Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cybils' Finalist: Four Feet, Two Sandals

It's hard for children to understand that life for other children around the world can be so different from their own experience. Most American children have a home and clothes and go to school. Four Feet, Two Sandals puts a human face on the refugee crisis around the world. Even though this story focuses on a refugee camp on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, it is a story that could be placed in any refugee camp.

This story of friendship found in the most unlikely of places reflects the experience of many refugee children and is, in fact, based on real experiences of the authors. It is a testament to how strong our human need for connection and friendship actually is. When a family is displaced, separated from their home, community, extended family and without a means to support themselves, they become dependent on the kindness of governments and relief organizations. Without control over where they will be relocated, some refugees can live in camps for years.

To realize that friendship can spark and live in a place of such uncertainty and fear is a powerful story of hope and survival. And one which all children should learn about and understand. No matter how bad our situation is, we always have a choice about how to respond to others. We choose whether to stand together or apart.

Refugee camps have some similarity to real life as there are always the routines of every day life that need to be created. Gathering water, washing clothes, cooking food, and care of the family. Impermanance, insecurity and fear fuels the concerns and conversation of everyone living in a camp. Caught between an old life that is gone forever and a new life that cannot yet be glimpsed is frightening.

Yet in the midst of that, two girls find each other and share a pair of shoes. Their friendship helps them humanize their situation reminding them that there are still wonderful things that life will offer them. Illustrator Doug Chayka uses soft, warm colors to convey the desert, tents, primitive conditions, and clothing of the people in the camp.

This is a wonderful story of friendship and hope that should be shared as widely as possible. When we know the face of the "other", we are more likely to greet them as friends than as enemies.

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