I am Not a Stranger Here

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Dr. Fred Mednick, Teachers Without Borders founder and Vrije Universiteit Brussel Professor, reflects on Human Rights without Borders.

Seventy years ago (just three years after the establishment of the United Nations), the U.N. General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the most translated document in the world. Each translation is listed on the United Nations Human Rights Commission website. All 500 of them.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the drafting committee, wrote: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

In 1955, Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) provided a striking visual portrayal of the human condition in many of those small places. 273 photographers from 68 countries depicted life in all its magnificence and tragedy. By seeing the rest of the world, we began feeling what others felt. Borders seemed to melt away, revealing a far bigger picture.

Carl Sandburg, the great American poet (and Steichen’s brother in law) called it “a drama of the grand canyon of humanity.” In his introduction to the exhibit, he wrote: “People! Flung wide and far, born into toil, struggle, blood and dreams, among lovers, eaters, drinkers, workers, loafers, fighters, players, gamblers…,” of “blossom smiles or mouths of hunger” and “Faces in crowds, laughing, and windblown leaf faces, profiles in an instant of agony, mouths in a dumbshow mockery lacking speech, faces of music in gay song or a twist of pain, a hate ready to kill, or calm and ready-for-death faces.”  The world in photographs, interspersed with short poems from every continent – evocative, instructive, arresting.

The Family of Man was not without its critics. Some called it western-centric, sentimental, idealistic, patronizing, sententious, formulaic, even prurient. Others took issue with the very idea that the human condition could be summed up or represented so categorically and simplistically in a single art exhibit. Walker Evans, author and photographer himself, dismissed it as “bogus heartfeeling.” And yet, the crowds came day after day after day, lines stretching for city blocks. It was a singular moment of similarity in our difference.

It affirmed Sandburg’s notion: “I’m not a stranger here.” Transfixed by the book version, I often asked my parents: “Why do some people have to live so horribly and others so well?” The more I looked for answers, the more questions it raised – about justice, equality, human kindness. It inspired my interest in photography and poetry.  It expanded my world then, percolated until I founded Teachers Without Borders in 2000, and resonates now.

The Family of Man made accessible and reasonable the audacious responsibility of the United Nations itself—the mutual agreement to maintain peace and security following World War II; to protect human rights; to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid; to promote sustainable development; and to uphold international law. It used the vehicle of art to personalize the family of nations as a unified human endeavor far greater than the sum of its nation states.

Photographs like those in The Family of Man have always been the stuff of teachable moments because they make us mark time, imagine others’ stories, tell our own: the surrendering Jewish boy, hands raised, in Warsaw, 1942. The mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. In 1948, Gandhi’s “Spinning Wheel.” A picture of a fetus, taken in 1965 with an endoscope. Martin Luther King. Robert F. Kennedy. Kent State. In 1972, during my first year in college, I poured over “The Blue Marble,” a single shot from Apollo 17 eighteen miles above the earth, attributed with having launched the environmental movement. Down below, Nick Ut’s “The Terror of War,” a stark snapshot of nine-year old Kim Phuc, naked, running, screaming from a napalm attack. And still another of compassion and humanity—an American soldier carrying away an injured child from the chaos of Hué. In 1984, the haunting green eyes of Steve McCurry’s “Afghan Girl.” In 1989, a defiant man wearing a white shirt and clutching his valise, facing four imposing tanks in China’s enormous Tiananmen Square. In 1994, a Russian soldier plunking at the keys of an abandoned piano left behind in amidst the ruins of Chechnya. More smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. The grainy shot of “The Hooded Man” at Abu Ghraib. Obama on a folding chair, huddled with cabinet members, watching the Navy Seals enter Osama bin Laden’s compound and do the deed. Children playing football after the earthquake in Haiti. The venom of Charlottesville. Childbirth. Marriage. War. Hope.

Photo credit: Fenel Pierre for Teachers Without Borders in Haiti

70 years after the Declaration of Human Rights and 63 years after the exhibit opened, how do we make sense of “The Family of Man”? In the age of Instagram and Twitter, we no longer need an exhibit to be introduced to the world. We do need teachers, however, to help us understand it. To show us how art, and the freedom to create it, reflects humanity at its best by helping us shape a worldview.

