A series of think pieces and podcasts has been announced by WCVA to focus on the future of well-being in Wales.
Our CEO Susie Ventris-Field and Gethin Rhys from Cytûn, co wrote a think piece titled Responding to the climate emergency
Challenges mentioned in the think piece include climate change, and connecting the local and global by developing trading
The pair can also be heard discussing the challenges the voluntary sector in Wales can help meet in respect of the climate emergency on the podcast which you can listen to here –A better Wales: looking beyond Brexit
At the WCIA, we want to see all young people thrive as informed, skilled and empowered citizens. Part of Global Learning or Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) is empowering young people to understand, discuss, debate and act on global issues that affect their lives, and teachers need the knowledge, understanding and confidence to engage with these, often complicated issues.
Many young people across Wales will have experienced or witnessed the structural racism that underpins the #blacklivesmatter protests. During lockdown, young people will have participated in the protests or seen them on the news. For some young people, the return to school this week may be the first opportunity to discuss this in school with friends and teachers, and to process their experiences. We’ve invited Naila Missous, a primary school teacher who leads on Religious Education and History, to share some thoughts and tips for teachers as they return to school.
By Naila Missous
Schools will be developing their approaches to the new curriculum in Wales which gives ample opportunities to include current events/world events across the curriculum.
With four main purposes steering the direction of this new framework, the Welsh curriculum allows for a holistic and real-life approach to its learning, for its learners. Of these four strands, one, in particular, stands out, especially as we join the fight for black lives matter: ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world. I think it is important to note the mention of ‘and the world’ in this instance, as Wales becomes an ever more diverse nation, welcoming families and their children in school, and young people prepare to interact with global issues throughout their lives. Yet, world experiences are usually married with general life experiences. That is to say, you cannot feign a global experience if your surroundings, your interactions and that which you consume does not cater for a global diet.
Heightened more so by the black lives matter re-movement this year, the voice of black and brown authors, figures and history have been pushed to the top of many an educator’s agenda: but is this mirrored in the curriculums and embedded as a standard?
Fired up by this, I will admit, as a teacher, it amplified what I had always been feeling and thinking: if pupils can’t see themselves in the content they’re being taught, then how can we expect them to aspire for the same heights as that of the mainstream? And why is it important?
This infographic provides a visual suggestion as to how any pupil accesses their learning, unconsciously to the begin with, then eventually the realisation of what they’re learning becomes more obvious as they progress in their learning journey. As the Welsh curriculum is a continuous journey from age 3 all the way up to 16, the understanding of the curriculum must be shared between both teacher and pupil. Children should be able to understand the reasoning behind what they’re learning, not just the facts. And how does one keep the pupil immersed in what they’re learning? Engagement. Too often physical behaviours and oral attitudes of pupils are blamed on the individual themselves; but rather, there is a whole plethora of reasons why a pupil may be disengaging thus leading to these behaviours. If the learning doesn’t involve them, include them or say their name, then why expect any engagement. In this instance, the pupil has a right to feel betrayed by what they’re learning.
It is often simple steps that make the biggest impact. For example in my teaching of the reign of Queen Elizabth the I, I married this with the ties she had with the Islamic Empire, thus by default having to mention Islam, and many a country on the Silk Route. It includes children not only in the learning, but quite literally in the history, too. It becomes less removed, and more personal.
It is a time for tough questions and even tougher implementations. An inclusive curriculum means not placing groups in opposition to one another, but also respecting the richness in the diversity. No cloaking over the fact people are different, no forcing of linked commonalities. Celebrate the difference in uniting through a shared humanity. If we use yoga for mindfulness in school, let them know that is in fact a Hindu spiritual practice that holds great importance for so many Hindus around the world. The classroom is a space that allows for a free-flowing movement of knowledge and language, if you let it be that way. Discussing the ‘White Lives Matter’ banner at a recent Burnley football match with my bubble of children in school allowed for a lot of insight, from a child’s perspective. They knew this incident was offensive, and the open dialogue within the classroom allowed us to frame why and what we could do next as citizens. Pedantic enforcement of ideas that do not involve every ethnic background is indeed a nose-dive.
