'I wanted to do something'

10th June 2005 at 01:00
British pupils aim to have their say on world issues before the G8 summit starts. Yojana Sharma reports on the J8

Edinburgh may be a long way from south London, but a group of 13 to 15-year-olds at Aylwin girls' school in Bermondsey has been preparing for the G8 summit next month almost as assiduously as the advance guard of civil servants who organise the paperwork. In particular, these pupils want to show Tony Blair and other G8 leaders that there is more than one way to climb a mountain.

Armed with a J8 (Junior 8) global citizenship pack and the hope of a trip to Edinburgh, they have been preparing to enter the J8 competition. They have to produce a communique and work supporting it.

Eight groups will be selected from competing schools to go to Edinburgh a few days before the G8 summit. They will debate this year's main themes - Africa and climate change - and draw up a J8 communique to be presented to G8 leaders.

"Usually children's voices are not heard," says Victoria Idieho, 15.

"Adults talk about these things, but we also have views on how things should be done."

The Bermondsey girls admit they knew very little about Africa before they volunteered for the weekly after-school J8 club. The continent barely figures on their television screens. The generation that watched starving children in Ethiopia or Princess Diana with Aids orphans and landmine victims has long since left school. But even small things can spark an interest.

"When I watched Children in Need or Comic Relief, there were little ads about people in Africa and I cried so much I could hardly go to school," says Lorelle Lambert, 13. "I wanted to do something but I did not know what to do. That was why I joined J8."

The pupils have been taking a critical look at the developing world and how the rich countries are involved, and are creating a PowerPoint presentation and CD-Rom. The group has summarised eight ways to save the world in a way that will appeal to the young generation of text-messagers. As Lorelle, the group's information technology whizz, brings each word up on screen, they call out in unison: educ8, allevi8 (poverty), medic8, concentr8 (on Africa), reciproc8 (with trade), gener8(wealth), communic8 and recre8 (by recycling).

They have their own ideas of how some of the G8 issues can be addressed.

For them, aid isn't the only solution or necessarily the best.

"It's obvious that giving money is not helping. We've been doing it for so long," says Dania Grant, 13. "If you give all the people in Africa enough money to eat for a month, in a month's time you'll be in exactly the same place where you started."

So, they are seeking ways to make aid effective or improve the way commodities are traded so that producers get more. But they are adamant the J8 should not be all talk.

Looking for solid ways to help poor people, they have hit upon the idea of a multi-bicycle, one that can be adapted with specific attachments. Even a small child could take their parents to hospital, they say, and perhaps save mothers from dying in childbirth for lack of medical attention. You can carry water on the bike or mount a seed bag at the back to drop seeds into the soil.

Charlotte Lindsey, 15, and Ernestine Agyei, 15, have devised a "quickie cool box" for medicines, based on cool boxes you plug into car cigarette-lighter sockets. Their box is pedal-powered and uses an adapted dynamo. Kinetics, a Scottish company which specialises in adapting bicycles, is already working on the dynamo and the school is looking for sponsors to produce the prototype bike.

As Sophie Johnston St Vie, 13, says: "Kids have wacky ideas but they are wacky ideas that help the next person."

The pupils are in the process of setting up a link with a school in South Africa. By talking to Africans of the same age, they hope to test out their ideas.

"We want to talk to them so that we are not just telling them what's best for them," says Abiola Alogba, 14.

Their history teacher, Roberta Wallace, says the J8 teaching pack has sparked something that goes beyond the G8 summit.

"Talking about the G8 helps students to focus on core values," says Ms Wallace. "There are lots of different nationalities but we discover the values are the same. We have found that inner nugget of humanity. In that sense, we have a lot in common.

"If we are going to do anything in the world, we are going to have to find that commonality."

Aimee Hogben, 13, says: "I can be more opinionated than I was before. I can say what I feel about what's going on in the world and talk about how people are treating others."

"I knew Africa was poor," says Oyin Olowokere, 13, "but I thought they got all this money from diamonds and they don't use it properly. I used to think something's wrong with them, or their governments are stealing the money.

"But now I realise we're taking it from people who really need it. We don't need it as much as they do.

"In Africa, they don't understand what is happening to them."

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