Today, the global is no longer a remote concept, but a local reality. The faces in our classrooms reflect the small patch of a global commons. Climate change knows no borders. Nobel prizes are won by global teams far more than by individuals. Xenophobia and hate-speech spread as quickly as any virus lurking in our carry-on luggage. The average citizen anywhere in the world is influenced by the pervasive reach of globalism. MOOCs turn classmates into colleagues one may never meet. The global collaboration and interaction toothpaste is out of the tube. The quality of one’s education is measured by our capacity to learn from and with each other across time zones, and about issues confined neither to discipline nor national boundaries. As a term, “global education” is no longer an elective, but a redundancy.

Just as photography, film – all the arts – help us construct the meaning of exhibits like “The Family of Man” by challenging us to face the complexities of our modern world, the classroom has become its own artform, too: how it is arranged to stimulate creativity and community. How it fosters sense-making and risk-taking. How the narrative of our lives cannot be reduced to a paint-by-numbers formula, but a social enterprise. How education, like any work of art, fosters critical thinking, the value of multiple perspectives, iteration, and imagination. Classrooms are artistic experiments in democracy designed to practice – and by practicing strengthen – our fragile global social contract.  

Teaching itself is a work of art, too. I founded Teachers Without Borders in 2000 in order to connect teachers to information and each other so that they may, in turn, close the education divide. Teachers are the largest professionally-trained group in the world. Teachers are the ones with their ears to the ground, sensitive to every community’s pulse. They know who is sick or missing or orphaned by AIDS, susceptible to human trafficking, or alone. They administer polio drops.  They count the children during natural disasters and erect child-friendly spaces to re-establish normalcy. They are nothing short of a global army devoted to human development in everyone’s backyard

Under a tree or in a cramped room with a tin roof, in war-zones or in temporary child-safe shelters following a natural or national disaster, or in air-conditioned, high-bandwidth wireless state-of-the-art buildings, they are true catalysts of change, the acupuncture points of our society, and the glue that holds our world together.

Brains are evenly distributed throughout the world, but education is not. Teachers Without Borders finds it only natural to rely upon those brains to address those seemingly intractable problems they face in their communities. Our work is demand driven, rather than supply driven. Teachers from around the world create our courses, develop our initiatives, test out new ideas for social change. The content is free and available for anyone, anywhere. What our members create, they share. Leaders aren’t born or made; they just show up. Our members recognize and nurture the unstoppable power of human agency and reciprocity built right into their profession—in the small places where they count the most.

While bullies and despots attempt to erect artificial boundaries between nations and cultures, teachers have always risen to forge even deeper human connections. They are the living representation of “The Family of Man.” It is our duty to depend upon them, support them, and cherish their contributions as if they were truly magnificent works of art. Indeed, they are.

Congratulations to Human Rights Without Borders for your extraordinary accomplishments in keeping the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights alive.  Your work is a gift to humanity and to the teaching profession.

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The Refugee Crisis: 3 Years on

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The Refugee Crisis: 3 Years on will be held at the Secular Hall on Thursday, 20 September 2018, from 7pm till 9pm. The public meeting will look again at what is happening around the ‘refugee crisis’ and how individuals, groups and communities in Leicester, Leicesteshire and Rutland can and are responding to the crisis.

The meeting is free and open to all.

Anyone interested in attending can register to do so through
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-refugee-crisis-3-years-on-tickets-49374871570 or https://www.facebook.com/events/366517030515005/

The event is a follow-up to The Refugee Crisis – What can we do to help?, a public meeting that was held at Leicester Cathedral, on 24 September 2015, which saw many people share some of the ways in which people in the city and county were responding to the refugee crisis.

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Below, for information purposes, are notes that were taken by someone who attended the the public meeting that was held at Leicester Cathedral, on the refugee crisis, on 24 September 2015. The notes outline how the meeting went:

The meeting was opened by Pete Hobson on behalf of the Dean of Leicester. Pete Hobson welcomed an estimated 250 people to the meeting.

