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Inside Out

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There seem to be as many voices proclaiming about the refugee crisis as there are people streaming into Europe. Whether it’s in governments or the workplace, you don’t have to look very far to find opposite viewpoints: give them a home or send them home.

You find it in the classroom too. At the start of a workshop last week, sixteen year-olds were polarised on the question of whether Ireland has a duty to take in refugees. About a third of the class agreed, a third wasn’t sure and a third disagreed, citing our own problems of unemployment and homelessness as reasons not to open the door. An hour later, though, the whole class agreed they should and would welcome refugees.

What was the magic that brought them together? A story. Pupils read the account of a teacher Mohammed who left his wife and young children in Damascus and travelled by bus, foot, sea and train to Germany with the aim of sending for his family to join him. At various points on the journey, the pupils stepped into the scene and became Mohammed, writing his thoughts and feelings at that moment. In a diary entry or email to his wife, they described his hopes and fears, doubts and encouragements along the way.

In the next exercise, every student imagined Mohammed arriving with a group of refugees in their Irish village. Every student came up with ideas to welcome and support, from accommodating them to teaching them English and playing football together.

It’s so easy to hide behind principles and ‘realistic’ constraints, to take ‘practical’ standpoints and make sweeping statements when we’re on the outside looking in. Thank God for stories that blow us out of our Converse hi tops and into the tattered sandals of those who’ve made it from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

 

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