Lies But Answers.

Contributed by Jade Harcourt-Harrison (2nd place, U14 Amnesty International Journalism Competition, Thailand)

AI

In Syria it is not difficult to find victims of felonious detention and torture. The conflict between the rebels and the Assad regime has had a massive impact on the country’s citizens. Thousands upon thousands of victimised people go missing in Syria: activists, opposition fighters, journalists, civilians and humanitarian workers. The government’s security police are persistently submitting innocent, harmless people to egregious detentions. These people are not political terrorists; they are not actively rebelling against the regime; they are simply helping people in this war torn environment.  However, because of these selfless acts their lives are destroyed. They all endure inhumane, unacceptable, violations of their human rights. The list of atrocities is shocking.

These victims are…

Snatched from society

Dragged into the depths of prisons

Thrown into rotting cells, darkness swallowing them, concealing them

Shackled to the floor, like animals

Tortured, tortured and tortured

Beaten, whipped, sexually harassed

Pushed into water, no air, burning in their chests

Hung from the ceiling by their hands and legs

Finally, they speak … lies… but answers. They will say anything, to stop the unbearable pain.

An example of these horrific crimes against humanity is an anonymous victim who reported to the BBC about her terrible experience in Syria. She was at a peaceful protest when the army started to open fire; which led to a bloody massacre. She bravely stayed to treat the injured protestors and later fled the city. During her escape the regime’s security police captured her.

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“I was subjected to torture, atrocities, insults… They were focusing on the psychological element – insults, humiliation – as a punishment because of what I had done.”

Her ordeal was far from over…

“I was subjected to beatings, whippings, electric shocks. I was detained in a single cell, it was a horrible place under the ground. There were three floors – and I was kept there for one and a half months.”

After these horrendous actions had taken place, she was confirmed innocent in a trial in the country’s terrorism court. She then managed to escape to Lebanon to a refugee camp, continuing to endure hardship and suffering. She applied for a resettlement in England and luckily, this was granted.

Facilitating Debate

Facilitating Debate

However, masses of Syrians are not as fortunate, despite the continued efforts to resolve the conflict and eradicate these crimes against humanity.

We must continue to support humanitarian organizations that are working tirelessly to help these victims of torture. We must not let these abhorrent regimes camouflage their guilt in deceptions and denials.  We must ensure that the plight of these people doesn’t leave the media spotlight.  As the old Chinese proverb states: “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Jade Harcourt-Harrison

St. Andrews International School – Green Valley, Thailand

 

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The solar eclipse live

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On the 20th March 2015, staff and students at my current school gathered on the spacious sports fields to observe the first solar eclipse in this country since 1999.  This was an excellent opportunity to bring students of all ages together to share their knowledge and the experience, from our 5 year olds in Reception to our oldest A Level students in the Upper Sixth Form.   The school provided solar glasses for the students courtesy of Jonathan and Sarah Higginson, who kindly donated the glasses, in memory of their 10 year old son, who died in a traffic accident in 2009. George, was science mad, and especially loved astronomy.  Consequently, his parents are raising money to purchase a telescope which will be placed in Williamson Park, Lancaster, for everyone to enjoy.  The school collected monetary donations for the solar glasses which raised over 200 pounds towards the funding of the George Higginson Telescope.

This was a fantastic learning opportunity for the whole school, with most teachers just as keen as the students to be outside and observing the scientific phenomenon.  It is important to encourage authentic learning at every opportunity.  The students in the Junior School engaged in a great deal of research during the week in their science lessons about solar eclipses and a number of classes even made their own pin-hole cameras.  Other classes decided to use colanders or telescopes to cast the shadow of the eclipse onto white paper.  Senior school students wrote about solar eclipses in their English lessons after learning about how they have been perceived in literature throughout history.  Meanwhile Physics lessons involved looking at the science behind the process of an eclipse and why they occur in different places around the Earth at different times.

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Although the weather was not favourable on the morning, the school did manage to glimpse the eclipse at different stages through small breaks in the clouds in the build-up to 9.31am.  There was a great deal of excitement and dialogue taking place about what was happening amongst the student community.  This was made more impressive and poignant as Senior School students facilitated learning as they buddied up and mentored the younger students from the Junior School to provide further explicit explanations.  It was a successful and important coming together of the school community with everyone being positive and optimistic despite the disappointing cloud cover.  You can see the impact a whole school community event like this can have here.

