Giving nature a home

A bug hotel

A bug hotel

Today me and jonah loot at sum bugs to put in ar log piyul mowstlee we loot undneef the bricks becus we fort that los of bugs will liv udneef thum for sayfdee so we lift thoom up but befor we evun think abat  it so I said we need a buckit in cays there ar poysun bugs so we got a buckit naw we can get sum bugs in ar buckis then we went to find some bugs I fawd some bugs so put thum in the howtel I will  thas wot I said naw jonah has fa wd some jonah  said Im gowing to put it in the howtel.

WP_20150708_006Today me and Jonah looked at some bugs to put in our log pile.  Mostly we looked underneath the bricks because we thought that lots of bugs will live underneath them for safety.  So we lifted them up but before we even thought about it so i said we need a bucket in case there are poisonous bugs so we got a bucket.  

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Now we can get some bugs in our buckets.  Then we went to find some bugs.  I found some bugs so put them in the (bug) hotel I will.  That’s what I said.  Now Jonah has found some. Jonahs said I’m going to put it in the hotel.

 

Giving Nature a Home: @natures_voice  www.rspb.org.uk

 

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One teacher can make a difference

Post contributed by Karen Partyka

I follow on Facebook a page called Humans of New York and this site introduces you to different people in New York and they tell a little about their life. New York is full of a huge variety of people so there are many interesting stories and I enjoy the variety. On 20th January they introduced us to Vidal who is a young student. Vidal was asked who influenced his life the most, his reply was:

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

NY

I, along with many thousand people around the world read what Vidal said and was moved, shocked and surprised to see a young boy being able to articulate and understand what his principal was doing for him and his peers. As a teacher myself I thought about Mrs Lopez and what an example she was and how I could learn from her. The people who run the Facebook page then went to find Mrs Lopez a few days later. Her school is in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which is a very difficult area of New York. They interviewed Mrs Lopez about what Vidal had said and this is her reply:

“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple, our scholars wear purple and so do our staff, because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math, and they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

After reading what Mrs Lopez said my admiration for her grew. This is the type of person that young people should have as role models. Mrs Lopez is changing a generation and giving her students a chance to succeed. She is valuing them as people and giving them the respect they need and deserve.

NY2On the page over the last two weeks more of the teachers have shared their own stories. It is clearly a difficult school to work in for many reasons but their enthusiasm, passion and love for their students was immense. This is a school community that needs to be recognised, these teachers and students need to be seen. During an interview with Mrs Lopez and the teachers they were asked how could the vision of the school be taken forward. The school said many of the students had never even left New York and the neighbourhood has the highest crime rate in New York. The school was trying to sell them a dream of growing up and being part of society and doing their part in the world but the students could not imagine this as they had never experienced the world. So Mrs Lopez said she would like to have a trip for the Grade 6 class each year to visit Harvard. It would allow them to see where they could go. To date, $1,204,537 has been donated, by people, including myself, from around the world. This has meant that the Grade 6 trip to Harvard will become a permanent feature in the Mott Hall Bridges Academy calendar. Here is the fundraising page if anyone would like to find out more – https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/let-s-send-kids-to-harvard

Mrs Lopez is an inspiration to me, she made me stand back and ask how I treat my pupils. Do I show them that I respect them, value them and that I am trying to teach them to play their part in society? It is easy to get into the monotony of teaching and become stuck in the mud. Teachers must always be aiming high and realising and understand that we are teaching the next generation who will be our politicians, teachers, nurses, social workers etc. We must encourage them to work hard, be just and always aspiring to give their best.

Getting to know the tax man

There have been many positives to coming back to my home land and re-introducing myself to the British idiosyncrasies that I had forgotten about.  Believe it or not I find it, literally, refreshing being able to walk home from work every evening with my eldest son Jonah – as we both get excited as the evenings gradually get lighter, although the Irish Sea wind does not get any warmer!  On the flip side though there has been a few aspects of British living that I did not fully comprehend and had never really acquainted myself with, even before I left these shores back in the late 90s.  One of these slight annoyances is the fact that I seem to be spending a lot of my time on the phone trying to pay bills or to set-up direct debits – it is definitely a world of monthly transaction out there – monthly wage in to be slowly eroded by a string of outgoing payments to just survive British routine.  In a perverse kind of way, this is one of the reasons we came back to learn and experience a ‘normal’ life, how to account for and budget for family living.  I never expected to be on the phone so much though, and finding it so hard to get answers to questions.

