Category Archives: 1.1 Social Justice

(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.

(26.09.17 Values) Only Human.

“Well, is it?”
“Is it what?”
“A myth?”

Last week we had an input about race, ethnicity and discrimination. To begin with I thought it would be very straight forward: come in, get angry then leave. I was wrong, very wrong. Although I was aware that racism was still very active and a part of society, I didn’t realise that so many people accepted it as part of a ‘norm’. Day to day life, shrug of the shoulders and move on. I was left fidgeting in my seat as the pictures on the slide flicked between then and now, not much had changed.  Before the input had started we were asked to think about the terms and scribble down a few definitions so we could compare our initial thought to our final understanding. I came up with the following:

  • Race – A group of individuals sharing the same culture or ancestry.
  • Ethnicity – A group of individuals that share the same ancestry, culture or religion.
  • Discrimination – When certain individuals receive unfair and unjust treatment.

As you can see I struggled to find a distinct difference between race and ethnicity. At the time I felt that they blended into the one. I would later find out that this is a common problem. Does race come with a definition? Does it exist on its own?

Emmet Till’s name appeared in front of us and in that moment, I felt like I was back in my 4th year History class but I wasn’t. Here I was, sitting in a lecture theatre surrounded by people hoping to one day be teachers, social workers or those involved in CLD. It became clear that this was important to our vocation, that one day we’ll face discrimination maybe not directed towards us but we will witness it in our careers at some point. The slides continued through, comparisons showing the unbelievable canniness of the court case scene in “How to kill a mockingbird” to that of Emmet Till’s murder trial. We could see that the white man dominated the justice system and no matter how much evidence there was, they’d never serve time for killing a black man.

The 60s flickered on to the screen and a familiar MP appeared, Peter Griffiths. It was evident that the UK was never excluded from racism (let’s not forget the Great British Empire). However, political investment has always been somewhat of a burden to me and so, this was not news. Unfortunately, I was very familiar with Peter’s racist campaign slogan and again, the white man got away with it. Why? Popular belief at the time, I suppose. Immigration was at a rise, you know, protect our values… blah, blah, blah.

Flash forward to 1993. The case of Stephen Lawrence and the injustice his family received. A young boy murdered by a gang of white youths in what was a clearly racially motivated attack and how the metropolitan police managed to sweep it under the carpet. Stephen’s family never gave up and eventually received closure. It took the court two decades to find the suspects guilty and an enquiry was filed in October 2015 into whether the police had shielded the killers from prosecution.

Now in 2017, we have just witnessed white supremacists, who had enough confidence in their cause that they didn’t even feel the need to wear white hoods, storm through Charlottesville. Honestly? We haven’t come that far, have we? Racism is still very present and with the likes of President Trump I can only see it getting worse, not only in America. This happens everywhere, every day.

In the second part of the input we were shown that discrimination doesn’t only fall into the category of skin colour but also of sex. Being a female I always felt some sort of truth in this. As a child, I always felt that boys got the fun toys, we had to play with dolls preparing us for a life of kitchens and babies. Growing up, I began to see that woman have always been treated unfairly. They had to fight for their right to vote, to work…  to be human. Whereas men, well, that was their given right from the moment they were born. Relating it to nowadays, we think that we have moved on but we haven’t really. Saudi Arabia have just given women the right to drive. In the 21st Century? And yet just because they can now drive doesn’t mean they have the freedom to do a lot of other things that we take for granted in Western society. Women are able and intelligent. We can dominate professions. Why should we be oppressed?

As someone who will be entering a profession that will deal with children from all walks of life, I can’t help but feel so strongly about this topic as a whole. How will I deal with discrimination in my class? When I stand in front of a sea of children, how can I highlight the importance of this? How can I enlighten them, teach them, that everyone is equal no matter what sex they are or what colour of skin they have? It all comes down to the controversial ‘myth’. Race.

We are all equal, you, me, them. We are all the same. We are all human. That is the only race.

(19.09.2017 Values) Better Off

From the moment you are born, you are invited into a world that you never asked to be born into and an environment you never chose. Everyday thousands of children are born into poverty just as some are born into wealth. These children will live very different lives but what ones will put in more effort and become more than what society expects of them?

We were invited to experience this through a workshop as part of our Values: Self, Society and the Professions module. In this workshop, we were divided into 5 groups, each given an envelope that had been allocated to our number. Unsure of the contents and what this had to do with values each group grew impatient and eager to peer into their envelopes. The go-ahead was given and the groups tore open the envelopes and emptied the contents onto the table. Confusion sparked across the room as post-it notes and paper fell out, and in some instances only paper clips and pens. Our task was to create something a first-year student could use in their first weeks at university. Grumbles and sighs filled the room from the less fortunate groups, and chattering from the others.

Luckily for me, I was in the middle group, not the worst off but certainly not packed with resources. We scattered for ideas, maps, guides, you name it, we thought it. Minutes faded to seconds and we scrambled together for a mediocre but useful idea. We watched each group as they got closer to us, feeling inadequate each time they moved along. We presented our idea gaining little to no feedback and a very unimpressed look from our tutor, Brenda. As the groups went on we realised that we weren’t that less fortunate as the last two groups who had zero paper to work with but had to make do.

When it came to executing our idea, we struggled as we looked over to the other groups and seen them pilling on the colours and ‘jazzing-up’ their maps. It hadn’t been evident to us at this point but Brenda had been hovering around the two groups with plentiful resources and paying little attention to the others, including our group. Then came the second presentation, and oh boy did we feel low. After working at our map and feeling proud, one glance at the first groups creation our pride started to fade and we began to grow defensive as the scores were dished out. “A 4? WE DESERVE MORE THAN THAT SURELY?” The less fortunate groups created some amazing work, the level of creativity was overwhelming. They used almost anything they could in order to present something more exciting than what they had initially gotten. However, they were still scored poorly and it was evident that it wasn’t justified.

At the end it had become clear that the class was divided. We had those with unlimited resources sitting quite comfortably and those with little to nothing ready for an argument. Brenda, who had a terrible time being untrue to her bubbly personality for the means of this task, decided that it was time to announce the purpose. She explained that it was important to acknowledge those less fortunate, as professionals it will be our job to make sure each individual is given equal attention, and at times to more than others.

I left feeling drained, and yet enlightened at the same time. Something so simple got such a powerful message across. We were all guilty of prejudice. At any time, we could have given the groups with less, the resources we were not using but we never. We were too caught up in our own worlds to have even thought about that. It shed some light on society, and how we go about each day worrying over small things, whilst families work hard with what they have, even if it’s close to nothing just to make a living.

Remember, no one asks to be in this position, but the least you can do is show compassion to those who are less fortunate. After all, they’re in the same position, but by chance you are just better off.