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.

Children and Diet

 Contributed by Dr Simon Crouch: @srcrouch

Facilitating Debate

Facilitating Debate

While this blog makes for a halcyon picture of reminiscence it highlights the struggle we face to ensure that children are both provided with healthy diets and the necessary signposts to teach them healthy eating habits.

In the UK it is recommended that all children aged 11 years and over should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Recent data suggest that British kids aren’t even getting close. Data collected over four years from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicates that only 10% of boys and 7% of girls are meeting that target.

Internationally we see a similar picture. In Australia the recommendations are even more stringent – four portions of vegetables and a further three portions of fruit per day for children aged 12-18 years. Similar to their British cousins Australian children are also falling woefully short with only 5% meeting the target.

Childhood obesity is becoming an increasing issue in developed countries. Child health is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes and obesity is one of the biggest threats to population health in an ever developing world. While physical activity is important for overall health it is a healthy diet that plays the most significant role in maintaining a healthy weight.

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There are many factors that impact on healthy behaviours, including family circumstances and the community in which individuals live, but with children spending such a large proportion of their informative years in school it is important that the school environment is promoting healthy diets.

Fish, chips and mushy peas topped off with jam sponge and custard may be a delight to tastebuds harking back to a bygone era but this meal arguably contains only one serve of fruit or vegetable (I am not even sure if the mushy peas count). In no way does it achieve the national standards which stipulate that every school meal must contain at least two serves of fruit or veg.

Jamie Oliver may not be loved by everyone but he has played a role in highlighting this issue and helped pushed governments to begin the slow process of cultural change. But students and parents alike need to continue to strive for healthier diets in all contexts, particularly where government standards do apply.

Education in schools is not confined to the classroom and should not be put on hiatus when the kids go for lunch. The school canteen is the perfect place to teach our children how to lead healthy lives, and perhaps the best way to their brains is through their tummies.

The Scottish Referendum

Contributed by Karen Partyka

Karen's voting card

Karen’s voting card

On Thursday 18th September the Scottish people had the extraordinary opportunity to vote for or against independence. It was very interesting living in the country leading up to the day, things were much tighter than perhaps people could have hoped for. For me it was very inspiring seeing the pupils in my school who were eligible to vote throwing themselves into politics. Many that I spoke to had taken time to research the different options and thought carefully about their vote. They each took their vote seriously and felt they were making a difference in their country. Once they had made their decision they were passionate about their vote and got involved in the campaigning. Also in the school the younger pupils also were engaged. Even though they could not vote many had decided what they would have voted. There were many lively debates and discussions heard around the school, in the classrooms and in corridors.

But what struck me the most was how lucky I and the Scottish people were to have our democratic right to choose, to be able to go on the streets and campaign and engage with people and tell them what I had democratically chosen. There are many people in the world who do not have that right and in some cases do not have the freedom of speech.

Pantila, as head student, encouraging whole school voting for student leadership positions during election time

Pantila, as head student, encouraging whole school voting for student leadership positions during election time

I have a friend who told when he votes in his country, you go into the booth, mark your card with “your choice” then someone “checks” you have chosen the candidate that the government has decided will win then you put your card in the box. This is happening today! In these countries they would be arrested for campaigning for their candidate if it was not the chosen one. Today there are 5 communist countries where people do not have the democratic right to openly vote, there are also many more countries which have restrictions about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. According to the Press Freedom Index 2014 “the bottom three countries freedom of information is non-existent”. The Index lists 180 countries and Eritrea is 180th, North Korea 179th and Turkmenistan 178th. Other countries which have terrible records for free speech are Cuba and China and both these countries have the biggest prisons in the world for journalists according to the Press Freedom Index.

senior students facilitating discussion and debate regarding changes in their school constitution

senior students facilitating discussion and debate regarding changes in their school constitution

There are also countries where criticism of their religion or monarchy is illegal and people are imprisoned for committing these crimes.

All the information about lack of democracy and freedom of speech makes me realise that on Thursday 18th September 2014 along with 84% of the Scottish population we cast our vote in a democracy with no fear of imprisonment.

