On February 24 the Indiana Interchurch Center was the site of a remarkable exercise in social understanding and empathy. Some 30 people came together to play the Syrian refugee living board game. Krannert Hall was the board; the people were the game pieces. The lessons were disturbing and challenging.
The Syrian refugee living board game was first played at the Indiana Center August 2014, an event organized by the young professionals organization, INDYthinks. The game is a creation of Erin Lang and Hannah Croucher, co-founders of Benga International. Benga was formed in part as a result of the eight months Erin spent in Jordan working with Syrian refugee children. Benga aspires to provide a world-class education for poor and vulnerable children. What began as a curriculum for refugee children is today being implemented in several Indianapolis schools.
Hannah and Erin designed the game to help people in the US understand and empathize with the traumatic experiences of Syrian children today. It’s a simple game to play, requiring no more than numbered sheets of paper laid out on the floor, and cards that tell a short bit of a Syrian child’s life experiences.[hr]
It starts with the “game pieces” (players) choosing spots around the game board.
This can be thought of as a game of life. It isn’t a competitive game, there’s no winning or losing … just going forward or going backward in life, or staying stuck in place … or in some cases, being forced to leave the game.
The rules of the game are simple. Draw a card, read what’s on it, and follow the instructions about moving forward or backward, staying in place or leaving the game.
The card contain short snippets of their experiences as told by Syrian refugee children. The stories make chilling reading.
The stories of the Syrian refugee children are based on fact. Erin and Hannah used a report by the British NGO Save the Children, Untold Atrocities: The Stories of Syria’s Children. It’s hard to imagine more chilling or heart-rending stories of kids whose lives have been traumatized and turned upside down.[laboratory_slideshow animation=”fade” slide_page=”syrian-kid-stories” slidetype=”slides” limit=”20″] [hr]
It’s sometimes hard to read the short vignettes without being overcome by emotion … for children who’ve been through such darkness, how can they brought back to health and humanity?
As might be expected, the most important parts of the game is not reading but talking, sharing thoughts about what the stories mean, and how children who’ve been through these terrible events can be healed.
It helps a lot to have players in the game who’ve worked with the children whose stories are told in the game. Playing the game on February 24 was Syrian artist and Indiana State University art professor Soulaf Abas. Since 2012 Soulaf has been unable to her war-torn and brutalized country.
Soulaf has a message of hope rather than despair.
When she returned to Indiana, Soulaf worked with a group of kids in Terre Haute to send letters of friendship and support to the Syrian children with whom she had worked in Jordan. The refugee children responded with letters to the Hoosier kids, expressions of their wishes for the future. Soulaf published these letters in a book in Arabic and English, Me and You: A letter and art exchange between Syrian refugee children and American children. It’s a powerful book, 100% of sales goes to the kids in Syria … buy it!
From the outside, playing a game about refugee children might seem like a trivialization of trauma and pain. No one who played the game thought so. It was a special opportunity the learn more from people who have first hand experience with these children, to share with others ideas about what we can do to help.