Cuba trip – perspectives

On 10 December, 16 students set off to Havana to experience eight days of Cuban culture and society. Here are two perspectives from the trip.

By Bella Evershed, 6.2

The Global Awareness trip to Cuba was a splendid escape into a potentially stagnant Havana, as you could clearly see the repercussions of the US embargo on the architecture and vehicles. In spite of this, the city was bustling and extremely welcoming, and we all found it refreshing to escape the Christmas lead-up, with its intense advertising overload.

We had varying levels of interaction with the locals, weaving together a picture of what Cuba looked like to them – the impact of the US embargo was still evident, but they were thriving in spite of it. Through the Cuba Solidarity Movement, we observed and asked questions in various different meetings, including the CDF (a workers’ union), a female empowerment agency and a student union.

These interactions were the most beneficial in understanding the people’s view of politics under the communist regime and how Cuba stands on an international platform compared to other great powers. For example, post-revolution Cuba has massive gender equality in the workplace, more so than the UK, with 53 percent of parliament female and 70 percent of doctors and lawyers.

The government also value the importance of the young voice and have a large youth turnout at elections, as Cubans are able to vote at 16. The student unions all over Cuba have a direct link to the government; they were able to meet with Fidel Castro twice yearly before his death and now continue with the vice president. It was interesting to see how valued young people are in translating their political agenda to the top tier of government in such a structured and well organised way, and made us all a little envious of how they are able to utilise their political voice.

Overall, it was a very interesting experience visiting a country on the cusp of huge change, as the embargo had relaxed, opening up trading which may soon direct Cuba down a very different path.

By Abi Wharton, Head of Global Awareness

As a Global Awareness trip, this was an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in different Cuban organisations and develop a deeper understanding of the development of education, health and politics in a system which has been under a US economic and trade embargo for 60 years.

We visited a number of different schools engaging in joint English-Spanish conversation classes with Cuban students. A highlight of this was the opportunity to follow each other on Instagram – the internet has only become available to Cubans in the past couple of years. We were treated to musical performances at one of the leading music schools in Cuba, as well as experiencing what was being achieved in a school for students who are visually impaired. One of the most striking impressions was what was being achieved despite limited and dated resources. This linked to visits to numerous health centres and hospitals. All Cubans are entitled to free health care and the Cuban medical system is seen as being one of the best in the world, despite or perhaps because of the embargo. This led to wide comparison with the NHS and the current issues surrounding this.

We attended a meeting of the Committee of the Defence of the Revolution as well as a Cuban Students Federation meeting and a talk from one of the leaders of the Cuban Women’s Federation. This gave the students the opportunity to find out more about the most pressing issues facing Cuba at the moment and discuss the impact of current relaxation of some Communist laws and what this means on a day-to-day level for the people. They were most impressed with the direct involvement that students have with the government and their ability to directly impact the evolving constitution. They also learnt a great deal about the emphasis placed by the Communist government on the role of women, ensuring that equality remains a primary concern.

Cuba is a country in a massive state of flux and students were able to apply their theoretical understanding of political ideas to day-to-day lives and people – a rare opportunity in a rapidly changing world.

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Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow leaves viewers in no doubt

By Lucy Ogilvie-Grant, Parent

Human-Flow-PS-cropThe Geography department hosted a screening of Human Flow in the SLT on Tuesday evening – a wonderful opportunity to see a quite extraordinary film made by Chinese conceptual artist and political activist Ai Weiwei.

Ai Weiwei has personal experience of the agonies of refugee-hood and isolation, having endured exile along with his family. He described how it feels “when life itself is a dimming light on the verge of being completely extinguished” and this surely is the engine that drives his understanding and evident compassion for the individuals who become refugees.

The terrifying experiences and arduous journeys that refugees endure, as shown in Human Flow, leave people despondent and exhausted – rarely do arrivals find a generous or compassionate welcome.

It’s clear to see that razor wire and dog patrols, high fences and forcible removal show that, on a  humanitarian level, the developed world is failing. Ai Weiwei proposes an enormous change of attitude in which we could see people’s struggles for basic necessities prioritised over financial gain. Imagining a life lived in a refugee camp, suspended between a violent past and an unimaginable future, it’s easy to understand how young people could be vulnerable to radicalisation.

