Sticks and Stones
I’ve always wondered what would happen if Aylan Kurdi had somehow found his way to the West. I wondered what would happen if he survived that day and he managed to find home in a land that he didn’t think was his own. I wondered what his story would be. In some sense, you could say that Hassan was born after the death of those children who took to the sea. He became the boy who lived after their stories came to an end.
With everything going on in Burma, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and the likes, the refugee story is one that needs to be heard. Somehow as an audience detached from that world, we think it’s enough to scroll through pictures on Instagram and condemn people on Twitter like we know these people when all we’ve seen are snapshots circulated by The Daily Mail. In reality, we don’t know any of them. We don’t know what they’ve lost and we certainly don’t know where it all began for them.
For me, Hassan’s story gives us a glimpse into that world. Like many children in Syria, he’s the product of parents who were part of the revolution. He saw what he thought was peacetime descend into chaos and conflict and he’s a child of war trying to hold on to what’s left of home.
‘Sticks and Stones’ starts before the revolution. Told in verse, we follow Hassan’s naive perspective on the Syrian revolt. After violence erupts in the country and he loses those dear to him, Hassan, now in his teens, is forced to travel alone across daunting seas and endless stretches of land.
More than anything, I want ‘Sticks and Stones’ to appeal to readers who need something short and powerful to have an impact. I want to revive that old style of oral storytelling where the story is more than words on a page; it’s something that needs to be heard. I always think that when you’re reading ‘Sticks and Stones’, you not only hear Hassan, but you listen to him too, and that’s what we need to emphasise- that those children have a voice. Teaching in a school that lacks cultural diversity has taught me more than anything that it’s those voices that need to be heard. My students come from a world where they’re not exposed to that way of life. They’re blissfully ignorant of the world around them. I've learnt that people not only need to see themselves in the stories they read, but they need to root for the heroes that they’re unfamiliar with, those who are marginalised and demonised in the world they live in. They need to learn to fight for the very people the media treat unjustly, not fight against them.
And children shouldn’t have to drown for their stories to be heard either. Their bodies shouldn’t have to be washed up on the shoreline for the world to take notice of them. Nor should they ever be in the position where a camera is in their face when they’re silently watching their whole world fall apart. At least when Hassan reminisces about his own past, he ends up giving those kids he represents a part of their story. Not only does he tell a familiar tale of a little boy searching for what he once lost, but as a survivor, he strives for more than that. He does what's needed most. He ends up giving a voice of hope to the voiceless without.