The areas of learning and experience in the Welsh curriculum do not dictate prescriptively what one can and cannot teach; and so, this is a great time to bring to the forefront the experiences of teachers from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds, as well as giving them credit when credit is due. This should not be a tokenistic professional learning event where a teacher is used for the benefit of others on a platform; rather, make well informed decisions, collaborations and real changes. It is okay to admit to not knowing, that is a fresh starting point to encourage your own teaching journey.Unknowingly to teachers who are fired up with the passion to tackle structural racism- and I fully am on this side – there will be teachers who feel overcome with worry about being presented with difficult situations. How can they teach what they do not experience? What if a parent approaches you with a robust conversation topic that you are unsure in handling? Firstly, this is how many a pupil may feel when their learning doesn’t marry up with their own experiences: a little lost, a little “What is the point?”, and a whole lot of “I can’t relate to this”.
As teachers, we should be able to seek out positive, informed and solid discussions not only with our pupils, but also with their carers. As such, below I present some ideas and hopefully starting points for these situations:
The Welsh curriculum suggests that a pupil’s learning journey is different from the next pupil; a unique roadmap that allows for complexity, depth and eventually a personal responsibility of their own learning. This is progressive, though we must take into account that the starting point at age 3 needs the teacher to nurture and ensure a safe space so pupils feel comfortable in their black or brown identity. And for those white pupils, to learn a worldview that is not othered, but by others.
We’ve moved our Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning courses online – study at your own pace, supported by reflective and participatory live Zoom sessions. Already available online are:
We are a member of the Wales Overseas Agencies Group (WOAG) and collectively released a statement about the merger below. If you would like to share worries, thoughts or concerns to feed into our future responses on this issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @wcia_wales.
To celebrate Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), Helene (European Solidarity Corps volunteer at WCIA/UNA Exchange for the year 2019/2020) selected seven inspiring volunteer stories.
Through UNA Exchange projects Jack saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, led a project in the Czech Republic on a biodynamic farm, rebuilt a river bank in Wales, attended international seminars, delivered trainings and much more. Jack now works for the National Trust in Ipswich.
From volunteering to leading“I went on to volunteer for a weekend project in the Afan Forest with Nick Murfin, a brilliant Ranger. We spent two days reconstructing a river bank, and at the end of the project Nick and another member of staff suggested I should try the Leader’s Training programme at UNA Exchange – so I did. So, I ended up training to lead projects, and returned to Afan several times with different groups of volunteers. I also volunteered in Reykjavik in Iceland and saw the Northern Lights, led a project in Czech Republic on a biodynamic farm, and went on to train Leaders myself.
I have lots of great memories for my second work project, and first two week project in Wales, back in Afan Forest – it was a great group, with a challenging work project endorsed by the local council, working with Nick again. The work was very physical, as we had to resurrect a large new footpath that had become overgrown and also put in a lot of steps to link this footpath to existing well used ones. It was a project that was very labour intensive but would open up a whole new area of the forest to regular walkers, and it was easy to see a visible result at the end of it – we really felt as though we had left a legacy and got a lot done, and the group were better connected and closer as a result. I stayed in touch and formed friendships with a lot of people on that project – made real connections!
Volunteering is character building I have seen a lot more of the world as a result, and travelled more than I probably would have had I not started volunteering. I think that volunteering definitely changed me for the better – I strive to always be volunteering now, and promote volunteering amongst others. I think it is an essential part of being a responsible, and global citizen, and very much believe in it as an ethos and as part of the bigger picture of society at large. During my volunteering experiences I learnt an awful lot about different nationalities, stereotyping, group dynamics, leading groups and having an open mind. I genuinely think it shaped me into a more mature, grounded individual.
