For everyone The playgrounds are closed: the plight of children in Afghanistan

The playgrounds are closed, the schools are locked down; we’re wearing masks outside and our children are thinking about the plight of Afghani civilians, who are attempting to leave Afghanistan in order to seek safety. This is the power of our education system in Australia, and representative of both our privilege and our capacity to live in relative safety, despite the constraints imposed by the pandemic. It’s also representative of the spirit of the people who make up our community.

Over the last week I have personally been deeply saddened by the news reports about neo-Nazi groups that are claiming some power amongst what largely seems to be groups of disenfranchised and disconnected young Australian men. When I see their slogans and hear their rhetoric, I feel pain in my whole being. I feel pain for their targets – the people I happily and wholeheartedly call my community – our community. Their targets are my students, their parents, people who own shops where I buy food, medicos from whom I receive care, and whose stories interest, intrigue and captivate me. These are the people whose diversity I value.

In the same week, we are being shown footage of Afghani people clinging to the outside of planes moving across the tarmac in Kabul. We are hearing stories of the Taliban seeking the names of girls over the age of 15 who are not married, to be forcefully and non-consensually offered to Taliban army members as wives/slaves. I shudder to think about their futures, and I shudder to not think about their futures. I cannot stand to let young women lose their human rights in a world where they’re owed to everyone, not just those who are western, privileged and loud.

These children show empathy, intelligence and compassion, which is so often lacking in our politicians.

I feel helpless within this current, and I am in conflict around what I should share with my students, and what I should censor. We are reading Morris Gleitzman’s Boy Overboard, a story which details a family’s migration to Australia in an attempt to seek asylum, but who are met with an unknown fate at an off-shore processing centre.

Our students are also researching the Refugee Olympic Team, and waves of migration to Australia. It is the students, however, who make the links. This morning, one 10-year-old sent me a message saying he saw the news about people fighting to leave Kabul and seek safety. Another child, the same afternoon, messaged me to say, “Why does Australia accept so few refugees from Africa? If I was Prime Minister, I would accept thousands of them. I don’t understand”. These children show empathy, intelligence and compassion, which is so often lacking in our politicians. They ask the right questions, and seek the right answers.

So, we continue. Continue to teach and learn together in virtual classrooms, and wade through the torrent of worldly events that affect us. I am grateful to be with my students, and grateful to be able to gently guide them to understanding the great conundrums we are faced with. At the same time, I’m grateful that they’re our future. I genuinely believe that we will be in safe hands, with our diverse, multicultural community; it has great power if we foster and enable it.

The playgrounds might be closed, but our children are still learning. They are still astounding me with not only their resilience during lockdown, but also their wisdom and compassion; their capacity to learn and grow, despite the challenges.

Nicole Jenvey is an AEU member and teacher at Balwyn North Primary School.

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