Picture book promotes understanding

Issue: Volume 98, Number 18

Posted: 28 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA18G

A group of former refugee students has published a picture book that aims to normalise cultural differences and encourage empathy and understanding among Kiwi students.

Year 13 student Millad Rashidi and a group of business studies students from Ormiston Senior School in Auckland combined their experiences as new New Zealanders in the book Ali’s First Day at School to promote the idea of atawhai (kindness) and helping refugees.

“In business at school, we have a Young Enterprise Company and all the students have to make a social enterprise. I was telling the story about how one day I was playing rugby and I thought it was football [soccer] because people here call rugby ‘football’. I ended up on the rugby field and I got tackled. We were laughing about that and then my teacher said, ‘that’s a really great idea, you should start sharing that’.

“Then there was the whole idea about ‘how about we make a picture book? How about we educate the little children about the experiences of refugees and the differences that they have?’” Millad says.

Early displacement

Millad and his family came to New Zealand as refugees at the end of 2015. They had to leave Afghanistan because his mother was selected as a top English teacher in Afghanistan and was invited to have dinner with Laura Bush in the White House in 2005.

They were displaced from their country due to the conflict between the Taliban and the US. “We left extended family and everything behind and went to Pakistan for three years with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I didn’t go to school in Pakistan and we were really mostly staying at home due to security problems.

“I started working there from a really young age – I was 10 years old. I was having a little food stall far away from our house, selling traditional food to support my family and earn some cash,” Millad says.

The family was accepted by New Zealand and arrived at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in 2015.

Normalising differences

Millad says he was bullied at his first school. “Because they weren’t really exposed to other ethnicities, we were just being picked on. Whatever happened in the media, because we were the only Middle Eastern guys, there would be racial comments or some guys would ask me ‘do you know how to make bombs?’ At the beginning I didn’t understand what they were saying, but after a while it started getting offensive – it really made me feel unwelcome.”

Millad’s family was relocated to a more diverse community and school and he and his friends began to talk about how they could normalise cultural differences.

“I did some research from my refugee friends, because they said their differences were the main reasons they were picked on at school. We decided to write a story about a refugee kid coming from Afghanistan to New Zealand who misunderstood the concept of football.

“We combined all of our different experiences because our group is made up of migrant and refugee students. We have Ali eating food with his hands – in South East Asia and the Middle East that’s really normal. We focused on traditional clothing with Ali’s parents and we have little games in the book which describe what those clothes are and about cultural values.”

Social enterprise

The illustrations were done by two of the school’s art students. The book is self-funded but Millad’s group has been granted $4,000 funding from the Ministry of Social Development. Ali’s First Day at School was launched in July and sold 100 copies on the first day. Profits from sales have been invested back into the business.

“As we are a social enterprise, 10 per cent of our income will buy some necessities for refugees on their first day of school; like a rugby ball, football, boots, stationery, and some things they might need,” says Millad.

In October, Millad attended a Youth Diversity Forum organised by the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO. The conference aimed to increase inclusiveness and decrease racism in New Zealand.

“I was invited as I am active in my community, as well as because of my involvement with the book, which is about educating children in a friendly way that doesn’t raise tensions,” he says.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:31 am, 28 October 2019

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