All cut from same cloth

Asked to list the differences between the children at her school and those at St Anthony's, Shamila Sait thinks immediately of the issue of colour.

"They have different uniforms: we have a red top and they have a blue top."

She pauses briefly, reflecting whether there is anything else she's omitted to mention. "No - there are no other differences," she says, finally. "They are like us."

Nine-year-old Shamila attends Farnham school, an inner-city Bradford primary. She is of Pakistani Muslim origin, as are 99 per cent of her fellow pupils. St Anthony's RC primary, in a leafy suburb of Bradford, has an ethnic-minority population of only 3 per cent. Its Catholic pupils mix mostly with other white children.

Pupils at Farnham and St Anthony's were put in touch with one another through a penpal project run by the Year 5 classes of both schools. The project, part of Bradford's response to the war in Afghanistan and last summer's race riots, is intended to break down barriers between the city's diverse communities.

In fact, says Barbara Ford, head of St Anthony's, the advantage of carrying out such a project at primary-school level is that few barriers exist as yet: most pupils, like Shamila, failed even to register the difference in skin colour and religion.

"The thing with children is that they take people at face value," she said. "If they never mix, there's misunderstanding. But if they do mix, they realise that we're all the same, really. They're all God's children."

Ten-year-old Talib Mustafa came to this realisation after discovering that - like him - his penpal enjoys playing football and rounders. "I thought I didn't want to play with Daniel, because he was Catholic and I was Muslim. But we met each other and he seemed nice. I'm happy to play with Catholic children now," he said.

The correspondents have visited one another's schools, with the pupils from St Anthony's attending a Farnham school play depicting the difficulties of life under the Taliban. Farnham pupils will soon return the favour, when they visit St Anthony's to watch their end-of-term play. And they hope to add some St Anthony's signatures to a petition they will be submitting to their local MP, asking the Government to support aid and development work in Afghanistan.

Both schools have also held fundraising events, as part of the project, and have collected more than pound;500 for the TES-UNICEF Afghanistan appeal.

"It's about understanding what life is like for other people," said Barbara Ford. "It's not just 'we're white, helping other people in Afghanistan who are not white'. The children can see that here are people who are not white, helping other people in the same way."

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