Jeanie Davidson explains how the award-winning Boy on the Bicycle documentary came to be.
Refugee stories, as told by children
Joining Unicef UK as the new TV Manager in May, my hope was that I’d be able to bring projects to fruition that would, above all else, give children around the world a voice. So I was overjoyed when production company Drummer TV, with an excellent reputation for making inspirational programmes about and for children, came to me to talk about collaborating on new ideas.
With events in Syria front of mind, and so many parents and children in the UK asking questions about who these refugees are that we keep seeing on the news, we got talking about the idea of making a film showing what life is really like for Syrian children in a refugee camp – told entirely from the children’s point of view. Happily, the BBC loved the idea too, commissioning a half-hour documentary for their celebrated My Life strand on CBBC.
Resilience and joy
Finally, there’s 12-year-old Ali. With his cheeky charm and gentle manner, I warmed to him straight away. Like Ahmed, he goes to a Unicef school in the camp – but he’s also taken it upon himself to be a teacher to other boys in Za’atari. In one of the most heart-warming scenes in the documentary, we see Ali teaching English to about 15 other boys who are all crammed into the tiny home where he and his family live. During our filming, the sound of the boys earnestly reciting their A,B,Cs, listening and repeating after Ali, resounded all the way down the street in the camp – a sound that has stayed with me long after leaving.
The resulting film has captured the essence of what life is like for children in Za’atari refugee camp. Faced with not knowing how long they will have to live here or when they might go back to Syria, thousands of children like Ahmed, Ola and Ali are making the best of things with a resilience and joy that is nothing short of astounding. I was not only humbled to spend time with these wonderful youngsters and their families, but the experience also renewed my feeling that the work Unicef and other agencies are doing in Za’atari is absolutely vital in giving these kids the semblance of a decent life and the means to help themselves and their communities when at last they are able to return to Syria.
The Boy on the Bicycle is no longer available on iPlayer but you can watch the trailer below, and download it from the BBC Store.