Archway to the world;Subject of the week;Development education

16th October 1998 at 01:00
Last autumn a Gloucestershire geography teacher, inspired by the work of Princess Diana, set up a project to help a Bosnian landmine victim. Since then his students have travelled to Sarajevo to see the fruits of their work and set up Internet links to a refuge for child prostitutes in Nepal. Oh, and they've addressed the United Nations. Martin Whittaker reports on an aid project that's built to last

In his classroom, Bob Willey keeps a big file charting the progress of his pupils' overseas aid projects. Over the past year the press cuttings in the file have been piling up.

Archway school in Stroud, Gloucestershire, has featured in local, national, even foreign newspapers under headlines such as "Pupils keep Diana's landmine promise", and "Pupils air views at Geneva talks".

Lessons on the harsh realities of life in developing countries are finding their way onto the curriculum at Archway, a comprehensive with 950 pupils. For example, A-level and GNVQ business students discuss how to market imported jewellery and textiles. The goods were made by girls rescued from child prostitution in Nepal, and the proceeds will be sent back to them.

Next summer, media students will fly to Geneva to report from the United Nations human rights commission. And one year 11 pupil is about to start work experience in the British embassy in Bosnia.

For Bob Willey, geography teacher and careers adviser, what began as a simple idea for his students to help a 15-year-old Bosnian landmine victim has grown beyond all expectations.

The story begins in the mid-Eighties when Mr Willey formed Schools Together, to encourage schools to co-ordinate their charitable efforts. The project sent assistance to train health workers in Pakistan, to Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka, to a street children's project in Brazil. Mr Willey also led an expedition of students to work at a centre for disabled children in Morocco.

But following the death of one of its field worker contacts and the introduction of the national curriculum, Schools Together fell by the wayside. It was resurrected last year after the death of Princess Diana.

The day after her funeral, a story in a Sunday newspaper caught Mr Willey's eye. It mentioned a Bosnian schoolgirl, Mirzeta Gabelic, who had lost a leg in a landmine blast. Just three weeks earlier she had met Princess Diana, who had pledged to help her. Now, with the death of the princess, Mirzeta had given up hope.

"For reasons I can't explain I decided there and then that we would complete that promise," Mr Willey says. Through phone calls to aid agencies and the British embassy, he learned about Mirzeta and her family. Their "home" was two rooms with broken windows, no bathroom and no hot water. To get to the house Mirzeta had to struggle up a steep path.

In less than four months, Archway students raised pound;3,000 through sponsored events and donations. It paid for steps to be built up to Mirzeta's house, and for a bathroom with toilet, shower and water heater.

Last February, 15-year-old Laura Ward-Frost, a pupil at Archway, flew out to Sarajevo to meet Mirzeta and inspect the work. "When she came back we thought, 'That's it, we've completed our promise'," says Mr Willey. But it didn't end there.

Archway embarked on another mission to raise pound;9,000 to build a playground at Mirzeta's school. In the meantime the school's work came to the attention of the Action for Children Campaign, which last May invited Mr Willey and two students to a UN working group in Geneva to speak on modern slavery.

Laura Ward-Frost gave a speech about her school's aid to Bosnia and her visit to Sarajevo. And Harriet Banks, aged 17, spoke on child labour in Britain.

Then they listened to 16-year-old Anita Khadka from Nepal, who told her own harrowing story. Forced into work in a carpet factory, Anita, then aged 12, had been married off to a pimp, taken to India and sold to a brothel. When she refused clients, she was beaten, given electric shocks, burnt with cigarette butts and gang-raped. She was forced to have sex with up to 25 men per day.

Her speech shocked the two schoolgirls from Stroud. Anita was speaking on behalf of Maiti Nepal, a charity which rescues women and girls from the street and teaches them crafts to help them make a living. Laura and Harriet returned home committed to selling Maiti's goods through the school.

In a classroom at the start of the autumn term, the girls talked enthusiastically about the visits to Bosnia and Geneva, and about where the project will take them in the coming year. Laura, who is returning to Bosnia soon for her work experience, said: "I hadn't been anywhere before I went to Bosnia. I think when you watch things on the news, there's so much crap on TV that it's like fiction. You don't take much notice. But seeing it for real is different. I will never complain about my life ever again."

Bob Willey believes these projects have now gained a momentum of their own. The school has e-mail links with Maiti Nepal and with the British embassy in Bosnia, and he is using the experience gained in Bosnia and Geneva in other areas of the curriculum.

"I've got year 10 students beating a path to my door," he says. "They're mostly girls, I have to say. This year I'm teaching years 8 and 9 geography. Some will do development issues and use information, facts and figures that we have collected. I have used it as a theme for how to use an atlas. I always try to tell them geography isn't in a book - it's about real people."

As a careers adviser, Mr Willey is also aware of how good making a speech to the UN at the age of 15 would look on a CV. "With my own daughter I became very aware, when she was doing her applications for university, of how important the personal statement was. I wanted to see if there was a way I could give students an opportunity that would stand out."

According to Katy Albiston, of Education Partners Overseas, schools are increasingly involv-ed in overseas aid projects - but not always to the benefit of the recipient or the school. She says Archway is one of the ones getting it right.

"Some schools' development aid projects are short lasting and a bit meaningless and are completely negative in their effects. They send a couple of 16-year-olds out who build a building which could just as easily have been built by the people who live there. That just gives the wrong messages to everybody concerned and ends up a big disappointment."

Ms Albiston says schools must channel the information and experience gained in these projects into the curriculum. "The whole question is dissemination," she says. "If you take six pupils out to some project that you have got with another school, those six pupils might benefit tremendously for the rest of their lives. But nobody else is affected at all.

"But if you have a unit in geography looking at development issues and focusing on communities where you have a partnership, that's a much much better approach.

"There are so many things you can do that actually reinforce what people in other countries can do rather than what they can't do."

Development education

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