Kirklees Linking Programme follows a programme of linking called Carry My Story; this is a cohesion project working within schools and their neighbourhoods, with the aim of linking schools, parents and refugees through the exchange of personal and community stories. The programme has been running since 2006 and is going from strength to strength. In 2019/20, we were excited to see engagement increase to a fabulous 54 classes from 35 schools; over 1,500 children even in the turbulent 2020-21 academic year we have had a really positive response from schools, engaging 52 classes. We are really looking forward to continuing our Linking in 2021-22 and welcoming more schools onboard. There is a real buzz around this programme, linking members of the community of all ages from across the area. We have been able to continue some of the exchanges, in a socially distanced way, even through lockdown. Our programme was recently mentioned in the Schools of Sanctuary newsletter, which you can read about here.
Each school links together with one another and/or a local community group. Many involve parents or family members throughout the programme. Schools and their partners explore personal stories of identity which are related to the 4 Key Questions. These stories are exchanged with their linked partners and some are selected for interpretation. So schools are quite literally carrying one another’s stories and the stories of refugees, thinking about them, learning from them and giving them back in the form of a song, dance, play, artwork or presentation. You can a short film inspired by Abed’s story here . These interpretations are usually shared at a final celebratory event involving all schools, parents and refugees.
During the lockdown, Wellhouse Junior School continued to make use of their Carry My Story story jar provided by refugee Ryad Alsous as part of their home schooling programme and Zoom sessions. When a few of the children returned to school recently, the assistant head agreed to welcome Ryad and Kim to their school garden so that the children could talk to him and ask him questions in person.
The children asked Ryad about his life in Syria, the impact of the conflict and questions about The Buzz Project and his knowledge of bees. Ryad and Kim were the very first visitors to the school since Lockdown. Everyone enjoyed a taste of honey and honey cakes. Matthew Bradbury, Assistant Head at Wellhouse, shared examples of the children’s work for Refugee Week and Carry My Story. The children have been looking at the Refugee Week website and did some work on imaging how difficult life would be without essentials like money, school, friendship, bees!
Thomas, one of the pupils said “I think I will tell my mum about Ryad, and she is likely to share it with people at work, and so more people will know about his amazing story. I can’t believe you were scared in Syria, in all the bombing, had a hard journey and then were successful with bees in this country.”
Kim was also handed a wonderful scrapbook containing identity work from the pupils and from their partner school – Spring Grove JI&N – in Huddersfield.
We had not envisaged that we would be able to continue the linking work in this way before the end of term. We are hoping a few more schools will follow suit. For Wellhouse children and their link partners the questions Who am I? and Who are we? are more relevant than ever!
Ashbrow School, Huddersfield, also welcomed Hussain and his wife Dilxwaz to their beautiful school garden where they could meet a small group of children at a safe distance. Hussain and Dilxwaz are from Kurdish Iraq where the family was persecuted and threatened because of Hussian’s Kurdish music. He plays the Saz and was a teacher in Iraq as well as a performer.
The children asked questions about Hussain’s music and the saz, their life in Kurdish Iraq, what they miss, the significance of the textile patterns on their story box, Kurdish food, how life is for them in the UK.
Comments from the children at the end of the session included “I’ve learned that your country is split into 4 and is often not on a map. That must be difficult for you and your identity.”
“It’s important to hear stories like this so we learn about each other’s cultures and understand each other better.”
Hussain played the saz (Kurdish lute) for them and the children presented a framed picture to the couple as a thank you gift.
He said “It is so wonderful to meet the children here. We haven’t been anywhere for so long and we are forgetting the English we had learned.”
This coming year, we are hoping to continue the process that was interrupted by Covid-19 and find innovative ways of keeping schools, parents and refugees connected in a spirit of friendship and understanding.
Our celebration events in the past have been quite something! Four hundred children from the participating schools attended this amazing celebratory event together with over 150 adults made up of staff, family members, community reps, refugees and general visitors. The event took place on two floors of a wedding venue where schools set up story stalls covered in suitcases, boxes, art work, food and artefacts. Children were able to visit one another’s installations and throughout the day all presented and performed aspects of their work, including poetry, dance, shadow theatre, song and sharing research. We were successful in securing a grant from West Yorkshire Police Commissioner’s Fund (Safer Communities) for the final event.
Case study: Carlton Junior, Infant and Nursery School with Old Bank JIN School
Carlton JIN School which has an intake largely drawn from the South Asian community linked with Old Bank JIN School which has a largely White British intake.
The children met on 5 occasions which allowed them to explore their identities together and share surprising and inspiring stories from adult members of both communities. As part of this process, children from Old Bank JIN school worked with their parents on collecting information about themselves and their families to answer the ‘Who am I?’ question. For many of the children, it was the first time that their parents had engaged in any activity within the school. Every single child in the class had a family member with them.
