A journey of discovery

20th November 2015 at 00:00

Last year, I promised myself I’d never do it again. They’re always a nightmare. I inevitably end up with raised blood pressure and in need of a week off to recover. But here I am, yet again, organising a cross-college trip. The risk assessment alone is enough to make me run screaming for the hills.

The same thing happens as last time. Hundreds of learners and dozens of staff express an interest, but on the day I arrive to find 31 health and social care students huddled in the college foyer in inappropriate footwear and faux fur bolero jackets.

There aren’t enough to fill even one of the two coaches I’ve booked. I briefly consider kidnapping the motor vehicle students from the canteen.

There’s a brief delay as we wait for the final fags to be stubbed out. The journey is noisy, punctuated by a few expletives, cackles at Facebook and someone’s Pepsi Max spurting all over the seats. The driver is not impressed; the tutor smiles apologetically.

We arrive and, after a welcome talk, tour the museum. The students have to be reminded to put phones away. They rush through the exhibit and spend most of the time in the coffee shop. They’ve forgotten their packed lunches, and the majority shun the homemade lentil soup and sandwiches in favour of crisps and family-sized packets of cookies.

They’re not bad kids, really, but you get the feeling they’d rather be somewhere else. As tutor, chaplain and “centre education specialist”, we do our best to engage them, but they are a quiet bunch when you want them to talk – and they won’t shut up when you need them to be silent.

After lunch, we settle back in the auditorium and suddenly the chatter stops. A hushed silence descends as all eyes turn to the 92-year-old woman who has walked in. Shuffling with a walking stick, she climbs up on to the raised platform with a little help from a museum curator. She takes her place and taps the microphone to check it’s working. “My name is Iby. When I was about the same age as you are now I went to a place called Auschwitz.” The students are transfixed.

I am proud of our learners for so many reasons. The way they listen intently and politely, for over an hour, to this old lady with a heavy accent who has seen so much; the way they ask questions; the way they clap her story and thank her. I get quite tearful as they tried to imagine what life must have been like for Iby.

On the way back to the cafe, one learner says: “We’ve not learned though, have we? It’s still the same, it’s still happening.” We talk about Syrian refugees, Polish economic migrants and some of the stuff people post from Britain First on Facebook.

So next year, when it’s time to organise this trip again and the risk assessment is too much for me to face, remind me, would you? Even if just one student listens and understands, it’s worth it.

Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College. @revkatebottley

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