Many young people these days are fortunate enough to have no direct experience of war. However, it remains vital for them to learn about the devastation and suffering war inflicts, in the hope of preventing history from repeating itself.
Recognising the importance of educating their students about the horrors of war, a group of English teachers at the British International School, Phuket have undertaken a unique project that adds a personal dimension to the subject.
The project, first and foremost, asks students to discover their own families’ stories regarding the impact of war and then retell these stories through a variety of media including the written word, video, graphic art and their own voices.
English teacher Mr Robert Mark, who first struck upon the idea of students interviewing relatives about their war experiences and retelling those stories through video, said in collaboration with his colleagues that the project has expanded over time to incorporate a range of media to allow their classes to creatively express these family stories.
“For the past four years my Year 9 English classes have undertaken a video project in conjunction with our study of various literary representations of war, such as novels, songs, poems, and films,” said Mr Mark.
“For this project they had to research their own family history to find a relative who had experienced war first-hand. This entailed interviewing parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and in some cases, even great-grandparents to get the story of a family member’s personal account of what it was like to experience the horrors and hardships of war, as well as the historical context of the war itself,” he added.
Once the students had compiled these stories through interviews they were tasked with shooting a black and white first person piece to camera recounting their relatives’ stories in their own words.
The videos were then uploaded to YouTube and the BISP website in order to share them as widely as possible.
“After writing out the story and learning it by heart, they are asked to find a quiet room in their homes, and film themselves telling the story using the black and white option of iMovie or a similar application to reflect the gravity of the story,” said Mr Mark.
The Phuket News watched several of the student’s videos. It was immediately striking that so many students, especially as international school students coming from such diverse backgrounds, were able to discover harrowing stories about the impact of war among their relatives.
The result is a compelling series of videos that tell these true stories of war, in the students’ own words, from all sides of some of the major conflicts of the last century.
“For these young teens, who were unaware that these family stories even existed, to discover that war doesn’t just impact the lives of strangers or fictional characters, that it impacts the lives of their own families as well, is often quite stunning,” said Mr Mark.
This year the project has evolved to become even more of a group effort, with more Year 9 teachers deciding to have their students investigate their family of war story for the first time.
The format was also changed to direct students to create a two-page graphic memoir of their family’s stories.
This creative aspect was combined with further study of graphic war novels and learning about the technical features such as panels, thought and speech bubbles, captions, framing, colour and symbolism.
“We studied the techniques in making graphic novels, looked at some for exemplification and had the students create their own two-page graphic memoir style accounts of their relative’s war story,” said Mr Mark.
Several students have praised the project and talked about the valuable lessons learned while undertaking it.
“It changed my outlook on war. Before, I hadn’t realised how involved my family had been in the Second World War. Now I do andI look at war differently,” said student Jordan Hayward.
“When my dad sat down and told me the whole story of my great grandfather’s World War I experience as a member of the so called ‘Sportsmen’s Thousand’ I was shocked,” said student Kit Stevens.
“It hit home how real the life and death situation was for soldiers in combat. He was lucky to survive the Gallipoli campaign. For the rest of his life, he remained partially deaf from the sound of the guns,” he added.
For more information about the project and to view the fascinating videos made by the students in this and previous years please visit: bisphuket.ac.th/family-of-war-stories-2017