Being on the precipice of change

Change. It does strange things to people. Some people thrive on change. They seek it out, deliberately trying to bring excitement, newness, adventure or difference to their day-to-day lives. Others avoid it at all costs. For some, even the smallest change can be enough to disturb their inner sense of self, their understanding of their world and/or their ability to cope or function, and as such, change is feared and avoided at all costs.

Whether we are able to cope with change or not, the irony is that change is one of the few constant things that joins us on our path throughout our lives. There are the obvious physical changes that we all go through as we age from newborn to adulthood. There are the intellectual changes that we progress through, some though formal learning and others through lessons of life. Then there are also the emotional changes that we experience, and some may argue that these are perhaps the most influential of all, particularly when it comes to how we perceive future changes.

Being on the threshold of change can be cause for emotional turmoil, particularly if you are unsure what that change is actually going to be, such as in the case of many of the Syrian refugees I have been studying lately. However, being on the threshold of a known change, whether a change by choice or by necessity, can also be cause for a similar response. Some people say it is the waiting, the not knowing, that is the worst. Preparing for the unknown. Very few people crave uncertainty. But, it is part of life. So, how do we help our students cope with it?

There are many variations of a popular quote, but ultimately I see this as a way of trying to intellectually remind ourselves to try and reduce the impact of our impulsive, emotional responses to liminal spaces.

reacting to change

After studying just some of what the Syrian refugees in Za’atari are coping with, I would argue that sometimes it IS about what has happened to you. But, I would also agree that how you react matters as well. The most inspiring things about the Za’atari refugee camp was the ability whereby so many people displayed a commitment to overcoming their adversity and to making steps towards their inevitable changes becoming positive ones. This is no easy feat, especially given the dire state of affairs and limited resources at their disposal.

On a slightly different tangent, I have also seen the enormous challenges that my own son, who has autism, has had at times with change. With a great deal of guidance and tuition, he has learnt tools to help him cope with change. He has gotten particularly good at coping with the little, annoying changes that may not even bother many people, but they are ones that are significant enough to come up on his radar and disturb his emotional-balance at that moment. He is now able to reduce the emotional impact of these and concentrate on how he reacts instead. Not always, but a lot more than he used to be able to do.

However, one thing he still struggles with, as do so many others (whether they be on the autism spectrum or not), are the long, drawn-out changes. The ones where we aren’t sure what is actually going to happen. The ones with no definitive answer….yet. The liminal spaces filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. It is during these times that we often rely on our own inner voice to reassure us that we can get to the other side in one piece. For my son, that is when he needs others to become his inner voice to quiet his fears. For many Syrian refugees, I believe it is similar – they need citizens around the world to demonstrate that we will help alleviate their fears about the changes they are forced to face.

As an educator, perhaps how we approach change in our classrooms can help equip our students with some of the tools they will need now and in their futures. Liminal spaces, or being on the threshold of the unknown, offers an opportunity for a person to reflect and evaluate what is important to them and for them as they prepare to react and move forward. Perhaps if we encouraged our students to look inwards during times of uncertainty we could help guide their inner voice to react in a way that offers optimism and confidence. This would offer chances to highlight and remind students of past times when they were faced with, and coped with, change.

If we could assist students dealing with change to not view it as unavoidable, annoying part of life, but rather as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our incredible abilities to transform (even without noticing), imagine how this might prepare them for the changes they will face throughout their futures?

Change is the essence

 

A mindmap for Za’atari’s future learning spaces

I found it useful to use a mind map to highlight areas that need to be considered and addressed whilst developing useful and meaningful learning spaces which respond to the educational and developmental needs of the children in Za’atari.

Mind Map

 

A moment to reflect

For the last few months I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a group of enthusiastic educators whilst researching the place and contribution of learning spaces in education.

The research and learning that has taken place could not have been possible without the collective input of my peers. They have provided me with ideas, solutions, and motivation when at times I felt challenged. I can also wholeheartedly say that without the guidance, support and facilitation of one particular member and leader (thank you Adam Staples) none of this would have been possible.

