Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Life as a Refugee
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


This lesson is based upon the UNHCR video "Working with Refugees," which provides students with insight into the reasons why people flee their homes and what UNHCR does to support these vulnerable people and help them rebuild their lives. Through this video, as well as the supplementary materials, students gain the opportunity to imagine the life of a refugee, his/her struggles, emotions, and triumphs, and to understand the role UNHCR plays in protecting and assisting refugees worldwide.


One 45-Minute Session


The learner will:

  • define refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country.
  • analyze a multi-media presentation through note-taking and discussion.
  • relate the work of USA for UNHCR (a civil society organization) to human rights and the First Amendment.


  • internally displaced person (IDP): someone who has been forced to flee his or her home for the same reason as a refugee, but remains in his or her own country and has not crossed an international border. Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid
  • refugee: someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group; a refugee either cannot return home or is afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.
  • stateless person: someone who is not a citizen of any country. Citizenship allows for certain political, economic, social and other rights of the individual, as well as the responsibilities of both government and citizen.
  • UNHCR: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; office established in 1950 to protect the human rights of refugees and provide for their assistance through legal, social, economic aid
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 as the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled



Handout 1
Viewing Guide: Working with Refugees

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Write the word refugee on the board or on a large piece of chart paper. Ask students to brainstorm words, phrases, or images that come to mind immediately when they hear the word, and write these in a web around the word. Responses may include concrete situations like war as well as more abstract concepts like fear. Try to gather at least 10-15 words/phrases. 
  • Explain to students that they will be watching a short video about the UN Refugee Agency that will provide more information about the world’s refugees and what UNHCR does to help them.
  • Depending on the prior knowledge of your students, you may briefly discuss the purpose and mission of the United Nations. See the UN website, http://www.un.org/en/aboutun/index.shtml, for more information.
  • Distribute Attachment One: Viewing Guide and go over the instructions. You may divide up the questions so groups each take responsibility for one segment. 
  • Show the video "Working with Refugees." http://www.unrefugees.org/site/c.lfIQKSOwFqG/b.6330675/k.C4EA/Videos.htm 
    Students may take notes during the showing.
  • The video is about 20 minutes long, broken down into four segments. For learners who may struggle with the intake of information in audio-visual format (particularly with subtitles), you may stop the video after each segment and go over the Viewing Guide together.
  • After students have watched the video and filled in the Viewing Guide, go back to the refugee word web. Ask students to add words/phrases based on the knowledge and understanding that they gained from the video.
  • Ask the students what the work of UNHCR has to do with human rights and the First Amendment. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
  • Ask, "Whose responsibility is it to protect refugees' rights?" Discuss how students feel about helping refugees.

Youth Voice:

Allow time for students to respond personally to the information presented in the video. It is through their personal connection that they will feel motivated to take action to advocate for refugees.


Students’ skills and knowledge should be evaluated based on engagement in and contributions to discussion, as well as accuracy of answers on the Viewing Guide.

Curriculum Connection:

Math: Analyze and interpret statistics about refugees http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c4d6.html 

Social Studies: Look up maps and familiarize yourself with the geographic features of an area where refugees lived, their escape routes, and temporary settlements. See Bibliographical References. From the UNHCR site, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c206.html, browse by country to view maps. 

Language Arts: Read nonfiction or fiction books about refugees. Here is a list of recommended books: http://www.unrefugees.org/atf/cf/%7BD2F991C5-A4FB-4767-921F-A9452B12D742%7D/tc_ar_readinglist.pdf


Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

The video ends on the topic of the importance of education. As an additional assignment to extend the discussion to a homework assignment and/or for an extra challenge, distribute to students some of the drawings, stories, and poems that are part of the Refugee Voices collection found under Additional Resources. Most of these touch upon the topic of education from the point-of-view of real refugee children. Students can then do one or both of the following:

1. Write a short personal response to what you notice in the children’s poems, stories, and drawings. How does this shape your perspective on education for refugees, as well as the importance of education in general? How are these children’s perspectives similar to/different from yours and your peers?
2. Write a short letter to one of the children whose voices are represented in the collection. What would you like to say to this boy or girl? What can you share with him/her about your own perspective on education? What would you like to respond to in his/her drawing, poem, or story?


Reflection: (click to view)


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Viewing Guide: Working with Refugees

Part I: Pay attention for the following elements throughout the entire video and jot down what you notice below.

  1. What are some visual images that stand out to you as you are watching? Describe a couple of these images in some detail below.



  1. List at least three of the countries that are mentioned in the video (listen for them and also look at the subtitles).



  1. Throughout the video, various reasons for refugees to flee their home countries are named. List at least three of those reasons below (listen as well as read the subtitles).
Part II: Answer the questions below for each segment of the video.
Segment 1—What is UNHCR?
  1. What is UNHCR’s mandate?
  1. What are the criterion that an individual must meet to be defined as a refugee?
  1. What was UNHCR’s first task when it was established by the UN General Assembly in 1950?
Segment 2—What is Refugee Protection?
  1. What various activities does UNHCR engage in to ensure refugee protection?


  1. What are the three main “durable solutions”? Which durable solution do most refugees prefer?


Segment 3—Exodus and Emergency
  1. What are some ways that UNHCR deals with emergency situations?


Segment 4—Refugee Women & Children
  1. Why is this segment focused on women and children only?


  1. How are refugee women supported in refugee camps?


  1. How are refugee children supported in refugee camps?


  1. Why is education for refugee children and adolescents important for their future?

Philanthropy Framework:

Submit a Comment

Unit Contents:

Overview:Refugees and Human Rights Summary


Life as a Refugee
The Language of Human Rights
Refugees at Center Stage
Refugee Voices

All rights reserved. Permission is granted to freely use this information for nonprofit (noncommercial), educational purposes only. Copyright must be acknowledged on all copies.