Friday, 22 May 2009

My colleagues Andrew Hodkinson, Headteacher at West Oaks School, and Chris Walsh, Headteacher at Boston Spa School sent me this after their visit to Bangladesh...

"Dear Chris, Children always come first and are at the core of everything we do. Children – whether in Bangladesh or Britain are children first and foremost. Following our recent successful visit to Bangladesh on the 'International Inspiration' programme thought you might like to know how we got on. The young people were happy and enjoyed learning. 'International Inspiration' invited Boston Spa and West Oaks Schools to Bangladesh on the back of the Olympics and Paralympics events to transform the lives of children and young people in schools and communities in some of the poorest countries across the world through sport, activity and play. Not only were we able to grasp that opportunity, but we also were able to begin to lay the early foundations for a long term and broader legacy from both the 2012 events enabling us to share with our hosts our approaches to teaching and personalised learning. We were strong ambassadors for Leeds and feel we made a significant contribution to the programme. Our two Associate Staff members that accompanied us on the programme; Mark Swales (Boston Spa) and Michael Smith (West Oaks) made telling contributions and ensured that sport and inclusion impacted massively throughout the week. We spent two days in our Partner schools in Narayangja and Manikgongj in Greater Dhaka, where we introduced them to Rugby League, Football and Quick Cricket. We also made strong links with other agencies and in true partnership fashion we ‘stepped outside’ the organised itinerary. By passing on the opportunities to go sight seeing or shopping we were able to visit two very deprived areas to introduce sport as a lever for change. Some of this represented the most rewarding moments of the visit, including playing cricket and rugby with barefoot ‘street’ children, and it was to these young people that we distributed many of the football shirts that our schools had donated. Away, again, from the for the original itinerary we also had the fortunate opportunity of visiting the "Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled" (SWID-Bangladesh) at Eskaton Garden.

It was very humbling and a privilege because what we found was truly inspirational and real champion for the inclusive agenda. This was a school full of colour, pride and compassion. The young people and staff were extremely talented and the school was a vibrant place to be despite the fact that staff had not been paid for 7 months. Despite the challenges this organisation faces they had representatives at the Paralympics where their young people had won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in America and China in 95, 96 and 99. This is brilliant and so aspirational, and for many organisations an example of how the power of sport can and should inspire young people. After our visit we linked with Carel de Roy (Head of Unicef, Bangladesh) and he is going to try and help to ensure facilities like those at Eskaton should not be lost. We hope to develop strong links with this worthwhile project and help to drive its strong programmes and awareness raising of inclusive practice in Bangladesh. The Ramna branch is facing acute financial crisis as their donor NFU left in 1999. The funding they get from tuition fees and the Government does not cover staffing and we witnessed a passionate protest from staff and parents because of this

We were also fortunate to be guests of the SOS Children’s Village International in Bangladesh. This organisation works in 132 countries worldwide and was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Austria in 1949. He was committed to help children in need –children who had lost their homes, security and families. Their philosophy of "family approach" to the long term care of orphaned and abandoned children was amazing and we can learn a great deal from them. We met the National Director for SOS and we were impressed by their Pastoral system , outreach support, preventative programmes and vocational centres. It was humbling to find such committed people making such a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable young people in Bangladesh, yet the need for the expansion of this work is so acute. This was a deeply emotionally literate organisation, driven by clear and admirable values; such is their ambition and hope for the young people in their care that they also run a school for their "looked after" children that is also a community school. These were inspirational people

Our visit ended with a huge celebration in a ‘Festival of Sport’, organised and led by the first young people to be formally trained as ‘Sports Leaders’ in Bangladesh. This was such an optimistic event, showcasing how much can be achieved for the many through sport with the right investment empowering young people to lead their peers. We also had time to link with the British High Commissioner who has asked us to contact him to discuss our "Included" project. "Included" will be directed by Boston Spa and West Oaks and will hopefully involve Leeds Schools, Bangladeshi Schools, our Bangladeshi community here in Leeds, the British Council, Education Leeds, Leeds Sports clubs, IOC, Paralympic organisations, SOS Village, and SWID School in Eskaton. Children – whether in Bangladesh or Britain are children first and foremost. We can and should do more! We will be holding a launch event for ‘Included’ in the second week of July. We would be delighted if you could attend, and give us your support. If you could let us know which dates you are available, we will fit it around your diary. As ever,
Andrew and Chris."
This is a simply wonderful initiative and a great advert for the best of what we do here in the city.

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