Creating a safe space for refugee children to express their feelings

“Where is Zuhause?” – get to know a very special project with refugee children living in Berlin. It’s a safe space and possibility for them to connect while creatively expressing their feelings.

Half of the world’s refugees are children. Young and vulnerable souls, everyone single one of them with their own story, trauma, and experiences that shaped them in their young age. Some may have traveled with their families or certain family members, other ones alone and unaccompanied, but they all risked a lot for their future, even their lives. Coming from different backgrounds they do have one thing in common: A new home that has to become a true home yet. A place where they can cope, heal and grow. 

While it is especially important in this case that a place like this is a physical one, there can also be additional safe spaces – made of creativity, freedom of expression, and cohesion. That’s why “Where is Zuhause” is more than just a project, it can be part of a new start for refugee children, a fundament for development, or a holding hand that leads them to the path they want to take. And it can most definitely be something that makes them feel – feel heard, seen, and protected. But all from the beginning: What is it actually about?

“Where is Zuhause?” is an ongoing project which is organized by Helena Mancelos, Carlos Vin Lopes, and Valerio Nicoletti, a group of artists and designers. The core element is a series of artistic workshops for and with refugee children between four and twelve years who are living in Berlin. During those sessions they have the chance to connect, let their emotions run free, and to manifest them visually, whether it is an abstract drawing or a figurative representation. “Children live between reality and imagination. When they express themselves, they project what is happening in their inner world to the outside”, explains artist and teacher Helena Mancelos. So each visual expression is connected to a certain feeling which then gets reinterpreted by the artists in form of a single word, a small note, maybe a few sentences, and/or a visual composition. All to translate and enhance some of the children’s conveyed feelings. 

“Journey”, “arrival”, “adaption” and “future” – these are the sections the whole visual content is divided into. Therefore, the participating children can express their emotions towards the different phases they went and are still going through – from the departure of their home countries and the welcome in Germany to getting to know their new reality and taking further steps. The special thing about this project is its different perspectives. On the one hand, it focuses on the refugee children, giving them an opportunity to process their journeys and to create. On the other hand, it has put forth a work of art for the world to see. Something that inspires, that can open eyes and hearts. “From the moment Helena Mancelos invited me to join this project, the word ‘empathy’ started to resonate in my ears”, Carlos Vin Lopes states. “As a mental exercise, we carry out in order to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. The shoes and feelings of a kid who has lost everything, with no clear understanding of what is really happening around them; the feelings of a mother, or a father, carrying their children without knowing what will happen, what to do, where to go.” So those experiences turned into something creative which can positively influence those children, can also be an exercise in empathy for everyone seeing this pure and honest art. 

“Where is Zuhause?” even turned into a book format, which shows the artistic exchange between the children and the creatives who are organizing the project. You can have a look at it here

“Where is Zuhause”
Instagram: @where_is_zuhause

This article is part of the GASH theme series „Values on the rise: Empathy and solidarity as the basis of unity“.