Our research over the course of the last 4 weeks specifically has focussed on a topic that is not easy to digest – the Syrian refugee crisis. At many times, I found myself questioning the lack of humanity that people are capable of, and wondering what on earth I could do to make any improvements for such an enormous problem.

However, out of this I have come to develop a new sense of gratitude and inspiration. Gratitude for all of the unearned privileges I have been reminded that I have each and every day. But also extremely grateful to know that my children are going to be fortunate enough to be educated by the types of teachers I have come to know within this research group. The group of peers I have worked alongside are inspired, committed and passionate educators. They have approached each and every aspect of our research with determination and perseverance. They have inspired me with their ability to to create holistically-sound programs to meet each child’s educational and developmental needs.

As this experience together comes to a formal end, I am thankful for the changes they have afforded me, for I have a new outlook and perception of just what I can strive to achieve for myself and my students. And I am proud to know that the future of education within Australia (and beyond?) will be influenced by them.

Happy teaching.

teacher quote

 

 

I am an educator. My hope for the children of Za’atari.

What can I do for a child

with innocence lost

whose young eyes have seen things they should not?

 

What can I do for a child

watching with a guarded stare

whose life has been changed, seemingly beyond repair?

 

What can I do for a child

filled with anger and fear

who no longer believes in dreams once held dear?

 

What can I do for a child

whose despair is shared by the faces they see

who begins to forget the child once filled with curiosity?

 

I am an educator

I strive to open minds and touch hearts

but we must transform these spaces so we can all take part.

 

I am an educator

I promise to show patience, kindness and empathy

in an effort to remind you that you are important to me.

 

I am an educator

I will offer you a safe space to learn and grow

where you can remember how to dream and strive for more.

 

I am an educator

I will encourage you to reflect and explore

so that you, too, can stretch beyond these limits that should not be your ‘norm’.

 

I am an educator

I will be here for you every step of the way

and we will work together for you to find hope again one day.

 

 

By Kayri Shanahan

 

A mission statement for Za’atari’s future learning spaces

I have recently been spending some time trying to gather my thoughts to create a relevant mission statement of what I would hope to achieve by implementing future learning spaces within the Za’atari refugee camp.

Although the process of researching Za’atari as an educational context has been upsetting, disturbing and many times overwhelming, it is also relevant and vitally important that I know. My new knowledge now empowers me to contribute to the urgent changes that are needed, whether that be by becoming directly involved myself or by ensuring my students are educated to become informed, global citizens. Or, ideally, both.

I urge you to consider doing the same.

nelson-mandela-education-quote

(Mandela, 2003).

Happy teaching.

My Mission Statement (link to page)

 

Photographic beauty capturing lost innocence in Za’atari

This is a tragically beautiful set of photographs taken in Za’atari. They show an up close and very personal insight into one’s life who is existing whilst in the confines of the camp. They demonstrate hope, loss, fear, despair, anger, distrust and sadness. But, these are all of the things that we as global citizens should be fighting to rectify.

These images have no place being in the memories of any child when they think about their childhood. How is it then that they are there already, and more memories just like these are being formed every day with no end in sight?

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Nowhere Boy. The illusion is of a young man going somewhere when, of course, he is going nowhere. His ambitions are those of most young men his age, but his horizon stretches no further than the tent city he surveys. There is nothing in the box.”

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“Mother Courage. This young mother is in the waiting room of the French Hospital. She has just handed over her sick child to a French nurse who has walked back into the darkness of the operating theatres. She is not looking at the camera; she is looking somewhere beyond, perhaps to where her child is going. It is the look of fifty thousand women in Zaatari.

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“One Thousand Miles. There is nothing so un-nerving to the photographer as light bouncing back to his camera. It is a symbolic failure. Even if all the layers of fencing were cut away and the young man was able to stand there clearly lit, he is still a thousand miles away from you and I.”

