Culture;Subject of the week;Development education

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Bernard Adams looks at a project celebrating diverse ethnic influences on music and dance

Take three girls from the local grammar school, add some adult experts on development education and mix in a comfortable council office in the Medway towns. Result? A startling revelation (to the girls at any rate) about the ethnic mix in their local area, which in turn has an impact on their approach to planning a major One World Week event celebrating the diversity of local cultures.

The girls - all from Chatham Grammar - are Sophie Chamberlain (15) and her two 14-year-old companions, Beth James and Danielle Stanley. They are members of the Medway Youth Action Group attending a workshopplanning meeting organised by Isobel Perry, co-ordinator of the Kent and the Wider World development education project.

Ms Perry begins with a discussion of the economic effects of globalisation. Is it a good thing? The girls admit that although they feel strongly about it, they don't always know why. For Sophie it is good, because all world trade benefits somebody; for Danielle it is bad, because it leads to exploitation of the poor by the rich; Beth believes it is both good and bad.

Then they move on to the ethnic and cultural diversity that can spring from globalisation. "Globalisation can lead to a more uniform international culture, but it also has the potential for more cultural exchange," explains Ms Perry. "People can travel, and emigrate more easily, so Britain has become more culturally diverse. This makes our lives richer in the UK and the event we're planning is going to celebrate that diversity and help towards mutual understanding and respect."

Then sociologist Wahid Chaker, half English and half Egyptian and now living in Brixton, south London, gives the workshop an interesting multi-cultural twist. He has been working for six months with the Kent group as part of the Voices from the South initiative, which is designed to integrate people from developing countries into development education groups.

"His life experience is thought-provoking for young people - he makes them think about their ethnicity and the place they live," says Ms Perry.

At the workshop, Mr Chaker performs a "mental map" exercise with the three girls, asking them to estimate the proportion of the local (Medway towns) population belonging to ethnic minorities. They accurately chart the heaviest and lightest densities in local areas, but are wildly over the top in terms of proportion of the total local population, which amounts to only 5 per cent in the Medway towns and is largely Asian. Some estimates for specific areas run as high as 50 per cent.

Mr Chaker explains that this is a common misperception which the media play a role in creating. He says there is a tendency to stereotype ethnic minorities because the white population is often so distanced from them. The girls say they are now keen to find out about the cultures of the local Asian communities - Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian.

This leads naturally to the discussion of the big event in Gillingham - designed specifically to represent as much of the local ethnic mix as possible. It is to be an all-day and evening affair with Caribbean rap, Asian dance and African drumming and a didgeridoo. During the day the same mental-map exercise will be done with the participants, who will include members of local ethnic groups.

One World Week, Youth Event, October 25,10am-11pm at Expressions, 124 Pier Road, Gillingham, Kent. Tickets, Isobel Perry: 01622 762 982


* 11 million white British people have Afro-Carribean relations. 1.5 million south Asians live in the UK.

* Bollywood, based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is the world's most prolific film industry, producing 800 feature films a year and selling more than 4 billion tickets worldwide.

Sources, the 'Sunday Telegraph', the 'Independent'

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