There are some breathtakingly beautiful visual images in Human Flow – Ai Weiwei makes it impossible to look away from the burning oil fields, dust-storms and wind-torn tents.  Even his pictures of desperate crowds wrapped in foil heat blankets are works of art, something that leaves one with a distinct sense of unease. There are extraordinary drone shots and some tender and moving still-life portrait ‘studio’ shots. The whole montage, although long, could leave no viewer in doubt that there’s a different and less short-sighted way to approach this immense human migration.

 

 

Jaw: a spring term round-up

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By Alastair Harden, Teacher of Classics

The spring term’s Jaw programme opened with an address by Clive Case, Senior Chaplain of Charterhouse. Taking on a theme which has been on everyone’s mind this year, Clive gave an engrossing, personal and thoroughly Carthusian talk on the value of silence. The following week, Al McConville and Clare Jarmy took up the theme along with several students who talked about their fantastic experience at the Plum Village Buddhist monastery and meditation retreat. Silence and mindfulness penetrate every aspect of life there, and the students were left with an appetite to bring some of this mental harmony into life at Bedales.

Student participation in Jaw has been strong this term: the annual LGBT Jaw was given by our own LGBT Society, ably steered by Will Morrison with the assistance of Olivia Bury and Aidan Hall. Putting LGBT rights into its historical perspective, they highlighted how privileged we are to be living in a time and place where everyone has the right to their own sexual orientation without fear of persecution. In February, to commemorate one hundred years of women’s suffrage, the Garrett Society under Scarlett Watkins and Rufus Seagrim addressed Blocks 3, 4 and 5 in the Lupton Hall in a passionate call-to-arms against complacence and quotidian sexist behaviours and policies.

The slot following the half-term break is the traditional place for Jaw Debate, and so it was that the motion was tabled: “This House would serve no meat”. A series of passionate addresses from the proposition, under Ellie Leonard-Biebuyck, Maisy Redmayne and Thea Sesti, were not enough to pass the motion, defeated as it was by a sober and balanced summary from Feline Charpentier following a deft rebuttal to vegetarianism from Arthur Lingham, and – the highlight of the debate – a wily and powerful address from a microphone-wielding Blossom Gottlieb, whose barnstorming debut on the Bedales floor left the audience impressed and convinced.

The spring term also sees the annual Global Awareness Jaw, an important fixture which this year is given by Miriam Mason-Sesay, the Country Director of Educaid in Sierra Leone. The Spring term will end, as always, with one of the fixtures from the Christian liturgical calendar and this year’s Passiontide service, co-organised with the Music Department, promises to continue the high standard of music which we have seen at Jaws, assemblies and concerts this year. These special services are very much in the great tradition of the old ‘Sunday Jaw’, and we’re keen to retain the practise of having hymns. So, guard your ears: there’s going to be singing…

First Give charity final 2018

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By Beatrice Bonsey, Block 4

Just before half term, five Block 4 groups gave presentations for the First Give charity final with the aim of winning £1,000 for their charity of choice.

The team representing Catalyst went first and showed us a unique video with interviews with people speaking on behalf of those helped by the charity. Next was the team representing Stone Pillow who managed to raise money with a charity bake sale. They made two very inventive videos, one showing facts on homelessness while the other was a motion picture showing that it could be you on the streets. After that, it was our charity, Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association; we showed a video about a child with Down Syndrome finding the charity online and his life improving greatly. We then spoke about how much we had raised and how much this charity has helped families and children with Down Syndrome. After us, it was Jigsaw Trust, who told us about how much the charity does, how it is improving the lives of those with autism and how it is unique by using old planes to help children get over their fear of flying. Finally, the Salvation Army team told us statistics about homelessness and showed a short interview with a person saying how the charity helped him and others. They also told us how they were going to fundraise by one member of the team running two peaks in the Lake District.

