Make/Shift @ Whitfield Primary School, Northumberland in words and pictures(i)

Children know much about the world – and there are many worlds they know much about. It is through the body that we go out and meet the world and explore our place in it. A place that is always changing depending where we are and how we are finding it, seeing it, sensing it, understanding it. Not always as adults find it, see it, or understand it. They have been at it – life, that is – for longer, have grown many views, opinions, understandings, and often filtered through news and the media – television and online coverage, social media, newspapers and networks – and often gathered around habits and tendencies in our personal belief systems.

When we began to map out who we might engage with – and where – during the four months of Make/Shift, we knew we would want to connect with children and young people. To ask them in ways that would provide some thoughts, answers, explanations from their point of view. To include them in our growing network of research and development.

The first step involved making contact with Whitfield Primary School – local to Burnlaw and with children from three Burnlaw families there. Claire and Tim went to the school and met the headteacher, classroom teacher and a group of 9 – 11 year olds. We arranged to work over 4 weekly afternoons, with Sara Yasir and Omari Mungwande from Crossings joining us.

Over those 4 sessions we heard the stories of why and how Sara and Omari became asylum seekers. We wrote down key words and phrases which fed into our imaginative workshop process towards devising movement. The first session focused on crossings and meetings. Subsequent afternoons included taking the Urdu word for meeting – mulaqat – and shaping our bodies to shape the word. Other words followed in this way.

Through our discussions together about the emerging work and its associated themes and ideas, we emphasised that the children’s responses were like answers to our thoughts and questions. And that we considered the movement work as more important than words themselves in how it provided responses to our spoken ideas and enquiries – rooted them differently, at the same time as we embodied them.

For the third session we introduced the idea of making a score out of a series of movement events – solo, partner and group choreography – and interventions of music and spoken word. Omari sang and played guitar; Sara recited a lullaby poem in Urdu. With the fourth and final afternoon we were joined by Afshin from Iran, who also sang and played music. We practised going through the whole score of events, noticing and remembering cues for the introduction of a next section or activity.

Throughout this time of four weeks the children’s class teacher Fiona Geraghty had followed up each session with discussion and written work. Out of this each pupil wrote an imagined story about a refugee experience. During the final session together they read these to us – leaving us much moved by their descriptions and strong sense of empathy.

Each child then chose a sentence from their stories and read them in turn during what became a very immersive final run through of the assembled whole piece. Christo moved amongst everyone filming from different points and places.

The concluding discussion revealed in a short time how much we had all experienced and found new friends, new ways of communicating, and new ways of understanding profound issues around people migration. A very significant contribution to our research.

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