Is Paddington a migrant? A refugee? What is the difference between the two? Does it matter?
These questions are being debated in the classroom, with Paddington acting as a cute, furry Trojan bear in order to introduce children to issues surrounding refugees and immigration.
Kiri Tunks is vice president of the National Union of Teachers and teaches a Global Perspectives class at her school in Tower Hamlets. She has enlisted Paddington for the subject.
“It’s one of the popular lessons, kids really like it,” she says. “I was looking for a way of getting into the refugee question, and tackling the issue from a slightly abstract angle rather than using real-life stories is quite useful in representing the other that sometimes refugees are seen as.
“Initially they conflate the two – migrants and refugees – they think it’s all the same so making the distinction between fleeing and danger, and being an economic migrant helps them think about things in a more sophisticated way.”
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
The children are then split into groups to brainstorm reasons why Paddington should either be allowed to stay in the country or have to leave. But they don’t necessarily get to be on the side they naturally agree with.
“They hate that first of all,” Tunks says, “Then they get really into it. The ones who support immigration who have to argue against it are able to articulate the case very well. They really pull all the different arguments apart.
“They can have their opinion but they have to learn to look at things in the round, and even if you don’t change your position there are reasons why other people have a different position.
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“It makes the point that when you talk about people in an abstract sense, it’s easy to see them as a threat and different but once you know their story you start to relate to them.”
Paddington has also been announced as a Unicef ambassador, fronting their OutRight campaign which teaches kids across the UK about their rights, empowering them to speak up in support of other children around the world who do not have a voice.
“We are living in a time when millions of children are being forced to leave their homes and to put their trust in the kindness of strangers,” says Lily Caprani, deputy executive director of Unicef UK.
“To have a champion like Paddington, whose own story of leaving darkest Peru and finding a new family and a home in a strange country resonates as strongly and freshly today as it did when it was first published.”
You can read more about how Paddington is One Of Us in this week’s Big Issue. If you can’t reach a vendor or you live outside the UK then you can pick up your copy in The Big Issue Shop. Paddington 2 is in cinemas now.