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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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.

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.

‘Head, Hand, Heart’ in Swaziland

Swaziland 2018

By Lucy Ellis in 6.2

Over October half term, a group of sixteen 6.2 students and four teachers flew out to Swaziland to work with Othandweni Primary School. In the months leading up to the trip, we each came up with fundraising activities – some were more adventurous than others (skydiving vs. ice cream selling), but we managed to raise the amount of money necessary to buy our supplies.

At Othandweni, we partnered with SKRUM, a charity working to improve schools throughout Swaziland. They helped us with our main project, which was the digging of a trench for water pipes. This trench ran for 250 meters through the school and connected to a newly installed solar powered water pump lifting water from 45 meters underground through a borehole – dug with the money we raised earlier in the year. Unfortunately, our final days working at the school were accompanied by clouds and persistent rain so we were unable to see the solar panel in action, but we have since received word that it is successfully pumping water throughout the school.

Our other large project was the painting of the five main school buildings. The colours of the school buildings had previously been red and yellow, but with Othandweni’s recent association with a local church, the colors were required to change to white and blue. In addition to these projects, we varnished, repainted and repaired around 100 desktops and frames. The loveliest part of these tasks was that the students from Othandweni volunteered alongside us and they obviously took pride in improving their school. They put us to shame, painting with precision and digging with a power none of us except maybe Maud could match!

On our last day at the school, they took part in a ceremony for us, which included traditional songs and dances. We were presented with small souvenirs as tokens of thanks, as well as a handmade card designed by a student.

Aside from our work at the school, we enjoyed waking up early to go on walks where we managed to see a family of hippos swimming together, a sight we didn’t realise until later was quite rare around those parts. We also had one free day at the end of the trip where we had the chance to go on a horseback ride or cycle through the game reserve, and later in the day we visited a local crafts market to pick up small handmade souvenirs.

It was truly amazing to feel we had made a difference at the school, and we were so lucky to have the unique chance to get to know the warm and welcoming children and adults in a culture so different to ours. The swarms of tiny high fives and hugs as we were leaving Othandweni were enough to make any of us return at the next possible opportunity.

WE not “me”

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Block 4 students attended WE day at the Wembley arena on 22 March as part of the First Give charity follow-up and to learn more about putting the WE ethos into practice.

WE is a youth empowerment movement that brings people together for service, learning and active citizenship. The key message is to help shift the notion of “me” to “we.” The charitable arm, WE Charity, is an international development charity that partners with communities to help lift themselves out of poverty using a holistic, sustainable five-pillar development model based on education, clean water and sanitation, health, opportunity and food.

The event in London brought together world-renowned speakers and A-list performers such as Kate Winslet, The Vamps, international human rights advocate, Maria Munir and education activist Muzoon Al-Mellehan and tens of thousands of young people to celebrate a year of action that transformed communities and changed lives. View photos.

Hunger Banquet at Bedales

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By Godelieve de Bree, 6.2 and Global Awareness Don

Last Thursday Global Awareness held its annual Hunger Banquet in aid of Mosaic Initiative, a charitable group that helps displaced Syrians settle into new lives and plans for a long term solution in Syria.

On their way in to the banquet, participants randomly chose a ticket which was to represent their status for the evening. These tickets had a brief description of an individual that one could find in their bracket of wealth. While the ‘wealthiest’ minority was given a range of delicious treats – including cheesy crackers, cordial and even Gu puddings, the least fortunate had to sit on the floor and were only given a bowl of rice and an apple.

The evening really facilitated conversation about the disparity of wealth and opportunity and really made students confront their fortune. The evening ended with a viewing of Before the Flood, a documentary which follows actor Leonardo DiCaprio as he learns about the realities of climate change. This gave a real insight into the frightening effects of Global Warming and the impact that is already being felt on the global food supply. Thank you to everyone who came and everyone who helped to organise such a great night – we raised over £500!