The mounting refugee crisis is hard enough to process as an adult. Trying to see its impact, let alone live it, as a child is virtually impossible without guidance. Of the 65 million people displaced around the world, half are children. One million of those have found refuge in Germany, a trend that has received a mixed response from some Germans, who are suspicious of these outsiders.
Accepting refugees is a new experience for many, and the compassion needed for it is sometimes lost inside the atrocious, over-politicized tragedies. Facing that issue head-on is German author Kirsten Boie. Her newest children’s book, Everything Will Be Alright, is determined to remind its readers that refugee children are just that: kids.
Everything Will Be Alright tells the true story of Rahaf and Hassan, two young children who immigrate with their family from Homs, Syria to a town outside of Hamburg. The family is forced to leave their home on a cramped ship sailing across the Mediterranean. At every given turn, they face obstacles, loss and misfortune, but do their best to keep a sunny disposition and eventually arrive safely in their new town. (An English translation of the book can be read here).
(Image: Jan Birck / PRI)
What makes this particular book stand out is that it does not overstate the pain of the refugee’s experience, or place focus on the conflict itself. Certainly it cannot be avoided, but Boie’s goal is to give a clear answer to a tough question: how can German children relate to refugee children? How should ‘native’ children treat these new faces that have dropped into their lives?
“You have hundreds of thousands of people who not only welcome refugees coming to us, but who support them very heavily, who give a lot of their time helping them to learn the language, to go to a doctor, to go to authorities and so on. And on the other hand, you have some people who are completely against refugees,” Boie told radio station PRI. “Children are somewhere in the middle and the information that they get — well, some parents speak about refugees badly, some say something different. So I thought just telling a story of a genuine family would give them a chance to learn what it was like.”
So far, Boie’s mission has been pretty successful. The readings she’s given often end with the German children coming up to her and asking about Rahaf and Hassan after their journey: were they okay? Did Rahaf ever get her doll back? Did they get to play with their Syrian cousins again? It is these moments of empathy that Boie believes are foundational to becoming a more accepting society.
“Stories, I think, always make it much easier for children to understand something than theoretical knowledge,” she said. “I think that’s the chance we have.”
Featured image courtesy of Jan Birck / PRI