Volunteering encompasses a huge range of roles and responsibilities – it is sad that in current times in the UK volunteering has become more wrapped up with the politics of cutting budgets and keeping people on the road to employment. I believe every politician in every country should volunteer. They should know what hard work, sweat and exhaustion for no monetary gain feels like! I would like to encourage everyone to volunteer at least once – you will have great experiences – it is all character building!
You meet so many people, learn so much and see so much of the world, if you throw yourself into it. I miss it, and hope that others can benefit from its great ethos and character as an organisation – I’d massively recommend it!”
Did you know that 2020 marks a special anniversary? This year we are celebrating 100 years of workcamps and international volunteering for peace! A hundred years ago, Pierre Ceresole created what is known today as an International Workcamp. The first international voluntary project took place on the former battlefield of Verdun in France in 1920. WCIA/UNA Exchange 2019/2020 European Solidarity Corps volunteers Helene and Loeiza interviewed Chrishan Kamalan, WCIA trustee, for the occasion.
Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Chrishan Kamalan, I’m a trustee at the WCIA – Welsh Centre for International Affairs.
We heard that you joined several workcamps. What was your motivation to do it?
My first camp was slightly different. I’d like to talk about that initially. I was very fortunate, looking back, to be able to go to the previous USSR, in 1989, just some four months before the fall of the Berlin wall, in what was what called a Peace Camp. But the principle of the Peace Camp was similar to a workcamp and the workcamp movement. That particular camp was organized by authorities in the USSR for delegates from both Eastern Europe and Western Europe at the time, to learn about each other’s experiences. Little did we know how quickly things would change politically some months later. I still remember people talking at the time, saying that the Berlin wall would stay up for another forty years. But then, that was people around the age of eighteen, which I was at the time, so we were not really informed by life experiences. But it was very much working principles of workcamps. These two groups of people behind the iron wall -iron curtain as it was called at the time- in Eastern Europe and Western Europe did not really have an understanding of each other. It was a good ten years before the internet came about. So information was limited. When I say the word suspicion, it was just a lack of knowledge, from both sides of the culture. And what happened, I can clearly remember going on the workcamp, I was about to go to University and there were people at my University already there on the workcamp. Some involved groups like Amnesty and so on, and they were trying to, in a sensitive way, outline concerns over freedom and human rights issues in various parts of Europe. And it was very much an information exchange.
What did you take from that experience?
That particular experience (Peace Camp in Minsk, Byelorussia) -and I’ll come on to other experiences as well- I think was hugely influential because three or four months later I saw the Berlin wall come down in real-time on television. At the time I couldn’t process it, now we all say that 1989 was such a significant year. I think there’s a course at Cardiff University where one of the international relationships modules focuses on 1989. For me obviously, at the time I just thought “Yes, this is unusual”. But it brought out to me how influential, I’m not saying that particular workcamp had a direct impact, but I was just thinking, especially for those who come from the Eastern European countries and USSR, they had to adapt – very quick change in mindset over that time and likewise, we had to.
The workcamp’s influence was going back to the principles of the international movement about the corporation between former soldiers who had fought each other during the First World War. At that time it was called the cold war and all of that was essentially between the governments. People did not really understand each other and maybe had prejudices and very strong opinions about each other. Being on the workcamp together just demonstrated the commonality of humanity, that we wanted similar aspirations. Maybe we had different views on how to achieve those, but that really had an impact, as I said it was the summer before I went to the University. Going to University I then joined groups like Amnesty International, which at the time were doing a lot of work on the promotion of human rights, especially in this kind of context, the European context. It also led to an interesting internationalism, European affairs… I’ve been fortunate, one of the few people, now I suppose, as a British official who could say that he’s worked in the European Commission for a short amount of time. So all those kinds of things – we are all related I think.
What was the aim of your workcamp?
That particular workcamp, the peace workcamp, was just to foster good relations between people who didn’t really know each other. There was very little information in the public domain about the various countries so going to Russia, seeing structures, I have to say that we were slightly protected maybe from the reality of what was going on at the time. But still, meeting other people, having open discussions, fact discussions, that was really helpful.
