Syrian refugees to learn NI culture through bilingual book

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Image caption,
The book will explain the experiences of refugee children to NI pupils

A new bilingual school book in both Arabic and English is to be provided to pupils across Northern Ireland.

When the Lights Go Out aims to educate Syrian refugee children about Northern Irish language and culture.

It also tells pupils from Northern Ireland about the experiences of refugee children.

The book, written and illustrated by Helen Patuck, was commissioned and produced by the Education Authority (EA).

Some 1,549 Syrian refugees have come to Northern Ireland since the first group of 51 arrived in December 2015.

They have been settled under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.

That means there are now hundreds of refugee children in Northern Irish schools.

Aiham and Mais joined Ballyhenry Primary School in Newtownabbey in January 2019.

Both are settling well and getting to grips with the English language.

Image caption,
Mais told BBC News NI she liked life and school in Northern Ireland

Mais told BBC News NI she liked life and school in Northern Ireland.

"We live in Glengormley and it's good," she said. "I like to read and work.

"The school has helped me read in English."

Many Syrian pupils who have come to Northern Ireland have fled conflict, often spending months - and sometimes years - in refugee camps.

According to Ballyhenry Primary's principal Lynn Knocker that means they have had to develop incredible resilience.

Image caption,
The book will be distributed across schools in the autumn term

"They talk only a little bit about what they've gone through but we understand there was a lot of trauma," she said.

"The fact that they're in a safe place where they feel secure and where people are looking after them... makes a really big difference to them."

Some of Ballyhenry Primary's pupils told their stories to the book's author Helen Patuck and Ms Knocker said that had helped them connect with each other.

"Having the Arabic and the English in the same book means that everybody in school can read the book together and that just brings a sense of community within the school," she said.

Now aged 16, Hamza has been in Northern Ireland since he was 13, having fled the war-torn city of Aleppo in Syria.

Image caption,
Hamza has been in Northern Ireland for three years and is studying for his GCSEs

He is studying for GCSEs at St Patrick's Academy in Lisburn and said the school had really helped him over the past three years.

"Northern Ireland was more than perfect for me, because the war in Syria was terrible," he said.

"The first challenge was the language - it was very challenging when I first came."

"My school supported me a lot."

"People are very helpful and very good in my opinion - the teachers helped us a lot."

"I'm definitely staying here, I'm not going anywhere."

"I want to graduate here and live here."

When the Lights Go Out will be distributed to schools across Northern Ireland by the EA during the autumn term.

There are different age-appropriate versions for pupils at key stages 1, 2 and 3, as well as a digital audiobook.

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