However, there is still hope. 

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“Future Zatari 2. It is impossible, even in the Zaatari camp, to be depressed all the time. There is usually a courtesy, a kindness, a genuine interest in visitors, and an old-fashioned Syrian hospitality that still prevails. And there are the children who are the light and hope of the camp – with the proviso, of course, that they are fit and well. Here I have three candidates for future Syria. They are happy and smiling. There is hope.”

Please follow this link look through the entire catalogue of 40 photographs at Hotel Zatari – http://hotelzaatari.com/about-fw/

 

Where should an educational program begin?

As an educator, how do you prepare for the arrival of a new student into your class? Do you ask for a bit of background from their parents or perhaps even old teacher? Do you do some preliminary formal or informal tests? Do you find out where they went to school and make an assumption of approximately what knowledge and skills they will have based on their age and year level?

How would you work out a child’s education capital if virtually none of those things applied? Where would you start? Equally as important, what if you yourself are not a trained teacher but instead a volunteer within the camp who is giving your time and knowledge to assist the younger generation?

When considering the education capital within Za’atari it is important not to perceive the label “refugee” to be equivalent to uneducated. Adults within the camp come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are not educated beyond a secondary level themselves whilst others are professionals who have also had to flee Syria. In some instances, refugees are able to use their prior education to earn a living for themselves, but formal employment within the camp is extremely limited (Ledwith, 2014, p. 50).

In 2014, there were 3 schools operating in Za’atari and the Jordanian Ministry of Education promoted quality by certifying schools. However, only schools taught by Jordanian teachers could be certified. Syrian teachers are only able to work as assistants in these schools (Ledwith, 2014, p. 46). In 2014, up to 11 Non Government Agencies were delivering education to children aged 5 – 17 years within Za’atari (Ledwith, 2014, p. 11), including providing remedial education in an effort to allow students to catch up to the Jordanian curriculum (Ledwith, 2014, p. 48).

However, it appears the entrepreneurial avenues are some of the most common paths where adults and children attempt to create a niche for themselves, and this often overshadows education (Ledwith, 2014, p. 48). This may be by becoming merchants and setting up a restaurant or shop. Marrying off daughters is common, some as young as 13 years old.

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Figure 1, 2014

These statistics, along with the daily realities of formal and informal legal systems involving street leaders who oversee control of selected districts within the camp all create competition and challenges for educational programs.

An educational program that makes better use of its inhabitants’ skills and expertise (i.e. educational capital) may help reduce the “street mentality” that dominates life here. “Many forms of crime still exist. Smuggling, theft, violence, sexual- and gender-based violence, and armed-forces recruiting have all been observed in Za’atari. In addition, since the Jordanian government will not let refugees enter the general population without a bailout guarantee, illegal escaping of refugees and bailout guarantee forgery are common crimes in Za’atari” (Ledwith, 2014, p. 12).

The education capital in Za’atari is complex, to say the least. However, one thing is apparent – there is a  strong desire to improve the current “lifestyle” in Za’atari. “UN officials report that, due to the skill and mercantile drive of the Syrian refugees, Zaatari’s development has surpassed in six months what many camps see in 20 years” (Ledwith, 2014, p. 52). If this initiative and educational capital (formal and informal) could be redirected or channelled into programs throughout the camp for greater community good, including education, perhaps we could see similar progress in other areas as well.

References

Ledwith, A. (2014). Za’atari – The Instant City. Affordable Housing Institute. Retrieved on October 19, 2015 from http://www.affordablehousinginstitute.org/storage/images/AHI-Publication-Zaatari-The-Instant-City-Low-Res-PDF-141120.pdf

Figure 1. (2014). Za’atari – The Instant City. Affordable Housing Institute. Retrieved on October 19, 2015 from http://www.affordablehousinginstitute.org/storage/images/AHI-Publication-Zaatari-The-Instant-City-Low-Res-PDF-141120.pdf