Local Teacher Writes Children’s Book Inspired by Refugees
SOURCE: THE BREEZE
BY: MATTHEW SASSER
“Messages from Maryam” is a children’s book inspired by the interactions of Iraqi refugees in Lauren Pichon’s English as a second language classroom. It teaches children to have courage in the face of adversity and to treat others with kindness and compassion.
“It was eye opening to me to learn a middle Eastern refugee perspective,” Pichon said. “You hear about central American and South American people and the lengths they go to. I was uninformed about what the status was like in refugee camps and the process of emigrating to the U.S.”
Two students who didn’t know each other in Iraq but became good friends in Pichon’s ESL class inspired the characters in the book. She decided to write this book after struggling to find any children’s books that had characters who resembled her students.
“Kids deserve to be represented in literature that is appropriate to them,” Pichon said.
“Messages from Maryam” tells the story of two girls coming to America from Iraq. It’s told through letters written between the two characters after they’re separated.
“I think that being able to show someone who is not originally from the U.S. in the U.S. and is maybe wearing a hijab can show how they’re integrating with people,” Kendra Yoder, illustrator of the book, said. “It shows how people can learn to interact with them.”
The everyday interactions with families and students from Pichon’s classroom were woven into the characters of the book. Pichon hopes that students learn to embrace the differences in people and learn about each other’s backgrounds.
“Lauren was incredibly culturally sensitive and had a heart for making sure that the students she was working with could maximize their potential,” Laura Feichtinger McGrath, ESL coordinator for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, said.
In addition to this book, Pichon’s elementary school students had the opportunity to donate their spare change to buy books for the Nasaruni Academy in Kenya. They raised $800 dollars for the school, and a copy of “Messages from Maryam” was sent to them as well.
According to Pichon, outreach events are a way to bring people of different backgrounds together and form a community. It’s a similar message echoed in her book.
For JMU research analyst Jacob Mayiani, events and programs such as this help the Nasaruni Academy achieve its goals. A similar event for the Nasaruni Academy, the Empty Bowls fundraiser, raised between $9,000 and $12,000 last year.
“Education is important – people sometimes forget that there are people who work really hard for the opportunity to go to school,” Mayiani said. “By contributing to these causes, you are helping people who are really yearning to get into the classroom.”
Pichon hopes that her book inspires people of all different backgrounds to learn to treat others with kindness and compassion. Even when dealing with the hardships of leaving a county you know of as home and going somewhere else, adversity can be overcome.
“So many countries have refugees – whether people are fleeing from the country, hosting some sort of refugee camp, or a country bringing in refugees,” Pichon said. “I do think that certain elements from the story can transcend cultures.”