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A model for exchanging thoughts between asylum seekers and students

During Encounters students will get to know the stories of asylum seekers as told by the asylum seekers themselves. The goal is to increase dialogue in society. The lesson also teaches students the importance and value of volunteering to help the refugee situation.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






March 2017
The best way to remove fear and prejudice is for people from different backgrounds to meet each other face to face.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

There are more refugees around the world than ever before, which has caused the numbers of asylum seekers around the world to grow. This understandably raises questions and suspicion, which schools need to be able to address in a way that promotes dialogue. Encounters is a method that has proven effective.

Encounters is a three lesson unit designed for secondary schools. Its long-term goal is to promote dialogue in society by introducing young people to the stories of refugees.

The students get to know the story of an asylum seeker as told by the asylum seeker themselves, learn about the value of volunteer work, and the ways one person can make a difference. Additionally, the encounters between youth and asylum seekers create discussion about attitudes in society and how everyone can affect them with their own actions.

Encounters helps both students and teachers see human life from a new perspective. Surveys of participants reveal that Encounters has changed student perceptions about asylum seekers and motivates students to find a way they can volunteer to help.

Encounters was created by the Refuhome organisation, which was founded in September 2015 when the parish of Lauttasaari gave emergency accommodation to 120 asylum seekers. The first Encounter was held in Spring 2016, when a teacher felt that racist ideas were gaining a foothold at their school. The teacher asked a volunteer and an asylum seeker to visit the school to talk about their experiences. The word about the impact of the event spread to other schools and they tried it out as well.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Students get to know a difficult topic in a safe environment, that is relevant to today’s world.


Understanding refugees and the causes and people behind the phenomenon.


The current refugee situation affects several countries and is a recurring issue throughout history, so will affect all nations at different points. Hearing the stories of asylum seekers is eye-opening for many students.


Implementation steps

Discussing the refugee phenomenon beforehand
It’s best to prepare students for the visit by showing them up-to-date statistics and talking about the refugee situation around the world.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR’s site has daily statistics of refugees around the world and other information about the topic.

Inviting an asylum seeker and a volunteer
The face-to-face meeting between youth and asylum seekers is the key to success for Encounters.

Invite a volunteer who works with asylum seekers to visit your school with the asylum seeker. You can get in contact with volunteers through organisations such as your local Red Cross organisation or other refugee organisations.

Send the instructions for how the class works to the volunteer and asylum seeker beforehand.

Collecting questions from the class
Ask the class beforehand to think of questions that interest them, like the life of asylum seekers or volunteer work.

Send the questions to the volunteer and asylum seeker before the class, so they are both prepared to answer the questions.

Setting the date and time for the Encounter
In planning the Encounter, make sure to reserve enough time for the lesson.

It’s best to have several student groups take part at once and to reserve 75–90 minutes for the lesson.

The structure of an Encounter:

  1. The volunteer talks about their work

  2. The asylum seeker tells their story

  3. Q&A with the student questions sent beforehand

  4. Exercise for students

Student exercise
The point of the exercise is to bring the asylum seeker’s story to life. The exercises can be done at the end of the Encounter or during the next class.

Here is an example of an exercise you could use about the important things in life:

(Source: Finnish Refugee Council: http://pakolaisapu.fi/en/)

Every student folds an A4 sheet of paper in half, so that the sheet is divided in 16 parts (i.e. four times). Then, you tear or cut the paper along the folds to get 16 smaller pieces.

Ask the students to follow these instructions step by step. You can try it out yourself and demonstrate with your own pieces of paper while you’re giving the instructions:

  1. Put three papers in front of you and write down the three most important objects to you on them (one on each).

  2. Put down three new pieces of paper and write down the three most important places for you on them (one on each).

  3. Take three new pieces of paper again and write down three of the most important things you like to do on them (one on each).

  4. On the next three papers write down the three most important people to you.

  5. On the last three papers write down the three most important values to you (e.g. love, honesty, trustworthiness).

One of the papers is left over as a spare. Next, ask the student to:

  1. First take away five of the things

  2. Then take away two of the things

  3. And take away three more of the things

You will be left with each student’s five most important things. Compare the things that were left as a class. What kind of things were left on the table? How did it feel to take things away and weigh your options?

At this point the teacher will step in and take three random pieces of paper away from each student. What was left? How did it feel when you couldn’t affect what was taken away? When you can’t decide for yourself anymore and almost everything in your life could be lost suddenly, it becomes incredibly difficult or impossible to live in a place like that.

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