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

There is a vast amount of information on the internet but that doesn’t always make life easier or getting things done straight forward. These are just a few of my observations, but I do get the general feeling that large companies and organisations want to make processing information and helping the general public as difficult as possible – why are they so averse to speaking with people on the phone or doing e-mails, how many people do they (or not) employ in their call offices?  Why can’t you just e-mail someone and get a straight forward answer and piece of advice?  Everybody is different and everybody has a different background and circumstance, whether it be; cultural, social, financial, personal and even educational.  Surely these service companies should be providing the best possible customer service to ensure there is no ambiguity or areas of vagueness… a cause of concern or doubt (legally or financially) can really loom over someones head for weeks on end until it has been sorted out.

Being reflective

Being reflective

We all have an impression of the ‘tax man’ in our minds, the perceived baddie of the financial accountability world.  Tax is something you can’t avoid and nobody should.  I believe in taxation and I am proud to be living in a democratic country that has a safe and reliable infrastructure that my family and I can take advantage of on a regular basis. That much makes sense and I have no quibbles over my tax rates and outgoings from my monthly wage. What I do have an issue with is that it is a complete minefield out there and you could spend your entire time trying to negotiate the abyss of the tax world just to make sure you are doing things right and can sleep at night.  This is a perfect example of lack of advice or guidance and keeping things simple, and I am (supposedly) an educated, native English speaker, think what others must be going through.  The website is like a maze of dead-ends and loops that bring you right back to where you started – just give me an e-mail address to get a straight forward answer!  No, you have to ring a certain number at a certain time, listen to a monologue of automated options and make a pot luck guess at which one to choose before being put on hold for half a day!  This is obviously an exaggeration, but it is claimed that average waiting times are around 11 minutes, but this is a lottery and you do actually have to dedicate at least half a day to get this done and hope that your questions are answered, which they are often not and you are then advised to phone someone else, with a different job title at another time.  In fact last week, I was told I needed a technician to answer a certain question and that they would phone me back within 7 days at a time that suited me – I said after 6.00pm would be great.  Walking home from work later that week I checked my answer phone messages and there it was a polite but brief message from the technician saying that they had called me back but I did not answer – that would be because it was midday when they phoned and I was fully engaged in my work, back to square one!

What can you do though?  They have you right where they want you, a captured market. You either have to persist with deadlines looming, the dreaded 31st January – it is like the ‘Day of Judgement’, or pay someone to do your tax forms and write off a substantial amount of well-earned income.  It can be quite depressing and distracts you from your work commitments and home life as I said before – it looms over you.  That is until you get through to Colette.  After negotiating the automated responses and listening to Greensleeves again on loud speaker phone whilst replying to some e-mails for however many minutes I am put on hold and trying not to waste the time, suddenly Colette’s angelic voice like a miracle reaches out to me and says, “Hello, my name is Colette, how can I help you today?”  There is a sudden mass release of frustration as I connect with Collete and say, “Am I glad to hear from you Colette, please don’t go any where – promise (?), I really need your help, this tax business is like a minefield.”  I hear Colette giggle down the phone as she becomes even more human and normal as I picture her helpful persona and sympathetic smile on the other end of the phone.  “Don’t worry Mr. Crouch, tell me what I can help you with and I will talk you through it, are you logged onto your computer?”  “Yes, yes I am Colette, are you really going to help me step-by-step, are you sure you have got the time(?), please don’t go anywhere!”  “It really won’t take that long Mr. Crouch, I am not going anywhere, are you ready?”

