Children and colonisation: 'We're lucky to be born now'

  1. Last updated on
Kinderen luisteren tijdens workshop

Elisabethville 1954

With a lot  of noise and excitement, the children enter the classroom, which has undergone a metamorphosis. Thanks to a complicated movement code, which we have to apply ourselves, we travel back in time to 1954, Elisabethville. Everyone is fascinated by Titine, teacher Jolien Michielsen’s alias.

The children are clearly aware of Congolese history and Belgium’s role during the country’s colonisation. When asked about what they know about Leopold II, they come up with descriptions such as "mass murderer", "discriminator" and "Congolese coloniser".

The children are divided into three groups: Congolese, évolués (Congolese with more rights) and Europeans. When they hear "more rights", they immediately start shouting: "I want that! That is the group I want to be in!’

Jolien Michielsen

Jolien Michielsen with a photo of Leopold II, well known to the children.

When they receive their new identity, the differences immediately become apparent: Europeans get the best places in the classroom, then it is up to the évolués to pick a seat. And the Congolese? They just have to fill in the gaps or even sit on the floor. Soon frustrations start to show. The Congolese have to carry out "inferior" tasks while the Europeans keep a close eye on them and severely reprimand them. Some Europeans play their role very convincingly and begin to harass and provoke the Congolese.

When the Congolese can finally relax, they are only allowed to watch children's films, because they would not be intelligent enough to understand adult films. Indignation and protest only grow among the children of De Brug…

Traces of colonisation

This role play is part of the teaching material "Sporen van de kolonisatie" (Traces of Colonisation), a project of Studio Globo. The sixth grade children enthusiastically tell about what they have just experienced: 'We have learned a lot about what happened in Congo. In the second grade, we had already been taught a little bit, but this was much more extensive.' (...) ' By imitating what happened, we feel what it must have been like. We are really lucky that we are born now', one of the children says. The teachers, too, are enthusiastic about Studio Globo's workshop: "The workshops are having an impact. With simple materials, they succeed in taking children to a different world and making them think." 

What is Studio Globo?

Studio Globo is an NGO that specialises in development education and receives support from the Belgian Development Cooperation. Through a wide range of educational programmes, Studio Globo aims to create interconnectedness and solidarity for everyone and between everyone. They focus on different pillars: discovering the world, learning how to positively deal with diversity, helping other people and the environment, and building a sustainable world based on solidarity. Studio Globo organises workshops in schools, both at its own initiative and at the request of the schools involved.

Learning to decolonise

With their slogan "Dekoloniseren kun je leren" (Decolonise is something you can learn), the organisation hopes to draw children’s attention in a nuanced and correct way to the traces of colonisation that we still encounter on a daily basis. The children quickly grasp the absurdity of inequality: "You are black, so you must do that. You are white, so you are allowed to do that! Realising your rights and duties depend on your skin colour is very strange."

Studio Globo attaches great importance to linking to past to the present. After all, racism is not a thing of the past. In a diverse class, children are not just bystanders, they sometimes draw on their own experiences. It is very important - and one of Studio Globo’s goals - that the experience they gain makes children form, reconsider or support their own opinions. The children realise that inequality is still not over and demand a better world: 'We should collect signatures and go to parliament. We must denounce that some people are still not treated equally!'