If I can answer the same question as well in relation to the workcamp several years later that I led – that was the camp that was known as the 1994 International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, North Wales. It’s an International and annual singing and cultural festival. I think it’s been going since the end of the Second World War, so the timing is interesting as well, so building on those principles of reconciliation. It’s quite funny because there was a very famous opera Italian singer, Pavarotti, whose career – he said, he is deceased – started when he went to the international I one, that was his first big break. There was a relatively small team of about six of us, helping with support during the I one. I remember the team now, there was an American lady, French and German males, myself and my sister. So I can remember particularly well that workcamp of five. We worked I think for two weeks – sorry I think it was a week actually, a week-long festival – just to provide the kind of support needed. Again this was in the mid-nineties, so again during the pre-internet age, and a lot of reliance on information supply as well, so giving out leaflets, that’s the way that people could get around the site. Having international elements so there would be a number of people whose first language was certainly not English or who needed assistance in getting around – the place was quite remote…. So it was a really magical experience. Again, thinking about it, very honoured too. On the last day, the performer who took part in the event went on to be quite famous and even at that time he was quite well know… But you look at these things, but you don’t know at the time… I was in Russia, how privileged you are to be in that kind of environment.
I think you mentioned a third workcamp…
Yes, so the third workcamp I was in, I was relatively older, thirty, possibly the oldest member of the group. I went to Alsace, for a three-week project. But firstly, I want to unpack the Alsace project, but I think this is very relevant in the context of workcamps. If we go back to how they were set up by returning French and German soldiers who had fought in the First World War. But almost immediately after the end of the hostilities, they started to think about meaningful and sensible ways in order to bring communities together. I think the workcamp movement is encapsulated about that.
It’s almost like very early restorative justice system I would say you know, not trying to address the issues of why their countries went to war, or why so many countries went to war, but on the individual level, having witnessed trauma and horrors, building up these relationships so that people avoid that, what’s pertinent about Alsace is it’s an area of land that’s been fought over by these two particular countries in numerous wars going from one to another in terms of ownership and as a result the people who had lived in that area, they can have conflict of interest sometimes because they have been ruled by these different powers so having a workcamp there was particularly important. I was involved in the renovation of a pond. That’s another big fact I wanted to draw up.
I think the movement has been ahead of its time in looking at environmental projects. That was in the 2000s, so that was quite late on, but ever since the onset there has been a big focus on restoration, repair and protection of the natural environment, because I think it just goes to show that those kinds of projects are meaningful to people. That’s why people are very interested in living in villages or even in towns. That’s been a common concern or passion. The reality is that there’s not always resources, human resources to be able to do that, so you have a workcamp element, which is introducing an element of fun. From that particular of 2003, we had at least ten people with European backgrounds and also a French Canadian attendee as well. For me it was really interesting because, I talked about my first experience in 1989, and just over twenty years later, there were people from the modern-day Russia, and seeing how the workcamp ethos had extended, had gone beyond the Western Europe where it was originally designed for, also I think the person from Quebec mentioned that it was something that was certainly familiar with, in Canada.
Just bringing people together in the nicest possible way, in a rough way, no-frills, we had to learn how to quickly get along together. We had to accept that for three weeks the food and so on would be the food that we would prepare, it may not be what people were used to, likewise in terms of accommodation, but we were also determined to put on our own activities, our own sort of amusements within the workcamp. It was striking a balance between hard work but also play as well and enjoying ourselves. I could see because I was really, familiar with that region, which was not that far from Strasburg but in a rural area, that the locals were taking quite a strong interest in what was going on as well. At first they were just questioning because it was the first one I think, that particular renovation scheme, but then they could see what benefits it could bring for the local people but also I think they felt quite honoured to have people coming in from so many different countries with this interest in renovation and environment restoration. And they wanted to just observe and then, take it on. So the important thing, with all workcamps –this is true especially when there’s a project involved-, is once it’s been done, hopefully links have been built up with the community so that maybe another workcamp can take that forward in the following years but ideally that would just be taken on by the community itself.