Community partnerships

Community partnerships

For the next 20 – 25 minutes Colette guided me and reassured me as I over-dramatically (not wanting her to disappear) plugged in what I needed to submit.  She was just herself and very personable but most of all she laughed and was supportive of the difficulties this process may create for some people.  She didn’t rush the conversation or sound frustrated at all, no mention of referring back to the website.  I don’t know if the time and guidance Colette dedicated to me was above and beyond her job description, I don’t know if this is profitable for her organisation to commit that amount of time per individual call, I don’t know if others had to wait even longer as Colette was dealing with me.  What I do know though is that in 2 months of trying to get this done she was the only person to actually take the time to engage with me and treat me as a normal person who just wants to do the right thing.  I hope they did record our conversation for training purposes and use Colette as a shining example at their next training day (picture that!), I would also like to put forward Colette for employee of the month and give her a pay rise for going above and beyond – which is surely what working in the service industry is all about.  If not then I would like to put Colette forward for Global Citizen of the week, thank you Colette.

Teaching people, not content

singing

 Post contributed by Karen Partyka

In the music department we start preparing for Christmas in September so in many ways it is a relief when the Christmas concert arrives! This year I was taking the Junior Choir. I had 30 wonderful pupils aged 11 to 14 who came to rehearsals every week without fail. I had chosen two songs to perform at our Christmas concert and we worked for many weeks. The pupils were very excited about our concert and they were all looking forward to it.

old people

I knew the pupils would get something from being in the choir and performing in the Christmas concert. I also organised that during our last week of school the junior choir would visit two care homes to sing Christmas carols. Some of the residents were quite sick and frail, the pupils had bought small presents for the residents. The residents were very touched by the presents and some were very emotional, that children who did not know them had brought them a gift.

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However, I have a senior student in my music class, who I will call John. He moved to the UK two years ago and did not speak any English. Through that time he has managed to learn English and learn about British culture. He lives with his mother but his father lives in a different country. He has found the last two years extremely difficult, he could not speak English at the start so it was difficult to make friends, culturally he did not fit in and in many ways he is different from other students his age.  He loves music!  He is in the music department before school, break time, lunchtime and any free periods. He loves listening to music, composing and performing music.

guitar

As we approached the concert John was not in a group that was due to perform but just a few days before the concert the principal of music asked John to be involved with the backstage team and he was given the role of operating the curtain. He was delighted, he was desperate to be needed and feel involved. Over the next few days I watched as he worked and prepared with the backstage team who were all boys and close in age to him. In the short space of time he started to make some connections and even friends with these boys. On the day of the concert the backstage team were ordering Dominos pizzas. I could hear John laughing with the other boys and it was priceless. He had found some boys who had similar tastes and interests and just maybe he was now on a slightly easier road.

On the evening of the concert I arrived at school and bumped in to him. I was blown away. He scrubbed up so well!  Being a typical boy he didn’t seem to wash his hair very often, but that night he was showered, hair brushed and put up in a ponytail as he has long hair. He had black professional clothes to wear. He looked the part! During the concert I was so proud as everything he had to do was done to perfection, all his cues he executed superbly.

choir

The whole concert went really well, the pupils had a wonderful night. All the hard work was worth it just for John to be involved, all the work was worth it that he had the opportunity to feel needed, given the chance to be a part of something and start to make some friends. Secondary school can be very hard especially if you are a little bit different, but even if you have just a couple of friends it is a whole lot easier. The term has finished and John is working towards his qualification in higher music, it has been touch and go whether he will be presented but at this moment in time it is full steam ahead!  I want all the pupils in my higher class to do well and gain high grades, but my biggest achievement will be if I can ensure that John achieves his higher music.  For him it will show him he is worth something, I know he is bright and he can achieve.

A Christmas Gift

waiting

waiting

A picture tells a thousand words.

It is never easy being away from loved ones, especially when unexpected and for reasons that seem unfair.  It makes you think how many thousands and probably millions of families will not be together around the world this Christmas.  Some possibly never reunited again for reasons out of their control.

airport hugs

airport hugs

One of my colleagues took an assembly yesterday and reminisced about his outlook on Christmas as a young man (many) years ago.  It was a touching story that was based around the fact his father for 12 years always invited an elderly, widowed neighbour around for Christmas Day.  He and his brother resented this as they always missed out on watching the Christmas movie they had looked forward to for weeks since scanning through the Radio Times delivered at the start of December – the example given on this occasion being the Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back.  When this elderly lady died their father was left a letter in her will acknowledging the kindness and importance of that one day of each year to her. For 12 years – the thing she had most looked forward to was being with his wife and children and spending time with them on Christmas Day.  My colleague concluded his assembly by telling our Year 7, 8 and 9 students that that message had totally changed his outlook on Christmas and what a real gift should be all about at this time of the year.

