First School Screening of 'Learning to Swim'

On June 11th LIVED team members delivered the first ever school screening of the documentary our team made last spring in Jordan, titled Learning to Swim. The documentary aims to humanize the stories of Syrian forced displacement and give voice to some of the young people who have lost their homes and whose lives and futures have been disrupted as a result of the ongoing civil war. The documentary was screened for two P7 classes at Craiglockhart Primary school in Edinburgh.

Our lesson aims were to:

   Encourage pupils to talk and think about the meaning of home and their hopes for the future;

   Encourage pupils to follow the personal stories and experiences of the children in the documentary, and talk about the similarities and differences compared with their own lives, and why these similarities and differences might exist;

   Give pupils the chance to express their feelings, thoughts and questions for the Syrian children featured in the film through letter writing and drawing;

   Build upon these points of connection between Scottish pupils and the Syrian children in the documentary, to develop empathy and understanding, and to give human faces and genuine human connection to the ongoing conflict in Syria.


When asked about some of the similarities they share with the young people in the documentary around the theme of ‘home’, pupils replied with:  friendship, playing, face painting, computers, shops, schools and cellphones. When talking about differences they said: tents, homes destroyed, toilets, dirty streets and missing belongings. It was particularly interesting to hear the students put cellphones and schools in the differences, noting that some students in their own class did not have a cellphone and that some young people in the documentary did not attend school.

There were a lot of moments and images in the documentary that the pupils were able to identify with and discuss. While thinking about the similarities and differences between their experiences and the experiences of the young people in the film, the pupils showed empathy, thoughtfulness and compassion for the lives of these children whom they had never met.

Hopes for the future

We did the same exercise with the theme of ‘aspirations’. In terms of similarities, the students identified the following: desire to get a good job, desire to be a doctor, wishes for peace, desire for good friends and freedom. In terms of the differences, only one difference was seriously discussed: lack of access to schooling.

This activity showed that while there are noticeable differences in the way the students in this school and the young people in the documentary experience ‘home’, the same aspirations of leading a good life and developing meaningful relationships with others are common, from Scotland to displaced youth in Jordan.

Letters and drawings to Jordan

 At the end of the lesson, we asked the students to write letters to one or all of the young people whom they had encountered in the documentary. Pupils shared things from their own lives, posed questions, and drew pictures. Some of these letters can be viewed on the pictures below and we hope to be able to send these letters to Jordan in the near future.

Thanks and final thoughts

Finally, we would like to thank again Craiglockhart Primary school for allowing us to screen our documentary and to engage with their students on this important topic.

One of the driving motivating factors behind the making of the documentary was to encourage people, especially youth, to identify with the stories and experiences of forcibly displaced school-aged children that they would likely not otherwise encounter, and beyond that to demonstrate empathy for these people in a way that might resonate and lead to concrete action.  Our first school screening has enabled us to engage with this particular purpose, and has given us points to reflect on, and ideas for improving and adapting this format for future engagement.

On a more personal note, the team also enjoyed the chance to see people engaging with the documentary first-hand, and the reaction of some of the P7 pupils made all the time and energy invested into Learning to Swim feel instantly worthwhile. When working with young people, it's particularly exciting as there is no way to know in what ways these kinds of experiences will act as a seed for further thought and development in the longer-term.