Earlier this week, Margot’s auntie Nadia and I visited two more primary schools in the London Borough of Southwark, strictly as observers, to watch the ‘Giving to help others’ assembly presentation pilots being delivered.
We again witnessed teachers delivering our presentation materials brilliantly and in the process, found ourselves being gripped by a range of emotions; there were some familiar moments – I initially found myself welling up at seeing Margot’s photograph being shown in the assemblies, as Team Margot was being introduced. This was followed by a sense of pride at how the materials we have created are being adopted and embraced, much as we originally envisaged; one boy actually started clapping after watching the animation. And then came the overwhelming sense of care, wonder and will to help that was in clear abundance from the children themselves.
Of the 391 pupils that attended the two assemblies, virtually all of them were from the Black, Asian, mixed race and minority ethnic (BAME) communities; we learned that 10 children are sickle cell patients and one is a sickle cell carrier. Moreover, one of the young boys present is a previous leukaemia patient, who is thankfully now fit and well. Consequently, the assembled were able to relate directly to the content in the presentation.
However, we also had the chance to glimpse some of the stark realities being faced by some schools within the locality and the huge challenges that the teaching staff have to contend with daily, and on an ongoing basis.
The issues are summarised by this A4 page which was pinned up on the wall of one of the school teachers offices.
It got us talking about some of the shocking realities in this area of London. Listening to the heroic way the school deals with a whole range of heartbreaking issues triggered more emotional responses from both Nadia and I, leaving us feeling both completely helpless & low, and yet bursting with admiration for the way the school gets on with dealing with such challenges.
We heard about how the school supports single parent families, parents who can’t read and parents that suffer from severe mental health issues. We learned how the school is remarkably well versed in issues that have little or nothing to do with teaching such as matters relating to immigration, refugees, food banks and homelessness. We were told about pupil premium funding and I was both dismayed and yet uplifted to hear how the school community clubs together to provide free school uniforms & uniform sharing, how some of the children are unwashed and have to shower when they arrive at school and how there are families requiring help with basics such as bread and milk.
But we also heard how the school is regarded as a sanctuary and that in spite of such challenges and hardships, so many children and their families are fiercely proud of the fact that, come what may, they manage to attend school and are positive contributors to the school community.
We deliberately chose to pilot our education programme in Southwark, knowing that the BAME communities are demographically prevalent in the borough and also because of the well documented socio economic issues, but “seeing is believing” and more than any other school visit, this one hit us hard.
And yet, given the strength of spirit that we saw from the teaching staff and especially from the children, we still believe that this programme will work. And if it can work in Southwark, it can work anywhere.
Together, saving lives