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Refugees for the day at International School Breda

What would you include in your bag if you were given five minutes to pack without knowing where you were going or why? This was the situation our Year 6 students faced back in November.

By Suezette Waals, Teacher Year 6 & Linda Bole, Communications Team at International School Breda

Year 6 students were instructed by their class teacher to go home and pack a bag of essentials within 5 minutes.  They weren’t told what or how to pack, but simply to pick up a bag or suitcase, fill it with things they might need and bring it to school the following day.  Shortly after their arrival at school, after all electronic devices had been discarded, students were accompanied on foot by their teachers to the Mastbos, the woods located close to the school, with their bags/suitcases in hand.  

Do not attract attention

The students were told to keep as quiet as possible whilst walking so as not to attract attention.  They had no idea of where they were going or what was waiting for them.  When they reached the woods, they abandoned the official footpaths and crossed rough terrain through the woods, stopping occasionally for five minutes or so before moving on. 

Eventually they were brought back to school where they were told to set up camp in the classroom, where insufficient supplies had been provided.  Only students who had thought to bring some form of official identification with them were allocated supplies of their own and a special place to set up camp.  Those who hadn’t had to go to other classrooms and request additional supplies, only to find that the teachers did not speak their language and communication could only be done through mime and hand signals.

Uncertainty, frustration & unfairness

The aim of this exercise was for students to experience for themselves some of the uncertainty, frustrations, communication problems and unfairness faced by refugees who suddenly have to leave their home, not knowing what their future will hold. 


The experiment formed part of their introduction to their new unit on migration.  Not every migrant is a refugee, of course, but by becoming refugees for the day, our students were able to experience first-hand empathy for those who have or have had to face the unknown in the most challenging of circumstances.

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