Q&A: Virtual app lets Flemish youth walk in the shoes of refugee children


A new project by Plan Belgie exposes Flemish children to life in refugee camps abroad, in the hope of fighting racism and discrimination at home

For better awareness

Plan Belgie, an NGO that fights for children’s rights in developing countries and at home, is launching a new project that lets Flemish youngsters get a virtual look at what life is like in a refugee camp. Jonathan Moskovic, who’s in charge of it, explains how the online platform can help combat racism and discrimination in the Belgian society.

Where did the idea come from?
Our parent organisation, Plan International, started providing aid to children in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania in June 2015, in response to the humanitarian crisis in the neighbouring Burundi. One of the reasons that we are active in this particular camp is that the inhabitants are mainly children.

The idea for an online platform came from our Swedish colleagues, who launched a website in English in order to fight against discrimination and racism and increase solidarity towards refugees. We realized that such a platform would be very useful for young students – aged 10 to 14 – as more than 12,000 children have applied for asylum in 2015 alone. This means children in Belgium are also facing the refugees' reality in their daily life at school, or elsewhere.

How does it help?
Thanks to the Mijn nieuwe thuis (My new home) platform it is now possible to experience the reality by taking a walk in the refugee children’s shoes and listen to their stories. The strength of the project, I believe, is the 360-degree experience where you can explore the inside of a refugee camp, accompanied by the children who live there.

Were the refugees involved in developing the platform?
The platform was created by Plan International Sweden in collaboration with the award-winning photographer Martin Edström from National Geographic. The children of Nyarugusu have put their time and enthusiasm into the photo part of the project. The narrative is also based on several interviews with children at one of Plan International’s youth spaces in the camp.

How will this be linked to schools in Flanders?
We have developed pedagogical material for teachers, but also parents, to help them understand the refugee crisis. Besides that, we are still training schools in Flanders to become so-called Kinderrechtenscholen (Children’s rights schools).

These are schools where the pupils are aware of their rights and those of their peers worldwide. The school gives children’s rights a place in classes, school rules and activities. Already 18 schools have completed this two-year-long endeavour, while twelve others are close to finishing it.

Photo courtesy Plan Belgie