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Refugee Week: schoolchildren from Leicester to send messages of hope to refugee camp

Appeal for more schools to become ‘Schools of Sanctuary’.

Children from a Leicester school are to send messages of hope to a refugee camp in Greece.

They will also create a storybook which will contain blank cards for children in the refugee camp to fill and send back - starting a dialogue between the children.

It is part of a project called 'Birds of Hope' instigated by Emma McNamara, a trainee teacher at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy. She has visited Greece seven times as a volunteer in the last three years and has spoken to children at a range of schools across Leicester and the wider county about her experiences.

As part of Refugee Week, advocate and volunteer for refugee rights Emma McNamara and artist George Sfougaras will be working together on the project with the support of the University of Leicester and ArtReach.

Emma says: “The refugee crisis is not a high priority for mainstream media any longer. Many thousands of people have perished but their deaths have been largely unreported.

“As well as helping provide essential aid in collaboration with numerous grassroots organisations, I passionately believe that human connections and solidarity are an essential part of the support and solidarity we can offer.

“It’s a small thing, I know that, but it can help people in camp to feel that they have not been forgotten and abandoned by the wider world.”

This project seeks to extend this solidarity with creative workshops that, as George Sfouragas says, “aim to form a bridge between children in Leicester and their peers living in the most difficult circumstances in refugee centres in Greece, showing that we care, and reigniting in those young people something of the joy of childhood.”

Kites and smaller handheld birds will be decorated by year 4 students at Rowlatts Hill Primary School and will carry messages of hope to children in the Vial camp on the island of Chios, Greece.

This project has been facilitated by ArtReach, producers of Journeys Festival International - the UK's first Festival of Sanctuary. The festival supports and celebrates the create talent of refugee and asylum seeker artists and shares their stories through arts and culture.

The University of Leicester, which was awarded the status of University of Sanctuary in 2018, already works with a range of organisations across the city and beyond, and has previously funded staff visits to deliver training to volunteers in Greece. It is delighted to be part of this community project.

Philip Horspool, Chair of the University of Sanctuary group, said: “We think it is important that groups both come together and support both refugees and asylum seekers here in Leicester, and take opportunities to support those whose education has been disrupted through having to flee war and persecution who find themselves in camps in Greece.

“We would love more schools across the city and county to become Schools of Sanctuary and this is a small step in supporting one school in this fun act of solidarity.”

If you would like to know more about this initiative, the work of the University of Leicester, ArtReach, Emma or George, please email sanctuary@le.ac.uk.

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