Alison Adams who is the Diocese and Cathedral Social Responsibility Enabler at Leicester Cathedral said that identification with the stranger in our midst is written into the DNA of Christianity. She said the church is a place of sanctuary for those in need. She said that tonight pointed to a growing local commitment and that the purpose of this meeting was to identify resources and how to increase funding.

Mick Walker, Chair of Leicester City of Sanctuary explained that City of Sanctuary is an “all faith, none faith” movement. He said between 150 to 200 had attended the vigil outside of the cathedral two weeks ago and he identified a lot of goodwill, a lot of concern from people and organisations asking, “What can we do to help?”. This meeting was to promote individuals and organisations wishing to help and give them a space to talk to each other.

Previously the constant narrative was of asylum seekers and refugees as hordes or swarms or crowds and they had to fight against constant negative representation in the media. On the borders of Europe refugees had been marginalised and children were being injured. However, since the photo of Aylan Kurdi, a change in the way asylum seekers were portrayed had taken place. Refugees and asylum seekers now have a voice.

There is now huge interest in the fate of asylum seekers and refugees. Mick had been inundated with offers to help, this morning alone he had opened 300 emails in his inbox and this is a daily occurrence. The original surge of interest meant that initially everybody was collecting clothes for Calais. The result is that 3000 asylum seekers, refugees and migrants now have enough clothes for 30,000 people.

The purpose of this meeting is to co-ordinate the offers of help, share ideas and share suggestions, to put faces to names and put groups who are actively involved in touch with each other, and identify the best ways to help and how this help can be best utilized across all the organisations. This meeting will be to talk through what services are already provided for asylum seekers and what they need.

There is not time to discuss how the asylum process works and how this situation arose at tonight’s meeting but a second meeting will be held following this one. The second follow up meeting is to be held on: Thursday 15th October 7.00 – 8.30pm at the Race Equality Centre.

Leicester City of Sanctuary runs a weekly drop in at-the Holy Cross church on a Wednesday between 11.00am and 2.00pm.

Colleen Molloy, the City of Sanctuary’s National Development Officer, identified David Cameron’s plan of up to 20,000 refugees to be brought here over the next five years as “too little, over too long”. There are over 4 million refugees in the camps, half of these are in Lebanon which is a small country and currently overwhelmed. In the refugee camps children are out of education. Along with all the other disadvantages five years is too long to for children to be kept out of education.

Until recently sources like UKIP had meant the government was legislating to be a hostile place for refugees and the media have inundated the population with negative coverage. The picture of Aylan Kurdi has changed this. There is currently a petition of over half a million signatures asking the government to change their mind. There is a lot we can do as individuals. Colleen urged people to write to their MP and the local council. This is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.

If asylum seekers survive fleeing their country of origin, manage to get out, endure a hazardous journey over here with people dying along the way, they then face another round of unwelcoming experiences when they reach here. The experience of ‘detention’ is inhumane and cruel. The government has stopped detaining people at present as they were found to be breaking the law, but the government is now looking at ways round the law which will enable them to start detaining people again. Added to this the number of successful appeals in asylum cases shows how many initial decisions were wrong.

Many people have offered to host Syrian refugees, but Syrian refugees are being cared for and fast-tracked through the asylum system. We still have large numbers of refugees and many are destitute. A refugee granted leave to remain can then have their government housing taken away and their financial support removed. This is done before they receive a national insurance number, before they can work, and they are subsequently left destitute.

Piotr Kuhiwczak, who works for the Red Cross, said this crisis was not a surprise. The Red Cross knew it was coming and they have been preparing for it. Money has been given to a European-wide appeal. The Red Cross is currently sending money to Syrian refugee camps.

Piotr identified a critical need to provide people with phone cards, they need to be able to stay in touch with their families. The Red Cross can look for relatives all over the world and can bring relatives here if people have leave to remain.

