'Thank you very much, friend’: London pupils and refugees in Iraq become pen pals

‘Around the world now a lot of people are disagreeing, so even if it is kids that send the message that we are all still humans ... it’s a good message to go around the world’

Naomi Ackerman
Friday 02 November 2018 11:36 GMT
Letters from children in Iraq have been exchanged with pupils from Betty Layward Primary school

As part of our Learn to Live campaign with War Child, children who survived life under Isis and pupils who attend a London school are exchanging letters.

Students at Betty Layward primary in Stoke Newington have shared their interests and ideas with peers from Mosul living in a displacement camp in Iraq.

These children have seen horrors; neighbours blown up in front of their faces and men thrown off buildings by jihadi executioners.

Caseworkers from London-based charity War Child say many arrived traumatised in the camp near the city of Duhok, in the north of the country. They have lived for up to two years, some of them waking up in the night screaming or too afraid to play.

But now, with Isis defeated in Mosul, and the children living in relative security, they have educational opportunities and mental health support. And through our campaign a class-sized group have twinned with their year six peers in London, who sent letters and a handwritten book of some of their playground games for their new Iraqi friends to try out. In response, the Duhok children sent video messages and letters decorated with illustrations of their favourite hobbies, such as skipping and football.

Telenaz, 11, wrote in the English she has learned in the camp: “Thank you very much, friend,” and added an intricate drawing of a rose.

Kayoosh wrote: “Hello, I like jump rope. I want to know what you play and what your favourite game is. I like my teacher. I want to be a teacher in the future. I would like to know what you want to be in the future. Thank you for the gift. I really appreciate it. It is nice to meet you children from London.”

Among pupils to send letters from the Stoke Newington school was Bonnie Startup-Samuels, 10, who drew a globe with children of all backgrounds holding it, surrounded by a pink glow.

Carmen Fiszer, 10, drew elaborate cartoons and shared her love of unicorns. She wrote to Azraa, one of the girls living in the camp: “I’d love to know more about you.” Elena Asgedom, also 10, created a drawing of the peace symbol and the words “war” and “child”, with the caption: “Some words should never go together.”

The Londoners told The Independent how after learning about children affected by conflict around the world for months, the exchanges had made their experience of the issue real. Beatrice Passmore, 10, said: “I noticed that a lot of them like football, and a lot of our class like football as well. I love football.

“Now I’m looking forward to finding out what they play there, and what they are good at, and who their friends are, and what they like to eat and all these types of things.”

Aviv Rottenberg, 10, who previously lived in Israel, said: “We want to find similarities [between us] first and then the differences.

“Around the world now a lot of people are disagreeing, so even if it is kids that send the message that we are all still humans, even if we are different cultures or religions, that we like the same things and play the same things – it’s a good message to go around the world.”

Class teacher Briony Blow, who led the project, said the multimedia exchanges had “made the connection real” and she found her students’ reactions humbling.

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