Last week we witnessed a global outpouring of grief, horror, outrage and revulsion at the tragic death of a little Syrian boy, Alyan Kurdi.
Images of a dead child have an impact on our feelings and our collective consciousness that no amount of broadcasting with detailed stories of dreadfulness could portray.
In Britain and in other parts of the world this tragedy has led to public action with people donating time and resources to aid the refugees as they attempt to find safety in Europe. The Germans have demonstrated a massive empathy and sense of responsibility, with applause for the refugees as they arrived in Munich and other German cities.
The power of photography can significantly influence our thoughts and feelings.
It’s hard to look at these photographs. They evoke so much pain and we, as adults, have to manage our feelings to prevent them from overwhelming us to the point of total despondency. We can ignore them or we can feel sympathy and empathy for the victims, their families and others who share their plight. We can also choose to be active in our empathy – donating, sharing our feelings with others, doing something to help.
But adults aren’t the only people to have seen these images. Our children have seen them too.
They’re unlikely to be indifferent to these images. It’s possible they may be frightened or even traumatised by them.
What we shouldn’t do is ignore children’s responses to these images on the grounds that we don’t know how to manage or deal with their feelings, or our own.
However difficult it may be, we need to talk. Our young people need to be given opportunities to voice their opinions and their feelings when and if they are confronted with images that are disturbing and frightening.
Furthermore, we can do something proactive and life-affirming.
If there’s to be a legacy from Alyan Kurdi’s death, then let it be a positive one.
Let Alyan Kurdi’s passing enable all children to understand their rights as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Let them appreciate the needs of others, understand the value of empathy, know their own rights and preferences – be spiritually and socially aware.
Today, when the image of Alyan is so prevalent in peoples’ minds, a good starting point would be to thoroughly explore Article 22 – refugee children. From there, the entire convention could be studied and learned.
There are many schools that study the UN Convention and the generic issue of Human Rights as a matter of course. The Rights Respecting Schools provide resources for this as well as an award. There are 3500 schools across the UK who are either a Rights Respecting School or are working towards it. Wouldn’t it be a fitting response to the death and suffering of Alyan and others to see this number of schools doubled, tripled or more?
“The Unicef UK Rights Respecting Schools Award (RRSA) supports schools across the UK to embed children’s human rights in their ethos and culture. The award recognises achievement in putting the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) at the heart of a school’s practice to improve well-being and help all children realise their potential.
The award is based on principles of equality, dignity, respect, non-discrimination and participation. The initiative started in 2006 and schools involved in the Award have reported a positive impact on relationships and well-being, leading to better learning and behaviour, improved academic standards and less bullying.”
Amnesty also has some excellent resources, including a series of pictures that convey Human Rights.
We can also recommend a book that we’ve mentioned previously, “For Every Child” – beautifully illustrated by children’s authors with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“Let the twenty-first century be marked by peace and justice and development. . . . We each can make a difference if we are vigilant to create a new kind of society, more compassionate, more caring, more sharing, where human rights, where children’s rights are respected and protected.
The 14 UN principles include such sentiments as Understand that all children are precious; Pick us up if we fall down, and if we are lost, lend us your hand. Give us the things we need to make us happy and strong, and always do your best for us whenever we are in your care.”
Another starting point could be this UNICEF video:
As UNICEF say on the video link, “We owe our children the best we have to give them”.
Of course we want our children to achieve well academically and intellectually. We must also aspire for them to develop high levels of awareness and understanding in terms of what’s happening in the world around them. We don’t want children to sit examinations in which they are marked and graded on their understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but we do want them to be aware of this Convention, to know that children have rights, and to consider what the world can do to protect and foster those rights. We need children to understand what we mean by spiritual intelligence – to grapple with the concepts of values and virtues. We need our children to care for others and to empathise with others in their own daily lives, in order that they can also feel concern for those further afield, those they will never even meet.
Finally, as parents and educators, we must beware of inflicting our own opinions on children, no matter how enlightened we might believe them to be. What we’re advocating is a Socratic form of dialogue in which information and points of view are shared, examined, picked apart and re-examined, without feeling the need to reach hard and fast conclusions. Every child has the right to an opinion, and the right to change their mind over time. This is perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned in Rights Respecting schools.
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