Piotr said the Red Cross has a supply of leaflets about what they can do and what they need. He appealed for volunteers which they could train. The Red Cross in Oadby currently sees 40 people a day with a huge variety of problems.

Pam Inder, former Chair of Leicester City of Sanctuary talked about the leaflets on chairs about what Leicester City of Sanctuary does and what it needs.

The group’s Drop-in Centre is a place for people to have lunch, socialise, inform others of what is going on. Leicester City of Sanctuary hosts one drop-in a week but clients say they would like a drop in everyday. If there is anybody belonging to a group where they could run a drop-in centre, a place to befriend people this would be appreciated. It does not have to provide lunch, tea and coffee would do. The drop-in provides support to people who can be otherwise isolated although facing enormous challenges.

Asylum seekers live on £36.95 a week. This money, especially if you have been on it up to 17 years as some asylum seekers have, does not cover anymore than the basic essentials of food. It is hard to buy items such as clothing, or necessities for the home. Pam Inder said we need more people on our “Appealing 4” list. A list is then sent out with items asylum seekers are in need of to see if anybody can provide these items. Maybe they have them already but no longer need them.

In some cases, asylum seekers do not receive any cash. Their £36.95 comes through on a shopping card. Shopping buddies go shopping with an asylum seeker and the person pays for your shopping on his or her card. You then give him or her the equivalent amount in money. Having cash means they can get the bus to the doctor in bad weather, buy cheaper items in the market, get a newspaper from their local shop, etc.

We need people who can teach English. We also need people or organisations who have the premises to set up their own English classes as we do not have any premises of our own.

We currently run craft schemes on a Thursday afternoon at Booth Hall but we need people who can organise craft schemes.

Leicester City of Sanctuary welcomes donations in the form of: Standing Orders for Direct Debits, Text donations, and through the 100 club, a new scheme that is being set up.

Debbie Rae who worked for the American Red Cross asked why the British Red Cross doesn’t run the same disaster aid in the form of emergency soup kitchens. Piotr Kuhiwczak said that the UK doesn’t have disasters on the same scale or in the same way in this country. The Red Cross in this country sometimes do give out food parcels to those in emergency need but principally they send money to the Middle East but don’t interfere in other peoples societies.

Mary Levene said the Leicester Progressive Synagogue (Neve Shalom)holds English classes for asylum seekers but is facing a real challenge to raise funds for bus fares for those attending.

Colleen Molloy asked for donations of bikes if anybody has bikes they are no longer using.

Ambrose Musiyiwa representing Poets in Solidarity with Refugees asked what items could be donated to the Red Cross and at what address? Piotr read out a list of items which they include in their food parcels and which can be donated to the Red Cross at 54 Kenilworth Drive, Oadby.

Ambrose Musiyiwa talked about how poets are planning an anthology that will bring together established and emerging voices from the East Midlands all of whom will be responding through poetry and short fiction, to the experiences of the men, women and children in Calais and those who are using the Mediterranean in an effort to find places of safety. Proceeds from the anthology will go to groups working with refugees and asylum seekers in the East Midlands and elsewhere.

The initiative is seeking donations of £325.00 to reach their target of £1,000.

Ambrose also said that on Friday 25th September, at Duffy’s Bar, 7.00pm there will be Session for Syria: an evening of music, poetry and more – to raise funds for the UNHCR UK. And, on the 11th October there will be another event to raise funds for asylum seekers and refugees.

Alison Birch talked about After 18, a Leicester-based charity which supports unaccompanied asylum seekers in this country. Alison said children face the added trauma of being removed from their families at 18 and sent back to the war zone they came from. There are young adults who are currently making their way across Europe for the second time in this scenario.

Alison appealed for donations as After 18 has no guaranteed funding. They would also like to hear from people who can run youth activities and ESOL trained English teachers.

After 18 does collect small items they can give out, such as pot noodles which have a long shelf-life. They also need text books for young people who are trying to go to college. At present they have no storage space and would like to hear from anybody who can provide some storage space.

