This post was written by Phil Lane, director of Oasis Belgium
Recently, I had the privilege of reading the school reports of two small boys to them and their father. They had all been through a great deal; poverty, discrimination, living in a squat, violent expulsion by the police and the disintegration of all they ever new when their Mum left them in the middle of all that chaos. Even now, they live in very precarious circumstances and are never far from hunger and the streets. What I want to underline here though, is not the hardship of their lives, but their bravery. Two boys, aged seven and nine years old, north africans living in Belgium, trying to come to grips with French, and all the pressures that come with school these days. The older boy struggles with school and is often angry, as he copes with his trauma. Yet still, there he is, doing well in maths even if his hand-writing needs work. Reading through a school report, I have always believed that you should emphasise the positive, the successes and victories, before encouraging the child to work on the subjects that have seen struggle and failure. As I read the report out, you could see his face start to light up, as I picked out positive after positive. His younger brother had a glowing report and was obviously a joy to be with in class. He smiled a shy smile, it was obviously something that the teachers had told him before. What bravery from these immigrant boys, doing their best despite the trauma and poverty of their lives! What bravery from the teachers who with few resources are transforming the hopes of immigrant children into realities. Oasis has supported these children for years, and it was good to see that they were making progress.
It reminded my of another young immigrant child who we helped while we were working for Oasis in India. He was eight years old, skinny and strong willed. His Mum and Dad had brought him and his younger sister to Mumbai from Orissa in the hope of working and living on construction sites. So, they lived in a tent or a lean-to shack in the shells of luxury apartments they could never afford to live in. They were Indian, but this far from their home state and language, they were in effect immigrants to the city. Soon after they arrived, the boy found our drop-in centre and wandered in. From the beginning it was obvious how intelligent he was. He couldn’t get enough of our teaching, learning to hold a pen, to form his letters, and finally to read and write. Somehow this brave young boy could sense that this was the door out of the endless poverty of his life. Learning was exhilarating, like exploring a new universe. Then came the inevitable; the father announced that their building work was over and they were moving to another part of the city. The boy was devastated and shouted at his parents that he would run away from home and sleep outside the drop-in centre because he had to keep learning. Imagine the determination and courage of this extraordinary eight-year-old. A new city, a new language and yet he was determined to learn. I will never forget my colleague squatting in the dirt and asking the boy’s Dad what his own father had done “he worked like this” was the answer. And his grandfather? “the same”. “So, how will your son get a better life, if not through education?” There was silence as the truth dawned. At last he could glimpse what his son had already seen. So, we agreed to fetch him and bring him each day to the centre and eventually we were able to get him a place at a boarding school. Change was possible because of his bravery.
The answer to immigration is not increasing exclusion and isolation, but providing opportunity and education. Next time you see an immigrant child, think just how brave they are, and just how far they’ve come for the opportunities that we take for granted.
If you would like to donate to the work of Oasis Belgium, bringing dignity, respect and hope to the exploited and the marginalised, thank you. You can donate here.