At Carlton JIN school, the children invited members of their local community into school to speak about their experiences of living in Malawi and Pakistan and how it affected their identity. The children shared these stories with their partners as well as cooking dishes together from their countries of origin. At the final event, it was wonderful to see the children from Old Bank, sharing the African story having carried it. Children from Carlton shared stories from Old Bank in the form of poetry, art and music.
As facilitators of the Linking Programme we have been encouraged by the level of participation from adults as well as children and the depth and quality of the work. In one partnership where children worked with refugees, the 4 key questions were explored in some depth. One volunteer said the following:
“These children will always have a depth of understanding of what life can be like for refugees. When they are older, they may take action to protect the rights of others. For this, we are so grateful.”
“We have learned about diversity and team work and we have created amazing things. We have got to know children from Old Bank and it has helped to be better people.” Pupil from Carlton JIN.
“…what a wonderful time our children had at the event last Thursday. They enjoyed presenting the stories both through their performance of the African tale but also through talking about and explaining the stories to people who visited our table. I was really proud of them, they seemed so knowledgeable about the stories and spoke about them so articulately and with such confidence. This project has been so beneficial to my class. They have not only learnt more about themselves, how they fit into and their importance of the world but also how other people are just as valuable and important. They have learnt to value and take an interest in the differences between people and the stories which make each person unique. Thank you for allowing us to be part of such a wonderful experience!”
Another quote from a Polish parent and grandparent whose family story was shared:
“Thank you for this. It has made me weep and smile to see the children tell my mother’s story and to see everyone together like this.”(Grandma).
“It’s so important to do this with everything that is going on in the world right now that separates us. We really identified with the migrant stories because of our family history. It was an honour to share the story and great to feel part of a project like this with the children. We enjoyed sharing the Polish food with everyone too!
It’s important we don’t isolate each other or shut each other out. People should learn the full stories about one another and then they can live together and understand.”(Mum)
Carry My Story Programme linking refugees to schools
Following the success of a pilot linking between Dalton Junior School and a group of 6 refugees in 2017/18, we took the decision to encourage all school groups to meet at least one refugee and carry their story as part of the linking process. Kirklees Council have provided funding for this aspect of the programme. The programme usually culminates in a finale event during Refugee Week in June, involving all schools, some parents and special visitors who have shared their stories.
We met and interviewed refugees and prepared story boxes and tiny books that could be sent to and shared with each school. The children/students were given time to “carry” the stories and then invited their guests into school to ask them questions and respond to the stories. These encounters have been extremely powerful for the children, staff, governors and the refugees themselves, and have been the start of further discussions, programmes of study and conversations with parents. Some schools are working towards becoming Schools of Sanctuary.
After quite an emotional visit, hearing Najma and her husband Farzat talking about having to leave Syria and start again in this country, a Year 4 pupil said “Don’t worry, I think you’re going to be ok, you just have to take small steps to do bigger things.”
A member of staff wrote afterwards: “Thank you so much for this afternoon. We were all touched by Farzat and Najma’s Story. What a lovely, inspirational couple! We have had parents’ evening tonight and a lot of the parents have commented on how emotional and moved the children have been whilst relaying the story to them.”
At another school, children were asked if they knew what an asylum seeker was. A boy answered, “Is it someone who has done something bad in their own country and they have to leave?” By the end of the session with Hussain and his wife from Kurdish Iraq, he was clear about the definition. Hussain payed his saz for the children. A pupil introduced him to the ukulele and then there was music, singing and dancing in the classroom. Hussain, who has only been in the country for a few months, said afterwards “The children have just helped us create our first happy memory in the UK.”
The class teacher wrote “The children have talked about it non-stop all day, they even went outside and learned the dance that Jean (the translator who is Kurdish) did with one of my boys. They really are so happy to be doing this.”
A pupil said “It makes me angry and sad that people should treat you like that in your own country. I hope you are happy in this country.”
Year 2 children from Netherhall School linked with a group of refugees to make a felt tree together. The tree represents the identity of the children, their school and the refugees. These two groups have loved working together and recently presented their completed tree to the whole school, parents and teachers at a special assembly. The head teacher said:
“Something very special has happened here between the children and their new friends.”
Two schools had a fantastic day long link session when they exchanged stories collected from families and animated the stories with drama, props and artwork. It was astonishing for children to watch groups from their link school tell the stories they had so lovingly collected and shared. There were stories from Africa, China, England and India. Words like “brave” “inspiring” and“generous”were used about the actions of others. We look forward to seeing some of them as part of the finale day in June which this year will involve over 500 children and 150 adults
We are witnessing changes of attitude in children throughout the Carry My Story process. The involvement of refugees in the programme this year seems to have deepened the learning about what identity is and how we continually change and develop, according to circumstances in our lives and people with whom we come into contact. The children are learning that this process of change means we should never make assumptions about who and what people are.
As a high school participant said last year “We never really know who anyone is until we sit down and listen to their story.”
“You shouldn’t have bad attitudes about them. Everyone’s an individual and has their own identity and story to tell. You should get to know them, not judge them on what they look like or where they come from.” Pupil at Upper Batley High School.
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