Did you see a significant change in the youth you connected with during the workcamp?
Yeah I think I did. I was a bit older so it was probably easier to say that, all were eighteen, but for some people it was their first experience and again it reminded of my first experience going to Russia. First experience of going abroad, they may have had certain ideas about different groups of people but I think that commonality came out quite quickly and yes where people never had sort of experienced other cultures, being able to mingle together, eat food… They broke down barriers.
Last question how much has the workcamp experience influenced your personal life?
It’s been a common theme really. I mentioned at the onset of the interview that I am a trustee at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, so going on the workcamp with what was then the United Nations Associations International Youth Service was my first exposure to that particular building here, the Temple of Peace, and at that time the WCIA was a sister charity, they were both set up in 1973. Common aims but separate ideals that reflected the fact that the International Youth Service had a stronger association with the United Nations Association then. For me, what that led to was a really interesting sort of international aspect of what per se.
In time I became more involved with the WCIA, I joined them through the legal affairs committee because I’m a qualified lawyer. I became chair of that committee and from that, and the ability to bring speakers along, in conjunction with Welsh Universities and others as well, speakers from all around the world, I became a trustee at the WCIA and I become chair -I was chair from 2016 to 2019- so for me it’s been really interesting in terms of timing. I mentioned 2016 to 2019 and it would be amiss of me to say, today of all days, the day that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, that certainly ideals of international corporation are more important than ever. We may not know what form it takes but again it’s interesting just thinking about the camps themselves, not realizing how important they were in terms of being… As of today, there’s a lot of uncertainty, but I think all of us would want to see a proper sense of international corporation, a lack of distrust amongst various groups.
Coming back to what you asked me – How do you do that? You do that really by actively mingling with different groups of people. Arguably almost being forced to do so. Dare I say, sometimes people go on holiday and they come across different groups of people. But unless you are really engaging with another person, you just see the person as the other. The workcamp is unique in that, being realistic about it, it’s quite basic structure. People have different levels of expectancies about what they want to experience out of it, but I think that’s what the great strength is, because there are some tailored-made projects these days where experience of international work, how can I say, is sometimes slightly protected. Everything is done for the person sometimes. Your hear of schemes where taxis, transport or somebody picks them up from their house, takes them up to and from the airport and take them where they are going to work. The beauty of the workcamp is that you have to do a lot of that yourself.
First, it tests your resilience, it tests your desire. Going back to Russia in 1989, getting a ticket to Moscow was very difficult. I grew up in a town called Neath, which is not far from Swansea. I remember catching the train, and the […] travel shop –which is one of the few shops which has retained their original place, it is in the same location as it was in 1989- and I remember going there and the staff being so helpful explaining how difficult it would be to get a ticket to the USSR for a number of reasons. But that, if anything, made me more determined to go and so when I went I really felt the value of having had to struggle to get the visa and all the clearances. But then going to the workcamp itself, being immersed in a different environment, realizing that in order to make the most of that experience you have to forego some of your, not just your assumptions, but some of your expectancies, and try and work toward a common goal. So what I am saying is I can’t really think of something comparable, in which you are, at a young age, asked to engage in this way. Arguably Erasmus offers let’s say these schemes, but very much for individuals going to a particular country where, say, there’s a dominant culture. The beauty of the workcamp movement is that you’ve got all these different nationalities and cultures and you try to find a common goal.
Coming back to the specific question you’ve asked me, it gave me this passion for internationalism. I mentioned I was fortunate to spend a short amount of time at the European commission but I also traveled to other places. I was able to go to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. My background is Sri Lankan and Tamal. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say unless I was unexposed to the workcamp in my early stage, my life wouldn’t have panned out, and certainly, my interests wouldn’t have panned out than the way than they have.
Thank you so much!