Teaching

It has been a while since I was stood in front of a classroom, but the feeling is completely back now. A basic high school classroom, where even though there is ventilation, the smell of sweat and school furniture lingers in the air.

Many bodies and hubbub fills the room once the bell rings. Today I teach on Christian migrants in the Netherlands in a school which is almost exclusively white. We play ‘over the line’. When I ask whether the Netherlands takes in enough migrants, they all move to ‘yes’. Why? I’d like to know. They can’t exactly answer it, but the Netherlands is full. That much is clear.

We take a look at numbers, maps and reasons why people migrate. They only find it moderately interesting. I then ask a Burmese refugee who joined me to the classroom to come up in front. This they find more interesting, it becomes quiet.

The woman starts telling them about the years she lived in the jungle while on the run. That she couldn’t go to school and didn’t learn to read and write.

She tells them about the soldiers that came and that she alone with her blind mother and four smaller brothers and sisters tried to find a haven. That they ran out of food. She becomes emotional. She always remembers, as little as she was, the hunger and the loneliness. Now, telling these students, it all comes back.

It is so quiet in the class you could hear a pin drop. She continues telling them about how she got invited by the Dutch government to come, that there was a house for them and that now she can read and write and that her children are in school. In a HAVO4 class, just like these students.

After her story it is time to ask questions. And there are many. The mood has changed. The story of her life opened up a new world. One where migrants are no longer beings, threatening our welfare, but where migrants are humans, just like us. I am grateful to the invitation of this school. You can’t start young enough with these lessons.