Helen Hayes, Parish Priest at St. James currently works with people who are homeless at the Dawn Centre. There aren’t enough beds in the winter night shelter. The Dawn Centre are holding a meeting on the 29th September at 7.30pm. Helen invited members to attend to find out how they can get involved in befriending a homeless person and find out about their housing project. They also hold a befriending session every Wednesday afternoon at the Sound Cafe at St. Martins House.

Elizabeth Bacon talked about the Welcome Project and said on
Tuesday afternoons there is the Women and Children only Welcome project which is held at St. Martyr’s Church, Westcotes Drive, from 1pm. On Thursday morning there is the Men and Women’s Welcome Project at Booth Hall in St. Martins House.
Elizabeth said donations of nappies were especially welcome as they never have enough.

Saleem Yusuf Lorgat talked about the Islamic Relief Disasters Emergency Committee which works internationally. By the 20th June 2015, Islamic Relief had reached out to 8 million people in the camps of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. They have operations in 40 countries including, Germany, UK, Italy, France and Greece (island of Lesbos). They specialise in having people on the ground to help refugees and get them into the centres in Germany. Mick Walker observed that Leicester is currently home to 1,000 asylum seekers. Saleem asked for donations which they can distribute via their warehouse in Birmingham.

Saleem also advised that they have a charity shop in Hartington Street in Highfields. They will help anybody who comes in with a request written on headed paper.

Shelia Mosley talked about the work the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network doing. She said, “That which is morally wrong cannot be politically right”, and that locking people up in detention centres is inhumane and cruel. She urged people to write to their MPs asking them to oppose the indefinite detention of people in immigration detention centres.

Sheila also talked about how at the end of a person’s limited Leave to Remain, people now have to pay when they apply for that limited leave to be extended. She said, a friend recently granted Leave to Remain now has to pay a fee of £4,500 for herself and her two small children to stay.

Shelia is also involved with supporting the Kurds. The Kurdish relief agency Heyva Sor works with people in Syria and the camps in Kurdistan and Iraq.

Shelia invited people to write on the tablecloth at the back of the hall welcoming refugees to Leicester. The tablecloth is to be sent to Leicester Town Hall.

Pelagia Hungwe of the Zimbabwe Association said many people from Zimbabwe are destitute with no food or housing. Some are living on £36.95 and have been doing so for over 15 years. They used to run a drop-in every Tuesday night where they cooked traditional food but they no longer have the funds or the premises to run this. They would like contact from anybody who has the space they can use to cook traditional food and/or donations to help with the cost of doing this. They also had a choir which they would like to get up and running again.

Councillor Rory Palmer from Leicester City Council said, since the PM announced the UK would take in up to 20,000 Syrian refugees Leicester City Council has not been informed of any other details, such as when they will arrive or in what numbers. There are practicalities to be considered to provide services. Young adults have different needs than families with children. Leicester City Council has received no details from the government formalising arrangements.

Cllr Palmer asked us not to forget that we have 990 asylum seekers in the city presently needing help. He asked that in order to avoid duplicating information, if there are established groups working in particular areas, could they please contact him. He will look into storage space, what they have and what they can do to make this available to groups and organisations.

Victoria Russell talked about refugee arrivals in Europe and said she needs storage space for goods which are to be distributed.

Cath Lewis said Leicester Stand Up to Racism is organising two convoys to Calais and that on 17th October 2015, a convoy was leaving Leicester for Calais to express solidarity with the people trapped in Calais as people around the world try to dehumanize them.

Leicester City of Sanctuary said as their group does not have storage facilities for large items and clothing, these could be donated to Open Hands based at 53 Upper Tichborne Street.

An asylum seeker asked that the audience do not forget Iraq. He was a doctor in Iraq and had a good lifestyle, now his life has been completely devastated and he has lost everything. He spoke about the devastation to Christian communities where the women are made slaves. He asked that people remember it is not just Syrians who are suffering. Refugees from Iraq, Iran and Palestine must not be forgotten also. Mick Walker also asked the audience to not forget other asylum seekers who are now being pushed to the back of the queue in efforts to aid Syrians.

Groups working in Calais said they were seeking people to work longer term in Calais and that the situation there is not a situation which will go away although in another four to eight weeks the media will get bored of the tales of human suffering.

