Francesca Mannocchi, war correspondent: what I saw in Ukraine explained to the boys

For years he has been telling adults about conflicts. Now the Roman reporter has decided to try to give young people the tools to understand that wars, however distant, are always our wars too. Like the one in Ukraine

  mannocchi-war-ukraine-today-38 The war in Ukraine explained to Italian children with a book

Finding the right words for those who are no longer a child but not yet an adult is perhaps the most ambitious task for an adult. Looking for suitable ones to narrate a war is an even more difficult undertaking. Between a correspondence from Afghanistan again Taliban and a news report from Ukraine, reporter Francesca Mannocchi set herself the challenge. A book was born, The look beyond the border (released September 20), for kids aged 11 and up.

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Through reconstructions, maps, glossaries and biographies, he tries to explain what happened and what happens in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Ukraine. And because it affects us. “Of all the books I wrote it was the hardest. To provide tools to understand what is said every day on newspapers, websites and TV, a language was needed that did not take anything for granted. Explain why there is fighting there and why migrant people flee from there. It was like saying to the kids, “Are you ashamed to ask what that means? Here you will find a tool to understand it ”».

What led you to go from adults to children? “I asked myself: to whom is it necessary to speak more? And I answered: to those who have the most interesting questions. Those of adults already contain a principle of prejudice, an answer. The children, the citizens of tomorrow, on the other hand, have questions in purity ».

The words he has chosen and the stories he tells define a path. To teach what? «A method: to unravel a context starting from the history of the individual, to recognize what in the history of the individual is profoundly similar to me. That the burqa is far from us is clear, but how much of the woman wearing it does it look like? In the book I ask the children to try to identify themselves, to imagine having to leave home, being able to bring only one game, only one book, only one object. Which is the reason why refugees always arrive with mobile phones or tablets, on which some speculate: it is not difficult to understand that inside there is the memory of a lifetime '.

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What questions does your son Pietro ask you? «Let's start with what we say to children:“ Eat, there are children who are dying of hunger; do not complain, there are poor children who have nothing ”. These are wrong words. When Pietro asks me about the children I meet in the war, I don't answer that they are poor or hungry, I tell him that they are unfortunate, that they come from conditions different from his, or that they were like him but the war has upset their lives. Telling a little boy 'That child is poor' is to induce him to put him in a category. My son goes to a multicultural school, where there are Italian children and second, third generation of Egyptians, Pakistanis, Bengalis. For Pietro, schoolmate Mahmood is not the black child but the child with the red shirt. They do not see the categories, we must try not to teach them ».

She works with the photographer Alessio Romenzi, her partner, Pietro's father. What questions does your child ask when you return? 'In recent months, partly because he is now 6 years old and understands more what Alessio and I do, partly because like all children he is a sponge, I realize that he has absorbed the fear. And she asked me something that she had never asked: 'But does this war arrive here in Rome?'. And she declined the question in always different ways: 'Can our building collapse too?', 'Can my bedroom come down too?'.

What did you answer him? 'I took a while: children do not accept lies, if you answer with superficiality or pretense they will track you down. The adult wants to be deceived, the child wants me to explain things to him, perhaps in a simplified but true way. So I told him the truth: this war has already come. Building or bedroom will not collapse under the missiles, but we will have to be careful of the water, the light. All bits of war that have come here. Although our children have already encountered this war: for months there has been a little girl in Pietro's class, Angelina, who arrived from Ukraine with her mother. Her dad stayed to fight. For Pietro and her companions it was normal to welcome her ».

Why hasn't the reception of the Ukrainians triggered the controversy when more refugees arrive? “It is a double standard that the war in Ukraine has made blatant. Italy and Europe have assured the fleeing Ukrainians proper help, immediately activating the right of temporary extraordinary asylum. But this highlighted the different approach towards those who escape from conflicts by climbing on a boat, rather than crossing a border. Filippo Grandi, UNHCR High Commissioner said it well: the question of Ukraine demonstrates that racism is the basis of our management of the migratory phenomenon. The answer is based on the color of the skin. Claiming that there are 'real refugees' and others who would not help build a racist social fabric. Europe managed to welcome 2 million Ukrainians in 10 days, guaranteeing legal coverage, the right to work, education, mobility; these are things that make integration easier and avoid creating conditions that feed stigmatization. And it did so with the consent of public opinion '.

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The distinction between 'real' and 'fake' refugees is a distinction in vogue on the right. But let's get to the left: doesn't it seem a bit silent on the subject? 'It is the political party that wrote and signed the memorandum of understanding with Libya, which outsources border control. Europe pays billions of euros to Turkey so that it does not bring immigrants to us. But the 3.5 million Syrians living in Turkey are not in prison. Italy, on the other hand, pays a non-existent government in Libya to keep people in prisons '.

Will the probable victory of the center-right in the elections change the situation? 'I am concerned about the idea that instead of converging on common sense and solidarity, we are moving towards customs clearance of the stigma: towards the black person arriving by sea, towards the Roma used in an unworthy way in the electoral campaign. And this stuff, in kids who face the world during an unprecedented global crisis, in which everyone will have to do without something to save ourselves, can do damage. We must tell our children what President Macron told the country about him: the abundance is over. But we must explain that this makes us a little more equal to the others, that we will have less and we will have to divide the less that exists. And instead we risk becoming a more selfish and therefore more evil country ».