 

The Season of Giving

Contributed by Brittany Tang

Christmas post

Here in Michigan, the winter months seem to set a much needed peaceful atmosphere in the hustle and bustle of exams. As the snow falls gently from the sky and accumulates on the ground, sparkling ever so slightly, a quietness blankets the city of Ann Arbor. Students study in the warmth of the residential halls and cozy up next to soft velvet blankets, sipping hot beverages as they work hard to make their mark on the world. I’ve met some very inspiring individuals who are motivated to constantly do their part to benefit others. They lead organizations that help the impoverished, raise money for better education/health systems overseas and work hard to share with others their philosophies of kindness and global citizenship.

As Christmas approaches, I think of those who aren’t so fortunate to have a warm place to sleep during the bitterly cold and windy evenings. I also think of the children and adults who have limited access to medical and educational resources whose Christmases are consumed with worry and distress. In my local community, these people are the homeless. They roam the streets during the summer, spring and fall seasons and desperately seek shelter during the winter. I do my best to help these individuals by volunteering in the Food Gatherer’s kitchen in the basement of the homeless shelter. We make hot soups, pastas, and steam vegetables. There is always coffee, juice and water as well as fruit and dessert and all of the food that is used to make the meals is donated by local grocery stores and educational institutions. It is so heartwarming to see volunteers filling the kitchen with smiles, enthusiasm, excitement and the hope that they can help make a homeless person experience a few moments of joy by eating a delicious meal.

Is it about giving or receiving?

Is it about giving or receiving?

The giving doesn’t stop there. It’s wonderful! In my residential hall, students are collecting donated hats, gloves, mittens and scarves in an event called the “giving tree” with the hopes of sending these donations to Safe House. This organization provides support for individuals who have been impacted by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. We are also holding a knitting session one evening to make our own winter attire to donate.

The holiday mood has engulfed my dorm. The halls are decorated with paper snowflakes and the doors are covered in Christmas wrapping paper. Despite the small stresses of university, joy is in the air and the desire to help others is prominent and it is a beautiful sight!

To read other posts by Brittany please click here.

Project Nepal – a personal service learning initiative

Post contributed by Manoj Chapagain

Service Learning

Service Learning

Whilst I was at secondary school in Thailand I always wanted to do something that would help my village community in Nepal. During my last year of my high school, I asked some of my friends and teachers to help me raise money to buy computers for my village school where I studied during my childhood. We called this project “Project Nepal.”  This started August of 2013.

 

Joyce centre, Manoj far right

Joyce centre, Manoj far right

My friend Joyce and some other friends encouraged me and were willing to support me fully. We started doing fund raising events such as a dodge ball tournament, a computer game tournament and many other events at the school. In addition my friend Joyce who helped me enormously to raise money by asking her friends back in Taiwan to donate money to the project. She has contributed the most to this project.  All together we raised $3400. Furthermore, Mr. Alex (a friend of Peter Dalglish’s in Bangkok and my friend too) contributed approximately $500 to the project, totaling up to 364250 NPR.

The Project Nepal team

The Project Nepal team

The school already had a room that needed painting, carpeting, a fan and many other things.  When I got back to Nepal in the summer I went to the village and started overseeing this. Now the room has 7 computers from Project Nepal and another five computers which were donated to the school by a cement factory. The installation for internet is still in the process.

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Five students and two teachers visited the school for a week to see the school and set up the computer lab. They stayed in my village in my home for two nights and it was amazing to see my friends in my village and for them to experience a little bit of the village life. Everyday we used to walk to the school where my friends played games, interact and teach English to the school kids.

P Nepal

It was fantastic for me to see students from my school interacting with kids in my village. It felt great because I was part of the village school during my childhood and then I also became a part of my new school’s family. It almost felt like joining two families together.

 

P Nepal1

This is the first Project Nepal “PROJECT” and it was successful. I was really pleased with our work and of course the credit goes to everyone. When I go back to Nepal I will check how much progress they have made and if any change has come to the school for the students.  I also hope to do many other projects in Nepal with and for the Nepalese people.

To read more posts about Manoj please click here.