Many migrant children feel excluded by their peers and silently endure prejudices, racism, bullying and discrimination. These cruel violations have the power to lock a child’s full potential away.
BY ROCKHAYA SYLLA
One of my clients’ children said: “I don’t have any friends at school. I feel ashamed to approach other children because of my accent. In class, some children make fun of me or simply pretend that they do not understand me.”
She doesn’t talk about it to anyone though:” The teachers tell me to be patient and I can’t talk to my parents. I don’t want them to be worried about me.” Her parents have recently arrived and are facing similar forms of exclusion at work or when looking for housing.
“Where are you from?”
A friend recently told me: “my friend’s daughter goes to a private school and her friends refuse to believe that her father is a refugee because he has a very good job!”
It’s the same for children. For many, four little words make them feel excluded on a regular basis: “Where are you from?” And if when they respond that they are locals, they are asked again: “no, but where are you from?”
As a result, children develop a pressing need to prove that they belong. This constant pressure has terrible consequences including violence, rebellion and cultural ignorance. Many children often decide to violently rebel against a system which refuses to see them as equals, while other children reject their cultural heritage by refusing to speak their parents’ language and ignoring their cultural traditions.
They don’t realise that they are cutting themselves off from a part of their family. Parents often take an active part in their children’s cultural ignorance. For instance, I have seen many cases where parents did not want their children to be exposed to their cultural heritage because they have to be locals. And later, their children will be treated as foreigners when visiting relatives, adding another kind of exclusion within their own family.
The unprecedented migrant crisis has forced many to revisit how the general public should be taught about migration. And one of the biggest challenges we are now facing is to educate children. This is about guaranteeing their most basic humans rights to be and feel safe and strong in their own communities: promoting a sustainable, resilient and inclusive community for all children and future generations.
Children need to know the key things affecting their communities. They also need to rely on their emotional intelligence and inner resilience to handle the challenges of constantly being treated as an ‘outsider’.
But these abilities can only be developed in the right environment. It is up to us, adults to ensure that they meet their full potential of resilience and emotional intelligence by continuing to find safe ways to prepare them for the future.
Teaching children about population movement happens could help them confidently welcome change in their community and appreciate diversity. Not only will they develop their emotional intelligence and critical skills such as social awareness and competence, and relationship management, it will empower them to understand the sacrifice their parents or friends’ parents made, as well as what they contribute to their new community.
It can also help them to tell the difference between how migration is presented and misrepresented. With a new confidence, children can (re)connect with the stories of their parents, create their own, and appreciate that whatever their heritage, their parents’ desire to offer them better opportunities makes it even more important for them and others to know that this is their home.
What’s your story?
What is school, if not the safest place to unlock the incredible potential of all children? And what is school, if not one of the places where the most beautiful stories should be told? Migration is History, Geography, Art, Culture, Religion, Spirituality, Diversity, Equalities, and more, combined.
We all have a story to tell. This is what helps us build our identity. This is what makes an individual unique. Perhaps it is time for us to stop asking ”where are you from?” to ask “what is your story?” And who love stories more than children?
Rockhaya Sylla is a Welfare adviser, independent consultant and educator