For the past eleven years, the school outreach programme has been a vital part of JRS Malta’s awareness raising activities. During the scholastic year 2015-2016 we managed to reach out to more than 3,000 students in primary, secondary and tertiary education.
The format adopted during these outreach visits varies greatly according to the needs of the school and the age of participants. However, at the centre of all these activities is the personal encounter between the students and a refugee who shares his or her story. The creation of this space of encounter enables the young children to go beyond the stereotyped images of refugees they receive through the media. In fact, the moment we recognize in the fears, hopes of refugees our own dreams and wounds, this space of encounter becomes a space of common humanity. In the words of Vyacheslav Okun sj, who coordinated this year’s school outreach programme, when working with young kids we also discover that “no one is born with prejudice against migrants. Sharing the same classroom with foreigners and refugees is not an issue for children. They would never imagine that differences in colour, race or religion might prevent them from playing, living or having fun together.”
Apart from responding to invitations throughout the scholastic year, during the month of April, JRS organized a series of 8 half-day seminars called “Stories of Hope: Creating spaces of encounter with refugees”, at st Joseph’s Home, Santa Venera. These seminars catered primarily for year 5 and year 6 students and the programme of activities included a 45-minute play, based on the JRS publication “Kidane”. This play was performed by Malcolm Galea and Joseph Zammit from “More or Less Theatre” as well as a refugee actor. Every child received a copy of “Kidane” at the end of the event. The theatre performance was followed by interactive sessions on Human Rights and Diversity, the delivery of a personal testimony by a refugee and theatre/art workshops during which students were able to reflect creatively on the stories they had just heard.
One of the key messages that was highlighted by refugees throughout this year’s school outreach activities was that "there's no place like home". Whilst being grateful for having survived the journey and for being safe here in Malta, the refugees helped children understand that leaving home to look for safety in another country is never a decision which is taken lightly and comes at great personal cost. Understanding this fundamental reality will hopefully help children, as well as adults, be more welcoming towards these brothers and sisters, and create a society where everyone can feel at home and truly belong.