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10 January, 2008

Campaigning as Active Citizenship

The Understood campaign team have raised the profile of citizenship both as a school subject, and most importantly as an attitude amongst students at their school.

'Understood' is a campaign group of students at Warwick School for boys who want to bring understanding amongst people in their community, starting with giving a voice to young people.

Anita Maistry is the Citizenship Co-ordinator at Warwick School for Boys in Walthamstow, East London. Anita and her team of young campaigners trained with Youth Act in Autumn 2006 emerging from the eight week Youth Act training programme determined to bring understanding amongst and different groups of people living in their community. Their commitment to community cohesion inspired the team to organise a host of events and activities in their school, local community and beyond.

Speaking at the Youth Act training residential in October 2006, the team were determined to bring about change in their community. They explained:

"The area we live in is changing. The arrival of the Olympics in 2012 will bring changes and opportunities to Waltham Forest and the spotlight that will be thrown on our local area as a result offers us a real chance to show how important it is that different people from different backgrounds and nationalities work together and understand one another. The terrorist attacks in London in July 2005 and the arrests of suspects that came later in Waltham Forest had a massive impact on our community, it has shaken people. Bringing people together to communicate and understand one another is exactly what we want and what we are set on achieving."

The first actions spearheaded by the Understood campaigners involved organising assemblies at the school and a multi-cultural event where the mayor and members of the community were invited to a taster of ethnic music and food. The group also wanted to produce a lasting symbol representing the diversity of Waltham Forest by designing a sculpture to be constructed in the centre of Walthamstow. Featuring the religious symbolism of the faiths of different groups in Walthamstow, the team worked with local designers and engineering students to come up with the design for the sculpture which they plan to install in the centre of Walthamstow market, Europe's largest market place.

In the months that followed, the team were responsible for the organisation of an ethnic sports event inviting students and people from the area to participate in sports originating from different countries around the world like Kabbadi, an Indian table game, a festive play organised for senior citizens in celebration of Eid, Diwali and Christmas and have recently been involved in the creation of a small film about domestic violence. However it is the 'snowball effect' and impact that their commitment to bring the community together that has been taken on by the wider school community that the group's supportive adult Anita Maistry speaks most admirably of:

"The Understood team have really been responsible for getting lots of other young people involved in different multi-cultural events including cultural days, poster campaigns, the creation of interactive presentations about cultural diversity for local primary schools, a student and cultural exchange to Spain and supporting other young people to get involved in both local and larger-scale international campaigning like the Send My Friend to School Campaign".

The emphasis on appreciating the diversity and international nature of their community is some thing that Anita believes has helped the students really connect their local campaigns to global campaigns for education and poverty relief but at the same time to identify themselves as global citizens, members of international communities and the world at large.

"We live in a multicultural society; our school is a multicultural school. Seventy-two languages are spoken by students in the school body alone. We must be able to install a sense of respect, pride and dignity in this international and multi-cultural community the students live, participate and grow up in. The boys represent the starting point in really bringing about understanding, identification and affinity with this diverse community and the diversity of British society as a whole."

Cultural cohesion features as a key learning strand in the new Citizenship subject curriculum. As a citizenship teacher, Anita feels that the campaigning activities of the team are an active way approach of developing students’ learning and understanding of citizenship. For the campaign team and students at the school the campaign and their actions to get to know and participate in their community is all about helping others to be and being , themselves, understood. In the words of the Warwick School team:

"It is so important to be understood. With celebrations comes interaction, with interaction comes understanding and cohesion – we want to bring people together so that they feel happier in their school and community, so that they feel and they too are understood.".


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