UNHCR’s photographic exhibition “Protection: What refugees need” reaches school teachers and students at Choirokitia Primary School

UNHCR’s exhibition “Protection: What Refugees Need” has been travelling in Cyprus since its launch in June 2008, calling people of Cyprus to reflect on refugee issues and take a firm stance in favour of refugees. Teachers, parents associations, coffee shops and restaurant owners responded to the UN Refugee Agency’s call by hosting the exhibition at their places and spreading their message across.

The Chirokoitias Elementary School not only hosted the exhibition but saw in the exhibition an interactive education tool in transmitting knowledge and fostering understanding about refugee issues among young people.

As Ms Theodora Damianou, a particularly socially sensitive teacher of the school, points out “It is very difficult for children of young age of 9-10 years old to comprehend what it means to be a refugee but after the activities [the exhibition and project] we felt as teachers that our students are now more mature and ready to accept refugees, to understand their immense needs and to support them in their own way”.

After viewing the exhibition, discussing its contents with their teachers and after playing the on line education game Taxidifygis (www.taxidifygis.org.cy), the children took a protective stance in favour of refugees: they had their own photos taken by pressing their hands together forming the UNHCR’ protection symbol and expressed their feelings and thoughts about refugees and their needs.

Katerina and Elena closed their eyes and imagined how they would feel had they been in the position of the kids that appeared on the photos:
“I almost cried after witnessing children suffer and die. I saw houses falling apart as a result of conflict. I was afraid and saddened because when I closed my eyes I imagined what it would be like to be in their place, facing suffering and death”. said Katerina and Elena “…felt agony watching refugee children because I could also have been in their place”

The children came to realize that not every person in the world is in the same position they are. Living in a world that everything is provided to them, it had been difficult for them to understand that refugees cannot meet their basic needs, that refugee children very often are left without parents and that care, love and protection is what they need:

“I felt really sad when witnessing children without shoes and clothes. All children should have the right to clothing and should enjoy the same rights as we do. I feel fortunate to have everything I wish for…” said Stelios, and Giorgos joined him at the same footing “I was afraid when I witnessed children without parents, without food, care and love. We have everything”.“Seeing a photo of destroyed houses I realized that there are people who don’t have a place to sleep. Children need care, love and play”said Panayiotis

Andreas, a football fan “.. felt bad in the sight of a photo of a torn soccer ball. That ball could have been the favourite ball of a child, which he lost during the war…” Other students sympathized with the agony of refugee children who lost their parents during the war: “I witnessed the suffering of children living in war zones. I saw a photo of an orphan child and his brother. I do not know if they will be able to survive”. Louiza

In the same way that each of the UNHCR photo was accompanied by a message, the students accompanied their “protective hand” photos with their own statements of support. That’s what their statements read:

“Refugees should fully enjoy their Human Rights”- Paraskevi
“We can extend our love to refugees” Anastasia
“It’s a shame that children refugees cannot attend school” Stelios
“Refugees are hopping for a better tomorrow” Eleanna
“Refugees need our support” Andreas
“When you are a refugee you miss out on joy, happiness and play” Neophyta
“All refugees need access to food” Kyriaki
“Children refugees have a right to education” Michalis
“Refugees need shelter” Panayiota

Knowledge is a basic prerequisite in reaching understanding and developing empathy for the one of the most vulnerable groups, refugees. Ms Theodora could not encapsulate this position better: “We [the teachers of this school] believe that such activities are to be encouraged, not only as part of the school activities, but for the general public. The information of the public at large on humanitarian issues is a social need which will be conducive in all people living together in harmony, regardless of their origin, race, colour or religion”

Building public awareness is an indispensable parameter for the effective integration of refugees and an integral part of UNHCR’s work.

For this reason UNHCR will continue to exhibit these photos to other places as well.

UNHCR Representation in Cyprus has undertaken a number of other public awareness projects, such as the website refugee game Taxidi Fygis for students, parents and teachers, the HOPE campaign in 2006. For more information one can visit UNHCR in blog at http://unhcr-cyprus.blogspot.com/ .

UNHCR Representation in Cyprus
March 2009

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