A teacher said she had been conversing with the Mayor over making welcome packs for asylum seekers and refugees. She said the children and young people she works with are a great force for change and want to help.

Helen Lentil asked Rory Palmer how the council intends on planning housing for the future. Suggested taking over buildings and making them into suitable living spaces.

The date and time of the next meeting was set as Thursday 15th October 2015, 7.00pm to 8.30pm at the Race Equality Centre, 5-9 Upper Brown Street, Leicester LE1 5TE.

Human Rights without Borders

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The 5th annual Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival starts on 4 December 2018 with Human Rights Without Borders, an event that will bring together a number of groups that have ___ without Borders as part of their name or which share the without Borders ethos.

As part of the event, each of the groups will give a presentation around the work they do, what they reckon are the most pressing issues at home and abroad, and what ought to be done about the issues.

__ without Borders

In the United Kingdom and beyond, there are a number of groups that have ___ without Borders in their name or which share the without Borders ethos. These groups include:

Architecture Sans Frontières
Bards Without Borders
Clowns Without Borders, UK
Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
Engineers Without Borders UK
Metal without Borders
Music without Borders
Reporters sans frontières / Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Schools Against Borders for Children
Teachers Without Borders, and
● De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s #LoveInternational, among others.

Some of these groups will be represented at Human Rights Without Borders.

The programme, precise venue, times, and participants will be announced closer to the event.

About The Festival

The Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival aims to explore human rights issues, at home and abroad, through a series of events that are free and open to all and which include panel events, film, music and art.

The Festival runs from 4 December through to 10 December and aims to draw attention to International Human Rights Day which is celebrated annually, around the world, on December 10.

How Leicester and the Ghirass Children’s Cultural Centre in Bethlehem are connected

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Leicester Friends of Bethlehem coordinator, Claire Wintram writes about how people in Leicester are connected to children, teachers and volunteers at the Ghirass Children’s Cultural Centre in Bethlehem, Palestine.

Leicester Friends of Bethlehem is proud to have been associated with the Ghirass Children’s Cultural Centre, Bethlehem, Palestine, since July 2005.

The first visit to Leicester, of members of the performing group, the Hakaya Band, took place over a long weekend as part of a fortnight’s visit to London and Bath during that month, with last minute arrangements having been made.

That weekend was life-changing for some of the then host families.

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17 members of the Band and four of their teachers are about to make their sixth visit to Leicester from 16th June to 1st July 2018 with a full programme of music, dance and drumming workshops in schools, sports activities arranged, meetings with local politicians, a day spent creating artwork and recording music at Soft Touch Arts.

There will be a public performance by the Band followed by discussion about life under military occupation in the theatre of St Paul’s Catholic School, Evington, on Wednesday 27th June, at 7.00pm, courtesy of the school.

The Ghirass Centre is a secular organization, attracting students and staff from all cultural and economic backgrounds in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. The founder and Director of the Centre, Ms Ibtisam Ilzhayyer, a person of great vision, who started the venture in 1994, aimed initially to rectify extreme problems affecting children’s and young people’s education impacted by the devastating, daily trauma of living under illegal, brutal Israeli military occupation.

Students in schools run by the UN or in Palestinian Authority run schools often are in classes of up to 60 so there is no chance of one-to-one tuition and young people fall behind. Added to this, schools can be commandeered as barracks and interrogation centres by the Israeli army for months at a time, so clearly learning is severely disrupted during these periods. Students and teachers and university staff are harassed at checkpoints, including girls and women being sexually harassed and intimidated by Israeli soldiers.

Over the last 24 years, the Centre has extended its provision to include: two outdoor play areas with protection from the sun; a garden for children and parents to relax in; a well-stocked library that has seen literacy rates in Arabic amongst students and parents (particularly mothers) rise dramatically; art and handicraft workshops; play equipment to promote dexterity and fine motor skills; and, extra maths tuition for those who need it.

