World leaders are meeting in New York this week to discuss the global refugee crisis, so we conducted a social experiment to make the plight of refugee children more relatable to the general population. Currently, 3.7 million refugee children don’t have access to education. To show how debilitating this is, both practically and emotionally, we hypnotised a group of people into illiteracy. One of the participants who took part in the open casting was Helena, a playwright and student. Along with the other participants, she had no idea what was about to happen, all she knew was that she was about to be hypnotised and then interviewed. Here’s a little more about her and her experience:
Describe the experience, what happened, how did it make you feel?
When I came into the studio to be hypnotised, I had no idea about the deeper meaning of the cause. I had had a pretty long day so, when the hypnosis started, it was really easy to relax into it. I felt calm, elated and in a meditative state where I didn’t really think about anything. However, as soon as I was told that I would no longer remember how to read, write or count, it became really daunting. I felt suppressed and cheated because these are things that I’ve most spent my life learning and dealing with – to suddenly lose that made me feel very disconnected. The biggest problem was that I felt incompetent and embarrassed. No one likes to feel like that.
Could you give a bit of background on your education and what it allowed you to achieve?
My primary school education started off in Portugal. Coming to England, I went through primary school with some guidance but managed to excel in English all the way into my A-levels. As a foreigner, I felt that I had to work twice as hard to catch up with everyone else. I didn’t want to be left behind so I made sure that I read a lot. The first book I completed was Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson. Even though it’s a short book, reading it in a new language took perseverance to get to the end. I think it took me about a year to finish the whole thing.
After 3 years at the University of Liverpool reading Egyptology, I feel like I know things not many people do. So, I’m working to use that knowledge to teach people about ancient societies through plays. I have the power and ability to do that because I had the opportunity to study.
Sadly, a person’s worth is heavily measured by their level of education. Very often people with an arts degree are mocked or not taken serious whereas those with scientific background are praised and highly regarded. However, both these groups of people have had to work really hard to achieve what they have. I imagine that if it is so easy to judge someone based on the subject they study, those with no education at all can easily be disregarded all together.
There are a number of social things that I couldn’t have done without an education. Telling directions would have been impossible for instance. I travel a lot and I really depend on my google maps, and even as advanced as technology is these days, I don’t think I could navigate as easily without my reading and writing skills. Our society, as it is now, is very ingrained in social media, I would feel very excluded if I couldn’t share my thoughts through that medium.
Did participating in this experiment give you an insight into life of a refugee who doesn’t have access to education?
I only experienced mere seconds of what I assume it must be like for a refugee, and I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I can hardly fathom what it would be like to experience life in a place that is completely alien to you and not be considered intelligent because you cannot speak the language. Especially for those people who are alone, it is heartbreaking.
Why do think it is important to support a campaign calling for education for child refugees?
These people have lost themselves, their homes, their family and their security. Not having access to an education that could potentially help you build a better future now seems even worse in my eyes. Children have no choice in the situation they are faced with, and they should definitely not be made to pay for the damage caused by adults. No child should ever have to live a life without the freedom of play and the liberty of wonder. Our childhood is a time where we can discover ourselves and the world around us. Childhood is when we should experience the joy and happiness that the world has to offer, as opposed to the fear. If we have the ability to help, why aren’t we? At the end of the day we are all responsible for the world we live in. As global citizens we need to start working more as an ensemble where we can. Everyone deserves an opportunity to learn, it gives people the ability to create the place they want to see themselves in the world. Who knows what potential these refugee children might hold. They could be the ones who grow up and become the change that our world needs. If we help them today, they might be the ones who are helping us in some way in the future.