(Photos by Hannah Robertson Photography)
Following the recent spell of Desperate Journeys at The Royal Victoria Place, we reflect on the rise of schools choosing empathy for their students. We have the privilege of facilitating groups to take ’empathy steps’ and here’s a little of what we see.
When schools speak to us we’ve heard one phrase more than others: that they hope to ‘burst the bubble’ of their students. Teachers often inform us that they wish to not only expand and challenge their students’ understanding but also to inspire the use of ‘their own privilege’ and enhance their desire to help others.
A date, time and place are agreed and then they arrive.
A class of young people is ready to learn about empathy. Some are nervous, thoughtful and quiet. Others are nonchalant, and focus elsewhere as they wait. Yet others are noisy with anticipation. Their teacher is with them, answering questions, and asking their own too.
What they are all about to do is outside of their classroom. In this case, outside of their school. And possibly outside of the comforts of their own outlooks. It is an exercise in putting on the proverbial shoes of another.
They go through an immersive experience. In this case it’s Desperate Journeys. It explores the journey a Syrian family has to make when forcibly removed from its home, and is based on real facts and testimonies. It is one of an expanding range of empathy based activities.
Participants share about what they felt and matters that had impacted them. As organisers, we have one purpose: to listen. This is their empathy, we want to hear.
It’s been called an “incredible teaching tool”, something that is not easy to create in the confines of classrooms. These are some of the words students have used to articulate how they felt during and after the event:
“It showed me that life doesn’t have a happy ending for so many people. This made me feel very emotional and sad because it makes me realise how lucky I am.”
“There was no control over the choices and we had to make them quickly, knowing each decision would be bad.”
“Breathtaking and scary.”
“It makes you feel for refugees and puts you in their shoes – it seems real, feels scary but mind-blowing.”
And from the teachers:
“Today you have reached the hearts and minds of those who have the power to change the future… This was, without doubt, the most powerful school trip I have ever taken a class on.”
“The children have not stopped talking about it.”
(Teachers, St Johns Primary School)
What encourages us, as organisers of empathy, is the growing appetite from teachers to want to bring empathy right into the heart of their schools. Choosing to use experiences and simulations like Desperate Journeys and The Poverty Trap as curriculum for their students.
Empathy Action is looking to increase its range of empathy activities (including a future Climate Action simulation) and work further with schools, businesses and community groups.
If you’d like to know more about bringing a simulations to your group or volunteer with us, please do get in touch. We would love to hear from you.