Brazil­ian sis­ters pub­lish book of sto­ries by Syr­ian refugee chil­dren

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MATTHEW PONSFORD

LON­DON – In the fairy tale of “The Trav­el­ing Princess,” the hero­ine is granted three wishes: to travel through for­eign lands, meet new friends and share her riches with the peo­ple she meets. At the end of her jour­ney, Princess Amira gives up her crown, and makes her home in Greece among the fam­i­lies of refugees who have fled Syria’s war, help­ing chil­dren to find lost par­ents and one day re­turn to the lives they have left be­hind.

The story is one of eight tales in a col­lec­tion of mod­ern myths and fables in­vented by Syr­ian and Kur­dish chil­dren liv­ing in Thes­sa­loniki, Greece.

Brazil­ian jour­nal­ist Deb­ora de Pina Castiglione and her sis­ter, il­lus­tra­tor Beatriz, recorded the sto­ries and worked with de­sign­ers and trans­la­tors to cre­ate a book now sold in 11 lan­guages across Europe.

“‘Trav­el­ing Tales’ aims to en­cour­age com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween young refugees and other chil­dren, through the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of myth and wild imag­i­na­tion,” Beatriz said. “The sto­ries cre­ated by the chil­dren are su­per-happy, and full of cre­ativ­ity and ad­ven­ture, and re­ally funny.”

Beatriz, one of five il­lus­tra­tors to con­trib­ute to the book, said the sis­ters wanted to give chil­dren and their par­ents a chance to talk about the war and refugee cri­sis. “But the book is above all an ex­pres­sion of child­hood fun that should al­low read­ers in com­mu­ni­ties host­ing refugees to see the au­thors not as vic­tims but as chil­dren, who share their ex­cite­ment and fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion,” she added. Among the sto­ries, read­ers find a plucky duck who lives in a choco­late house, a king who gets lessons in kind­ness from his chil­dren, and a bat­tle be­tween aliens and chick­ens for Earth’s last re­main­ing eggs. “There’s a lot of fan­tasy: There are ex­trater­res­tri­als, fairies, magic – it’s re­ally di­verse,” Beatriz told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Jour­nal­ist Deb­ora has vol­un­teered in the Greek camps since Au­gust 2016 and said she and her sis­ter had long dreamed of work­ing to­gether on a book. Over four months, Deb­ora hosted work­shops with chil­dren aged be­tween 4 and 14 at three camps – Vasi­lika, La­gadikia and Oreokas­tro – and in the city of Thes­sa­loniki, to lis­ten to sto­ries and help chil­dren de­velop ideas.

She said they had not aimed to get the chil­dren to dis­cuss their ex­pe­ri­ences flee­ing war, but in­stead to cre­ate a space for them to ex­press them­selves.

As they be­gan record­ing sto­ries, one theme reap­peared in ev­ery tale, best demon­strated by Princess Amira, said Beatriz.

“In all of the sto­ries chil­dren speak about welcoming and be­long­ing and be­ing ac­cepted, which re­flects ob­vi­ously the ex­pe­ri­ence they have been through,” she said. “The book has been pop­u­lar in Italy and Greece, coun­tries with large refugee pop­u­la­tions,” said Beatriz.

Some 60,000 refugees and mi­grants, many from Syria, have be­come stranded in makeshift and for­mal camps across Greece since Balkan coun­tries closed their bor­ders last year to those try­ing to reach Western and North­ern Europe.

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