It’s been over 5 horrible, anxious weeks since the war in the Ukraine started. Most days I read the papers and listen to the news, worrying along with the rest of the world about the pain and suffering of the Ukrainian people as they fight for their lives and homeland. The devastation brought on by the Russian army led by a man more concerned with returning to a past fantasy of his own making, rather than to better the lives of his people and the rest of the planet. Another forced migration of people caused by a “leader” lost in his own ego-driven wet dream. And I think about will come from this newest round of refugees caused to flee their homes, jobs, schools, language, and culture, and about the PTSD that will impact civilians by the shock and pain of war, bullets, bombs, missiles, and other tools of destruction and think what a waste it all is.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation about using graphic novels to teach people in about out of school about social justice writ large. During these past five weeks I have been looking through my library of graphic novels, many of them about the human cost of war as well as its impact society, the pain and suffering, the death and destruction. Books about the Holocaust (Maus; Keeping my hope) Iran (Persepolis), Syria, (Escaping wars and waves: Encounters with Syrian refugees) Lebanon (I remember Beirut), Israel (Not the Israel my parents promised me) Palestine (Palestine: a nation occupied; Green Almonds: letters from Palestine) Afghanistan (The Photographer), Cambodia (Year of the Rabbit), Vietnam (Vietrnamerica: a family's journey), the Congo (Child soldier: when boys and girls are used in war), Armenia (Operation Nemesis: a story of genocide and revenge), Bosnia/Serbia (FAX from Sarajevo: story of survival; Safe Area Goražde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995), stories and personal memoirs about the global refugee crises (Threads from the refugee crises, ) as well as aftermath of war on society(Paracuellos: Children of the defeats in Francisco’s Fascist Spain). Some are personal memoirs, some history, and some historical fiction. These authors tell personal and authentic stories, that engage readers with their urgent sense terror and loss, pain and confusion being forced to leave their homes and communities, seeking refuge in places where their cultures, languages and experiences are not understood, and they are look on with fear and mistrust.
Yet there is also hope here- the stories help educate and heal. Art educators and psychologists report on the psychological and emotional benefits of drawing and telling stories. For example, Karina Ivashchenko, a 14-year-old from Mariupol started to make comics after a Russian missile destroyed one of the residential buildings in her neighborhood. Read more about this here: https://metro.co.uk/2022/04/01/girl-14-draws-comic-strips-to-overcome-fear-and-trauma-in-war-torn-ukraine-16390017/?fbclid=IwAR0wco65OhCaUCj0_Y3SP6sBXfn9mKwLHT5H5JmdYKT44ObCKD9gjah_f1Q
Stories about their experiences help people far from the conflict to understand the experiences and journeys of those peoples who have experienced forced migration, which can assist in helping to absorb the newcomers into their communities. There is always more to be done, but these books are a very good start.
As I write this, I think of the three wonderful teachers who have been working with me for nearly a year to teach their students how to make comics, individual stories as well as collaborations. Lusine Jhangiryan, a proud Armenian teaching in Siberia, Gloria Ifeyinwa in Lagos Nigeria and Dung Nguyen in Ho Chi Minh City (https://www.globalcomixandlearning.org/people) in Vietnam jumped into this project with passion for teaching, curiosity, and desire to learn about and how to teach this genre to their students, and it has been a blast! Even though scheduling Zoom classes in multiple time zones has been challenging at times, watching, and listening to the students in our collaborative laugh, chat and share stories about each other is fun and rewarding, and looks like we are all planting seeds for the future.