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Welcome Painting #1 – Chapter 1

On November 22, 2015, as part of our “Friends from around the World” series, we got together with our friend Dalia to learn about what it was like to live in the United Arab Emirates and then move here to Ottawa. You can read the full post about this awesome activity here.

As part of this super fun day, we had all the kids make a “Welcome Painting” that we could then present to a family who has recently moved to Ottawa from another country. Here is a photo of the World-Changing Kids who were involved in the creation of “Welcome Painting #1”.

5. Final Group Painting

We thought that it would be especially nice to give this painting to a family who arrived in Ottawa as refugees. If you have not yet spoken to your World-Changing Kids about refugees, here is a little explanation you can read to them ….

A Child-Size Conversation about Refugees

If a family arrives in Ottawa as refugees, this means that the family had to leave their country because of war or natural disaster – because they worried that they would not survive if they stayed in their country. In this situation, the family normally leaves their house and all their belongings behind. They only bring what they can carry with them in a bag. The children have to leave most of their books and toys and clothes. Many times, the families do not want to leave their homes, but they have no choice. This is a very scary experience for both the children and the parents.

Sometimes families will have to walk for a very long time to get to somewhere that is safe. Sometimes they will arrive at a refugee camp where they then have to wait for an even longer time before they are selected to be moved to a new country.

If the family is lucky enough to be selected and moved out of the refugee camp to a new country, they most likely do not speak the language of the people in the new country. On top of that, for families that are selected to come to Ottawa, they have probably never experienced winter like we have here. Everything is new, different and scary when they first arrive.

So we thought that it would be super nice to make a “Welcome Painting” for a family who has experienced something like this. We wanted to give them something that our World-Changing Kids created to say, “We are happy that you are you here and that you are safe. We hope that you like it here in Ottawa. We want to welcome you to our community.”

We thought that if the family was not able to bring any of their furniture, pictures, or artwork with them when they moved, it might make them really happy to have a nice painting to hang on the wall of their new home. We hope that it will make them feel a little more comfortable in their new home. We thought this was a great World-Changing Kids thing to do!

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The activity of making the “Welcome Painting”, and the conversations around why we are making it, is also an amazing learning experience for the World-Changing Kids involved. This helps them build empathy and compassion for new families who arrive in Ottawa. Explaining, at a child’s level, how hard it was for these families to get here, and how sad it is that they even had to make the journey, will allow the children to have a deeper understanding of refugees and immigration.

While we were making “Welcome Painting #1”, we talked about how children who had to flee their homes because of war went to school before the war started, just like our kids in Ottawa do. They had a bedroom full of toys and books. They played games outside with their friends. They had their favourite foods that their parents would make for them. They had big family celebrations for birthdays and other holidays.

Explaining that the children who had to flee their country had lives that were quite similar to the lives of the children in Ottawa, teaches the kids that we are all more the same than we are different. The issues around immigration are easier to approach and understand if the kids can see them through the eyes of another child in their community.

You can have conversations with your children about these issues from the minute that they start talking. I have done it, and it works. Kids listen. I actually think they listen more intently because they can sense that this is an important issue.

Following my World-Changing Kids philosophy, I present the information in a way that the kids can handle. I don’t over-sensationalize it. I don’t show them 24 hour CNN footage of cities being bombed or children drowning as they try to flee by boat. I just tell them the facts. Then I present some ways that we can help. For example, we went to three Community Welcome Receptions for the Syrian families who arrived in Ottawa this winter and we helped hand out stuffed animals to the children (you can read about one here)

Presenting the facts and suggested ways to help in the same conversation will empower children with the belief that they can do something to make it better, that they can make a difference.

I believe that if children only see the nightly news and read the headlines of all the terrible things going on in the world, without being given any suggestions for what they can do to help, this will result in a generation of children who are extremely anxious. And to cope with this high level of anxiety about what is going on in the world, they will become disengaged and apathetic.

But if we show them small things that they can do to help make a situation better, and we show them that we are proud of them for getting involved, we will be able to raise a generation of engaged, confident, creative, compassionate World-Changing Kids. This is what I want to spend my life doing. And I can’t wait to see what these kids will do when they are the decision makers and leaders of the world.

Stay tuned for “Welcome Painting #1 – Chapter 2” … where we present this painting to a lovely Syrian family – which you can get a hint of from the picture at the top of this post (where I am in the middle of saying something interesting while I straighten the painting). It was too much information to write all in one post!

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For 75 Acts of Kindness that will help you teach your children empathy, kindness and community engagement, check out our book, “Plant a Garden of Kindness, A Child’s Guide to Filling a Year with Weekly Acts of Kindness”. Click on “Buy our Book” in the upper right corner of our website for a list of fantastic Ottawa retail locations that sell our book, as well as instructions for online ordering.

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