[O]ver the past fortnight, almost all the students at Ullswater Community College experienced Escape to Safety – a multi-media exhibition that depicts the plight of refugees and asylum seekers as they flee from persecution and danger. The installation was set up in the school’s art annex, enabling around 1,400 students to go through it during specially timetabled lessons. An open community event was also held on the evening of Wednesday the 8th November, attracting a further 140 visitors.
UCC’s support for the initiative was championed by the heads of the school’s Philosophy and Ethics department, Mrs Nicola McCanny and Mr Marty McCanny.
Speaking about the students’ experience, Mrs McCanny said “This exhibition has been a fantastic opportunity for our students to learn about refugees and to walk for a short while in their shoes. We have all gained a great deal from the experience, we understand the issues better and feel more empathy with the many people who have to leave their homes to seek safety in many parts of the world.”
As visitors passed through the exhibition they listened to the voices of real refugees describing the horrors of war and violence in their homeland, the harrowing journeys they undertook, the difficulty of negotiating bureaucracy in a foreign language, the helplessness they felt at being moved from place to place, and the hostility that some have encountered when they reached the supposed sanctuary of Great Britain. Visitors also experienced the makeshift timber and tarpaulin shelter that serves as a home for many people in refugee camps. An extensive poster display provided facts and figures about the causes of refugee migrations, the number of people affected, the conditions they endure, and which countries accept them.
Many students were shocked and visibly moved by the experience. A significant number returned to see the exhibition for a second time in a break or lunchtime. Mrs McCanny commented: “The students were encouraged to write their reactions on a display board and many of these were very poignant – showing true understanding of how hard it would be to leave your home, your family and everything you love.”
Escape to Safety was developed by Global Link, a Lancaster based Development Education Centre. The exhibition at UCC was coordinated by Penrith and Eden Refugee Network with support from Carlisle Refugee Action Group. It was funded by the Global Learning Programme and the Big Lottery Fund.