Two social workers are employed by the Centre who carry out extensive psycho-social assessment and offer tailor made support to children and their families struggling with the traumas of everyday life. Home assessments are also carried out where travel is possible.

Travel outside Bethlehem and sometimes within it is severely restricted by the apartheid wall built by the Israelis and by the increasing number of military checkpoints round the town. When possible, Ms Ilzhayyer and colleagues travel to outlying villages to engage schools and day nurseries in play-centred learning and in encouraging literacy in the areas. She offers training and access to a book and toy library.

Ms Ilzhayyer has also been very influential in encouraging the Teacher Training Department of Bethlehem University to use her child-based approach to teaching reading. This programme has been very successful and is employed by many schools.

Over the last four years, more work has been begun with supporting children and their parents to enable them to survive daily trauma by using dance, drama, poetry, singing, football, and chess. Boys and girls engage in all these activities together.

The performing aspect of the Centre, which is where Leicester Friends of Bethlehem come in, was initiated because young people have no time in their mainstream curriculum to learn about their own culture. The Hakaya Band remedies this, having created three different age-groups of performers with their own contemporary take on traditional folk dancing and singing and more recently, drumming.

The group has an outstanding musician and a succession of excellent choreographers. We fundraise to bring a group over to the UK every three years. We don’t fundraise for the Centre itself as the current costs of a visit are approximately £28,000 and we have just about reached that target this year.

We work with schools, a network of host families and arts organizations locally to ensure a successful visit.

The public performance is always met with warm enthusiasm.

Many life-long friendships have been formed between Leicester and Palestinian families. Several Friends of Bethlehem members have visited the occupied territories (at their own cost).

The dancers have also performed in France, Belgium and Jordan

The Centre will not take money from any religious or political organization. In the past, a German NGO has provided considerable funds and covered infrastructure costs. Currently, Norwegian and Swiss organizations are providing funding, but it is always short-term.

This is Belonging: Coming together to bring about positive change

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Penny Walker, from Leicester for Peace, reflects on, This is Belonging: Challenging militarism at home and abroad, an event that was held at the Secular Hall in Leicester as part of the 2017 Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

This is Belonging - Secular Hall - 8 December 2017

This is Belonging“, on Friday 8th December, looked at the growing militarisation in the UK and how that impacts on young people. The idea came about because a small group of us have been working on the issue for some time – challenging the army recruitment drives in Humberstone Gate and trying to get into schools with an alternative narrative to that offered by the army which is embedded in many people’s values.

Our chair, Helen Dexter, was brilliant and Rhianna from ForcesWatch put the whole issue in a national and political context. I was very uplifted to hear Joseph from Leicester [National Union of Teachers] NUT explain that the NUT is against military involvement in schools. We have found it so hard to get into schools but with Joesph’s help I can see progress ahead. We have arranged a meeting with him in January.

Sarah Levitt also spoke. She is head of arts, museum and events in the City and we hope she will be able to exert some influence about the license granted to the army for their public displays. We were asking that children are not allowed to play with the guns and that there is some warning for parents about when they will be in Humberstone Gate. As well as speaking she also listened to what we were saying so hopefully before she leaves her job on January 20th, there will be progress there too.

It is important to arrange events like this when people can come together and learn and debate. But it is essential for me that we use that knowledge and those connections to bring about positive change. I am hopeful.

The British Army is targeting working class and marginalised young people – Here’s why this should stop

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by Rhianna Louise, ForcesWatch*

The military, particularly the Army, actively targets the most deprived areas in the UK and the most disadvantaged families in their recruitment drives, which are aimed at young people from the ages of 16 to 24.

This is despite the fact that in 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the UK government reconsider recruiting under 18s into the military and ensure that recruitment does not target ethnic minorities and children of low income families.

I want to frame today’s discussion about military recruitment in the context of militarism in the UK and the militarising shift that we have seen in recent years. I want to talk particularly about why it is important to challenge militarist discourse, and why we should be promoting full and balanced information about military careers rather than propagandistic material aimed at vulnerable young people.

