Reverend inspires with his Road to Damascus experience

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Crisps and Maltesers add flavour to global citizenship course being held in schools across Glasgow

I am sitting holding a packet of salt and vinegar-flavoured crisps. I don't like them, or tomato ketchup flavour for that matter. Ready salted or cheese and onion are my favourites.

In the room, we are all in the same position. Nobody has their favourite. We all want to swap, but we're not allowed to speak.

It's Thursday afternoon and I'm sitting with a group of P6 pupils in a classroom at St Leonard's Primary in East Kilbride. Not eating crisps, but sitting in on a visit from Glasgow the Caring City's global citizenship project, called "Give a kid a goal". Reverend Neil Galbraith is running the 20-week course in schools around the capital, following a successful pilot in three schools last year.

Most of us manage, through non-verbal gestures, to swap with someone, but a small group have not exchanged. One boy then offers very generously to swap his tomato ketchup-flavoured crisps and he is immediately swamped with offers as the group push forwards.

"When you see reports about Haiti on television, watch how people react when they are desperate for food. They push forward like some of you did. They are also being given food by people who don't speak their language, so it is hard to communicate," says Reverend Galbraith.

Children are hit by information and statistics all the time. But acting out similar scenarios means the information stays with them longer. An earlier session involved packets of Maltesers. There was only enough for a third of the class, the same percentage of the world who are guaranteed a meal tonight.

Glasgow the Caring City is a charity which was set up more than 10 years ago to help the 3,000 evacuees who arrived in Glasgow from Kosovo. Since then, its remit has widened and it now works with people in 56 countries, as well as providing relief in Glasgow.

The "Give a kid a goal" project was set up two years ago. "I had a Damascus Road experience at King's Park Secondary a few years ago," says Reverend Galbraith, explaining its origins. "They wanted me to do a mentoring talk, and it made me think - how many kids give up because they have never been encouraged to look past academic teaching to what they can do in the community, and to the difference they can make.

"I wanted to share what we have learnt as a charity. It seemed hypocritical not to. Feedback has been positive and last year 120 children graduated from the course."

Depute headteacher Eileen Tompkins was at the prize-giving in June, and was so enamoured by what she heard that she wanted to bring the project to St Leonard's. "I thought it was very visionary and inspirational," she says. "It breaks down barriers and provides opportunities. I was a little worried because this is a very Catholic school, but we were open to the idea."

Headteacher Des Timmons was also a bit hesitant. "Initially, I was nervous, but we all have the same Christian values," he says.

Reverend Galbraith is quick to point out that it is not a Church of Scotland charity. "It is because of me that it is perceived that way. But we don't do religion, we do humanities."

The session continues with the showing of a DVD, Arctic Tale. They see the effect global warming is having on the polar bears and other animals. Half-way through, the DVD is switched off as the young polar bear dies and his mum and sister lie down beside him. Reverend Galbraith throws questions at them. Did they have an easy life? Was there a sense of family? Were you surprised when he died?

Each week, a different topic is covered - racism, bullies, child poverty. A New York firefighter is also due to visit as part of one session.

Everyone participates in the games, staff included. P6 teacher Edel Scott was also hesitant. "I had never participated in anything like this before, but Neil provides a good back-up of resources, and it shows them that they can seriously make a difference."

Parents are also convinced of its benefits. Mary Garcia's daughter Nadine loves the sessions. "She raves about it every time Neil has been in. It gets her thinking about how she is and the way she behaves, as well as practical things. It affects how she is with her family and how she is with her siblings.

"She is very interested in Haiti and follows the news, as well as reading personal stories on the internet. There is always a sense of hope in the sessions. It gives them ideas about solutions, and shows them that we can make a difference. It is experiential learning."

Teacher John Scanlon puts this down to Reverend Galbraith. "It was great to see the rapport Neil built up with the kids today. It is an example that he trusts them and they trust him. The style is great, and they see citizen issues in a real-world setting. They know Neil is a decision-maker in other settings."

But Reverend Galbraith refuses to take all the credit. "I can see how the kids have grown in confidence and notice how they have developed over the last year," he says. "This group are great. They really are like sponges. They are on their own road of discovery."

Jackie Cosh

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