Monthly Archives: October 2017

(10.10.17 Values) Poverty

Poverty: the word on the bottom of everyone’s cup of tea. I guess you could say I’ve lived a relatively cosy life. I’ve always had a roof over my head, food in my stomach and lights to comfort me… well, sort of. As a child, I lived in a tenement and no, not a cool west end tenement with double glazing and big bay windows. I mean a 60’s tenement thrown up in the outer suburbia of Glasgow later known in the 90’s as ‘schemes’. Did that word make you cringe? Yeah, me too. I reminisce about an easier life, coming in when the street lights came on, hearing your mum call you in for dinner and sitting under the duvet on the couch by candle light… wait you didn’t do that?

We weren’t a stranger to the ol’ leccie cutting out at 5pm and having to tell stories hoping mum could scrap together enough money to get a power card the next day. I mean, I was completely unaware of this ever being a problem, I was happy and yet, I had no idea that I was living in relative poverty. I had my essentials, running water, food, shelter and I had education. See, I remember being eleven and walking into my best friend’s house and being shocked. It was the first house, except from my own, that I could walk through with only my socks on. It wasn’t uncommon for houses in my area not to have any flooring, after all many parents couldn’t afford it. Luckily, that was never the case for our house, we had carpets and laminate wood flooring. I joke about it now but things got better for us. We weren’t always a family struck by unemployment.

No one is ever born into poverty in the UK, there are often reasons behind it. Drug addiction. Mental health. Unemployment. Divorce. These are only some to name a few. We live in a society of food banks, clothes banks, and homeless units. The UK is the fifth richest country and yet, we have people who have to rely on other means to survive. One in three children in the UK live in poverty, that is roughly 9 children out of a class of 30. It’s hard to think that one day I will stand in front of a class with quite a large number of those children unable to focus due to hunger or home worries. When a child grows up in poverty, they begin to miss out on the smaller things due to their families having the bigger things to worry about. School trip tomorrow, you’ll have to stay off school. Having a friend over for dinner, the house is a mess and I can’t afford to feed another mouth. Negative effects on a child’s wellbeing can often cause a chain reaction. School attendances begin to fall and later as an adult ,they can fall into the same vicious cycle.

I’ve looked into the eyes of absolute poverty. In 2011, I was given the chance to visit Tanzania as a volunteer at a high school. I stayed in a house with four other girls and our teachers. The house we lived in had no glass windows and was made of solid concrete. Running water was scarce so every morning a local woman would bring us a large bucket of water from the well and boil it so we could wash. The electricity came on maybe once or twice throughout our two weeks stay, most of the time we sat with lanterns given to us by teachers from the nearby school. Every night we ate rice, plantain, bread and chips. However, the students of Olaleni Secondary lived very differently. Many of them the first from their families to attend education, some so poor their families could only afford to send them there for a year or two. I met students who were 22 years of age and were sitting at levels lower than I was. Some living at the school because it was too expensive for them to go home or they lived too far away. A life of hand me down clothes and doing chores at the school for money and yet, so many were happy. Each student desiring for a job as a doctor, or a teacher. Full of hope and excitement for the future. Education was so important to them, they felt so blessed just being able to learn.

I remember my first night in Moshi. I remember seeing people sleeping on the streets with missing limbs and rags for clothes. I remember children lying on their parent’s laps watching all these people walk by and not even giving them a glance. I remember crying to my teacher that night and feeling so guilty. In only one night, I had seen so much poverty, so many people with bones protruding through their skin. How can we justify living like kings when so many live with nothing? Always wanting when people are barely surviving. To them education is most of the time, their only way out and yet, we have so many who take it for granted. We are so lucky to have the opportunity of free education, rich or poor and it shouldn’t be a luxury. In a way, education is our pathway to equality.

(3.10.17 Values) Be the rainbow.

Gender or sex? These terms are up for discussion. What defines a person, it’s certainly not a colour, right?

Last week we not only had an input on feminism and the importance it has in our society but we attended a workshop that got us questioning the very idea that we have adopted subconsciously. Are you blue or are you pink? Gender mania is here and it’s not going anywhere, in fact it’s growing and it’s going places. Not only do we as a society accept gender roles but we force them upon the people who absorb everything at a terrifying but impressive rate. Yep, you guessed it, children. As a child, you wouldn’t have caught me dead in a dress. Pretty bows in my hair? Forget about it. The common topic up for argument between my mum and dad was always “Why does she dress like a little boy?” However, what defines a boy or girl by the way they dress?

Should a child have to dress a certain way based on their sex? If a little girl feels more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts, why should she be forced out of that comfort zone just to make her look ‘girly’? Similarly, if your son wants to dress up as a princess rather than a cowboy this Halloween, why should he be denied that choice? They don’t see any issues, it’s you that has the fear of what others will think. Gender is taught. It is a social construct. No one is born aware of their sex. As a child, you don’t care, you just want to be comfortable and happy. If you like it, you want it, it doesn’t matter if it’s made for a boy or girl. I can’t stress this enough: you should never force ideologies on a child simply because you believe in them. Parents don’t understand the window that they close from the moment they define their child by the toys they place in their bedroom and the clothes in their closet.

I’ve seen the struggle first hand; being born the sex you don’t identify with and being forced to live with it to make others feel ‘comfortable’. Two years ago, someone that I never want to lose entered my life. He is wonderful and he is strong but he was in fact not born a ‘he’. When I first met him, I didn’t try to guess what was happening with his identity, I just assumed that he was male. It wasn’t until the night he ‘came out’ to me that I knew for sure he was transgender. I remember it so vividly, you could see it had been something on his mind for a long time. The agitation and nerves were apparent. His voice was cracking. I thought he was going to tell me that he was in trouble and needed help. However, he hesitantly explained to me that he ‘was a girl? but wasn’t really a girl’ and he wanted me to know this. The anticipation was evident in his face as he waited for a reply.

“Yeah? I didn’t think you were a girl if I’m honest.”

I felt the atmosphere relax and his shoulders drop with relief. Since then, I can’t lie when I say this but I have felt extremely protective of him. I used to snap harshly and correct everyone when they used incorrect pronouns. I knew it wasn’t my place but I couldn’t understand why so many found it difficult to relate him with the pronouns he wished to be identified with. I see him every so often and when I do I can’t believe his progress, he’s happier in his body, not always but more than what he was and, although he has not yet ‘come out’ to his parents, I can understand why. Up to this point, they have raised a daughter and he allows them to maintain this illusion. He wants his parents to feel comfortable even when he is not. I know in time he will tell them but he’s trying to find the right moment… even though we both know there will never be ‘the right moment’. I have seen through him that being transgender is a struggle and isn’t a choice. He had been tormenting himself for years, before realising what he was feeling was real. That being born in the wrong body is real and, yet to this day, he is willing to make himself unhappy for a short period of time so that his loved ones remain unaware of his true self.

Gender is socially constructed and this should not be carried into our classrooms. I know it’s easier said than done but it shouldn’t be. Hopefully, one day I will be in a classroom environment, standing in front of a sea of wide eyes waiting for me to speak. I need to choose my words carefully, I need to make sure that I only bring positivity into our safe space…


You are not blue or pink, you are the rainbow.