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Guns and guitars

Life in Scotland and East Timor could not be more different for pupils, yet two schools are collaborating on a project documenting how they live to get a better understanding of their world

in an unremarkable-looking house in Midlothian a teenager films her bedroom, her pet dog and her guitar. The scene is one of several chosen by pupils at Newbattle Community High in Dalkeith to illustrate everyday life as they know it in their increasingly independent homeland.

Halfway around the world in the East Timor capital city, Dili, another group of pupils has been given the same task as part of an international citizenship scheme.

The aim of the World Citizens Project is to combine the footage taken by the 13 and 14-year-olds to create a short documentary to be shown at schools in both countries to give pupils a greater insight into each others' lives and the impact that their actions can have around the world.

Like Scotland, East Timor underwent a momentous change in 1999, though their referendum led to full independence. But the footage their pupils take is likely to be a world away from that filmed in Scotland in every sense.

Guns have been a more common sight than guitars in their country, which has been devastated by years of fighting in its struggle to gain independence from Indo-nesia. And, while young people in Scotland are often derided for being apathetic about politics, their East Timorese peers' anger over mass youth unemployment erupted into violent riots last summer, forcing countless schools to close.

Back in Scotland, teachers say the innovative film project, organised by Edinburgh-based aid agency Mercy Corps, is helping them include citizenship in the curriculum.

Wilma Frame is one of three Newbattle teachers leading a group of around 15 S2 pupils who volunteered to take part in their lunchtimes. "In England," she says, "citizenship is a separate lesson, but in Scotland, it is supposed to be part of every subject, which can be difficult. This is a great way of teaching pupils about citizenship and how what they do can affect people in other countries, and vice versa.

"It is very pupil-led. When we asked them to think about what citizenship was for the project, they said they wanted to make a video showing what their lives were like, filming their school, their bedroom, television. They wanted to show that their lives are possibly a bit more materialistic than those of other pupils [in countries such as East Timor].

"The pupils are so enthusiastic about it they want to work on the project three lunchtimes a week instead of one," the geography teacher adds.

Among the pupils taking part is Caitlin Carr, 13, whose guitar and dog feature in the footage taken so far. "I wanted to show my home and the things I do in my spare time. I don't know how different the videos from East Timor will be," she says.

"I'd never heard of East Timor before we started this project and didn't know anything about it. We were told that the violence has made it difficult for them to get to school sometimes. It would scare me to live there, and I don't think I could have filmed my house there the way I have done here."

The pupils have recently joined the interactive worldwide website, similar to MySpace, with children creating their own webpages, but they must be pupils with passwords.

Adam Kennedy, 13, who is also taking part in the project, says: "It's great, there are webpages and pictures from pupils all over the world. I found one in Moscow, and one in India with pictures of a festival there. Some have lists of questions for you, such as 'Which pet do you prefer, a cat or a dog?' I've learnt a lot about citizenship from this project."

Mercy Corps launched the project after teachers in Scotland said they needed fresh initiatives to help teach pupils about democracy, especially overseas.

Dorothy McIntosh, the charity's civil society adviser, says: "The aim is to encourage young people to become active world citizens. In East Timor [after the riots], people realised the importance of giving young people a role in governance. Compare that to Scotland where a lot of young people are disaffected and not engaged [in politics]."

Have Mercy

Newbattle Community High is one of four schools in Lothian taking part in the Mercy Corps World Citizens Project.

A documentary created from video footage taken by pupils in Scotland and in East Timor, will be shown in both countries to illustrate the different ideas about and experiences of citizenship.

Among the first to see it will be teachers from East Timor, who hope to visit Scottish schools next year to foster understanding between pupils in both nations.

Scottish teachers and pupils taking part in the scheme were given training by Mercy Corps in filming and editing their work.

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