Finding Home: Raising awareness of the experiences of refugees through participatory theatre in primary schools

PIF event 5 December 2017

Dr Adriana Sandu introduced us to her project Finding Home: Raising awareness of the experiences of refugees through theatre in primary schools. As a City of Sanctuary, Cambridge is working to become a welcoming place of safety for all those escaping violence and persecution.  Within the Schools of Sanctuary stream, this project responds to reports from refugee and migrant parents that their children are being bullied and teased at school and suffer from loneliness and social isolation. Anglia Ruskin University will collaborate with the Cambridge Ethnic Community Forum, an umbrella organisation supporting the City of Sanctuary movement, and Acting Now, a social theatre company aiming to transform lives through theatre production, to develop and pilot a theatre project in a primary school to raise awareness about what it is to be a refugee child, arrive in a new environment and ‘find home’.

Using forum theatre (Boal, 1985), the project intends to create a space for talking about the experience of a refugee boy in joining a new school. A group of professional actors will first set the scene, gradually involving the children to participate and act out how the scene could finish in order to help the boy ‘find home’. This creative participatory method puts the children in the shoes of the boy and encourages empathy as well as reflection on their own actions. To encourage further critical reflection and ensure everyone has the chance to participate, children will also have the opportunity to draw different scenarios and solutions to change the negative experiences of the boy. Finally, focus group discussions will explore issues around finding a new home, while feeling safe.  This has the potential to promote inclusion and social cohesion in the classroom, not only for refugee children but for everyone in the context of increasing diversity.

A lively discussion included issues around the negative effects that forum theatre can have on people, as it is the job of the antagonist played by a professional actor to put barriers in the way the solutions that participants develop through role play. This highlights the importance of researchers working with partners such as Acting Now, who are experienced in using and adapting these methods for working with children and young people to ensure it is a positive experience that works towards positive action. The question of evaluation was also raised, with possibilities of holding a session beforehand covering abstract ideas around refugees and gaining a sense of how the children feel about newcomers to the class. This can then be monitored throughout the project as the theatre technique allows children to build empathy and develop their voice to express what they think about the issue, and then reflect on at the end through drawing – but also potentially through other creative methods such as story boards, posters or poems.

Finally, the group discussed how refugees are portrayed through the project in terms of representing positive experiences, resilience and agency. There are examples of this in children’s literature, and it would also be interesting to talk to refugee children themselves about their own experiences. This may be taken forward in the next phase of the project, which we hope to hear about soon!

Author: annadadswell

As a Research Fellow in Social Work and Social Policy at Anglia Ruskin University, I manage the Participatory Research Blog. Please feel free to contact me with questions and suggestions at anna.dadswell@anglia.ac.uk.

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