The Michigan Difference

Contributed by Brittany Tang

Michigan

After spending three weeks at the University of Michigan, I am starting to feel the energy in the air, the buzz of academia, the passion and excitement of being part of what is essentially a small city. The first week I dipped my toes into the academic pool of my classes. I got used to what was expected of me and how to succeed. After I felt sufficiently settled and comfortable with my studies I started searching for leadership positions and community service based clubs to join.

I ran for and was elected President of the Events Planning Committee (EPC) for the HSSP (Health Sciences Scholar’s Program) community. As the President, I help facilitate weekly EPC meetings, I design agendas and communicate with the representatives from each HSSP committee. I am also a member of the HSSP Community Service Committee. Myself, along with others in the committee plan service endeavors for the HSSP community: volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House for families with children in critical condition, volunteering at Indian Trails Camp for children and adults with disabilities, ect. I recently received an email from a 4th year MD PhD student who is working to establish an NGO to help provide health care for people in Uganda. A group of  students including myself, will be establishing a sister program for the undergraduate school to raise awareness for the NGO Progressive Health Partnership (PHP) as well as raise some funds. The link to the project is as follows: Progressive Health Partnership | People Helping People. I am also part of an organization called the VIEW (Volunteers Involved Every Week).  The mission of this organization is to “empower students to become educated leaders and create social change in partnership with local organizations and communities”. This club in particular, stood out to me because of its emphasis on global citizenship and community service. I am very excited to be part of the team!

Finally, from a more academic point of view this past week has been extremely busy because I am in the process of searching for undergraduate research opportunities. I sent out multiple applications for multiple research projects and I have had lots of very educational interviews. I am really enjoying the entire process of finding a project I am interested in researching to securing a place on the research team. I have yet to commit to a particular project, at the moment, however by next week I will have my research position. Overall, I think the most important thing to remember is that balance is so incredibly important. Attending university has really challenged me in a positive way and has allowed me to grow into the individual I endeavor to be. I hope to continue down this path of leadership, service, academia and research and I am very excited to see how this first year turns out!

To read more posts by Brittany please click here.

Acting local and thinking global with Anita

Contributed by Anita van Dam – a Global Ambassador

Since the beginning of this Year I have started working at a zoo in Kerkrade, Netherlands, called the Gaia Park. I go there once a week when possible where I work with the primates, for example cleaning the cage, creating recreational activities and making their food and feeding them.

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As a member of the EAG (Environment Action Group) in the school, we collaborated with IKEA for them to switch off all their lights during Earth Hour to raise awareness. I was the supervisor for the group and we also handed out leaflets to costumers and told them about the event and asked them to participate.

Earth Hour

Earth Hour

During my holiday, I bumped into Nancy Gibson* from the Love Wildlife Foundation. She and a few others were heading for a meeting to talk about the opening of the New Dolphinarium in Phuket and so I asked to join in. Below is a link to a rerun on the Phuket News TV about the event.

*Nancy Gibson will feature on a post under speakers soon
Anita and Nancy in Phuket

Anita and Nancy in Phuket

Anita meeting with the Love Wildlife team in Phuket

Anita meeting with the Love Wildlife team in Phuket

I am now in Direct contact with the people there and will be raising awareness in the Netherlands and the other United World Colleges in attempt to make this international.
Making Thai krathongs

Making Thai krathongs

I attended project week where I went to Poland with 5 other students to work with an organisation called Siemacha who work with children who need help in studies or whose parents do not have time to take care of them. Here I led a session where I taught the students about Thailand and had an activity where I taught them how to make krathongs.
The International Fair

The International Fair

Another event that I joined was the International Fair where I had my own Thai stand with pictures and items from Thailand as well as cooking some Thai dishes such as fried rice, rice with Thai omelette, kao man kai and sweet pork shred with sticky rice. I also participated in the international fashion show.
Cupcakes!

Cupcakes!

I also participated in Storytelling Bakery where we learned how to make cupcakes as well as decorate them. We had a story attached to each cupcake that related to each other and had the cupcakes decorated to match the story.
MUN in Italy

MUN in Italy

I have also participated in an MUN conference in Italy with the school United World College Adriatic. It was a great experience and I had a lot of fun. I made many new friends as well as learned the procedures while also getting to see the city. The topics were against me therefore I had to work harder and make my points strong in order to protect my country (India) which was being accused of things we had not done.
Thanks for the update Anita and good luck with your studies in your final year of school at UWC Maarstricht. Please keep us posted with your progress and achievements.  
The GC Award Team.
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