The judges then went off to make a decision: they announced Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association the winner!  The £1000 prize money can be spent funding 13 pre-school sessions (1 years’ worth) to help children develop their learning milestones and help families with the children. The charity’s representative who had come to watch was over the moon to receive the money for her charity.

Block 4’s social action

By George Vaux, Block 4

First Give Final 2017Recently, Block 4 was tasked with selecting various charities for the First Give programme. First Give works in partnership with secondary schools and awards £1000 to each group that has the best presentation (left: 2017 finalists). Our groups are giving their presentations on Friday 9 February, just before Block 4 parents’ meetings. A large segment of the presentation is on how much money the group raises and how much awareness the group can raise for their chosen charity.

The group that I represent chose a charity called Jigsaw. Jigsaw is an independent day school based in Cranleigh for children on the autistic spectrum, and after visiting the school, it is apparent how much £1000 pounds could change the children’s lives. A large majority of the children cannot speak, so some of the award money, or any donated money, can go to speech and language therapy or for the more severely autistic children. They can buy more IPads that they can use to communicate, instead of using an outdated medium called a PEC board – which is very hard to understand. The money can help give the children experiences that they wouldn’t normally be able to have with their families and such a small amount of money can help with such a large amount of other things.

The school itself values individuality and quirkiness and doesn’t try to mould the children into something that they aren’t. Their highly professional care team is outstanding considering the small size of the school. They strive to make the children’s environment safe and caring, yet enjoyable. The school have an online donation page so please do donate to this great cause: https://www.justgiving.com/jigsaw

Being globally aware

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By Abi Wharton, Head of Global Awareness

Being globally aware does not have a quiet period so we are starting the new term preparing for the wealth of upcoming events in the Global Awareness (GA) calendar. The eagerly anticipated V Ball, run by GA sixth formers for sixth formers, will take place on 7 February. This event is an annual fundraiser for Amnesty International; it is an exciting collaboration as we work with Amnesty to develop a range of educational materials for use in schools and colleges across the UK and beyond.

On 2 March we are delighted to be welcoming Gareth Owen OBE, the humanitarian director of Save the Children to address Jaw in Dunhurst and a Civics lecture at Bedales. Gareth’s wealth of knowledge and experience will undoubtedly give students across the three schools much food for thought.

We continue the theme of student-led initiatives on 13 March with the annual Hunger Banquet. This event gives students the opportunity to understand the inequalities that exist across the globe and the frustration that this can create. A dedicated team of students from Blocks 3, 4 and 5 are running this event.

Finally, we are incredibly excited to announce that this term, Global Awareness will run as an activity in both Dunannie and Dunhurst. This will be facilitated by myself and run by Block 5 BAC GA students as part of their BAC assessment. This will give younger students the opportunity to develop their own global awareness and allow the older students to plan and deliver the activity, developing their knowledge in a different way. Please watch this space for collaborative events being planned by the groups.

Refugee turned author enthrals at Bedales

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By Tess Voyle-Partington, Block 5

On Monday, Gulwali Passarlay, a former Afghan refugee who went through an extremely difficult journey to be where he is today, spoke in the theatre about his life and how he has achieved all he has, despite the barriers he faced along the way.

Gulwali began his journey as a young child in Afghanistan during the era of the Taliban. Because of the issues the Taliban presented, the country was very dangerous. In his book, The Lightless Sky, and during his talk, Gulwali explains that his mother was terrified of what would happen every time her children stepped out of the door. Even just walking to get some groceries caused worry.

To start the evening, a group of students were invited to dinner with Gulwali at Keith’s house and we were all lucky enough to have individual time with him and have a conversation before he delivered the annual Global Awareness Lecture later in the evening. During my talk with Gulwali he told me how passionate he was about the issues we are having in the UK at the moment; Brexit, young people having the vote and lots more issues he wants to raise awareness about.

After dinner, we accompanied Gulwali to the theatre,where a large number of students from the school, parents and visitors from outside of the school also attended. He began by talking about his book and going through his journey across Europe in great detail. Overall, the evening was extremely interesting and educational, notably giving many people a more in-depth insight into how refugees are treated and how we act around the controversial debate of refugees and their rights.

View Gulwali’s talk below.