refugee Like Me’ – teaching empathy to the next generation

Ellie Buckley, Wonder Education Intern

Over the last few years the world has been shaken by targeted attacks on prominent cities such as Paris, New York and London.

The response to these threats, however, has in recent times sought to blame a distinct group of vulnerable individuals who experience life-threatening struggles on a daily basis: refugees. Media coverage in particular has painted refugees in a negative light, suggesting they are somehow dangerous, or a burden on the countries in which they seek refuge.  

Meanwhile, ‘the worst humanitarian crisis of our time’ continues in Syria, and the world is facing the largest movement of refugees since World War II. Even for those granted asylum in Europe, their struggle is far from over. Refugees often face discrimination and significant barriers to education and integration. 

Amid such complex and emotional issues, it can be hard to know where solutions can start. But by better understanding the everyday experiences of refugees, people within our country and other host communities can help refugees and asylum seekers integrate, and better direct resources to assist them. .

“A Refugee Like Me”, a Wonder project, aimed to achieve this by engaging young people and their refugee counterparts across Europe in influencing decision-makers to help welcome refugees across schools, universities and communities.

As a result of the project’s success, Wonder now offers workshops to engage younger students in the same issues, and I have been happy to be part this. The “Refugee Like Me” school workshops use interactive presentations and discussions to build solidarity among young people in the UK, in the hope of increasing their understanding and empathy towards those less fortunate than themselves. The workshops involve a brief introduction, outlining the definitions that the UN and other governing bodies place on refugees and migrants, distinguishing their differing characteristics. We then present a scenario which puts the pupils in the shoes of a refugee:

“Imagine there’s been a massive storm and flood. It’s left your home, neighbourhood, and school flooded and many buildings could collapse. The water damage has cut off the electricity supply and your family only has enough food to last 1 to 2 days. It is difficult to get around as the roads are flooded or covered in metres of mud and sewage left by landslides and sewer overflows. Trees have fallen on the train lines around the city.

“Parts of Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Newcastle as well as Somerset, Norfolk and Cumbria are all completely flooded, including the Houses of Parliament.”

From there, pupils get into groups to discuss what they would do next, how they would feel, and who they would ask for help. This allows students to respond to each other and develop their arguments together, before discussing with the rest of the class. During this exercise, the children learn a little about themselves, their peers, as well as the experiences of individuals who have been forced to leave their homes. The story then develops, and the pupils have to respond accordingly, highlighting to the children how situations experienced by refugees can be unpredictable and challenging. 

Our recent workshops at the Cumberland School in Newham were a great success. The children, aged between 13 and 14, were highly engaged and came up with some fantastic discussion topics. Some suggested they would move to foreign countries to live with family members, while others came up with innovative ways to make a livelihood in France with their friends. When asked what they felt they had learnt from the sessions, they all believed they could better relate to refugees within their area, and wanted to learn more from them and speak to them socially. When asked how they could help, one of the pupils suggested organising an event at the school where they could meet local refugees and allow them to feel more comfortable integrating with the community. This is the exact response we had been hoping for, and it was fantastic to see the children so engaged!

If you would like to book a refugee workshop at your school, please contact