Then I’m going to discuss some of the ways in which military recruitment marketing is designed to target working class and marginalised young people, and what the effects of this are. I’ll share some thoughts on the perceived ‘recruitment crisis’ the UK is facing, and on how the way we recruit could and should be changed.

Military recruitment in the context of militarism in the UK

Militarist discourse dominates key spaces in the public imaginary in the UK.

We rely heavily on military action, values and worldviews for our national identity and our foreign policy. A militarist outlook is embedded in traditional perceptions of British nationhood and its security, in political orientations and the policies that come from them, in our fears and hopes for the future, in the language we use and the stories we tell about the way the world works, and in our entertainment, arts and media productions.

David Gee, Spectacle, Reality and Resistance: Confronting a Culture of Militarism, 2015.

Key spaces in the public imaginary that are dominated by militarism are perceptions of:

  • Britain’s historical and contemporary relationship with the world
  • requirements of national and international security
    and
  • social and personal identity, such as power, belonging, gender, aggression and violence.

The domination of militarism over the first two spaces is evident in the drivers and justifications behind recruitment trends and popular narratives around recruitment; and of the third, in recruitment marketing campaigns.

Challenging militarist domination over perceptions of Britain’s historical and contemporary relationship with the world, is important because:

The legacy of Britain’s empire and its imperialist history ripples across the world today, and is poorly taught and understood in the UK itself, where revisionist, imperialist pride continues to be prominent. Militarism goes hand in hand with strong uncritical national pride, which prevents people from interrogating openly their country’s past. This can lead to racism, marginalisation and an inability to deconstruct power and privilege – essentially having a stagnating effect, countering social progress.

Militarist discourse glorifies past military endeavours as one, using generalised terminology (died for our freedom, sacrifice). This can be a-historical and can result in past military operations being used to stifle critique about current or future military operations.

Challenging the domination of militarism over perceptions of national and international security is important because:

Militarism, with its emphasis on military might, can prevent discussion and thinking around security from being wider and more informed. This is dangerous given the power vacuums, election of populist leaders, rise in nationalism and increased strain on international cooperation that we see today. In this climate of increasing insecurity, it is concerning that security as a concept is not widely defined or discussed in public and political debate in Britain. (See https://rethinkingsecurity.org.uk/)

Instead our whole debate about security is reduced to simplistic assumptions fed by militarism – that security can be achieved by: seeking power for the UK at the expense of security for people elsewhere; advancing ill-defined ‘national interests’, often disconnected from the real security needs of people and communities; prioritising short-term threats over the long-term systemic causes of insecurity (climate change and scarcity, economic inequality, social and political marginalisation, the global arms trade and violent conflict); and extending control over the strategic environment, achieved principally through offensive military capabilities, a superpower alliance and restrictions on civil liberties. This security discourse is flawed and is manifestly not working; yet heavily embedded militarism stands in the way of alternative discourses. (Again, see https://rethinkingsecurity.org.uk/)

Finally – and this is my focus here today – it is vital to challenge the domination of militarism over perceptions of personal and social identity.

Militarism is strongly connected with hegemonic masculinity. In Leicester itself you have seen how it is normalised for children, in particular young boys, to handle deactivated weapons used in contemporary warfare, while dressing up as soldiers during public military recruitment and PR drives. Machismo is dominant in military culture, and young men in particular are targeted by appeals to their desire to be seen as possessing ‘masculine’ power. For example, a young teenager was recently told by recruiters visiting their school in Scotland that enlisting would make them a ‘proper man.’ Related to the notion of hegemonic masculinity equating power is the idea that a military career guarantees a sense of belonging, and a secure, empowered personal identity.

As the armed forces try to recruit more women, ‘Be a man’ has morphed into ‘Be a hero’ (and the ‘making of a man’ idea has been euphemised in ‘made in the Army’, or the Navy, or the RAF) but men and traditional masculine norms still dominate military life.

It’s important to think critically about the ethics of military recruitment, because enlisting in the military is a life-altering decision with long-reaching social and individual consequences. It is vital that people are equipped to see through military marketing campaigns and think critically and carefully about a decision to enlist. They should have a full understanding of the potential personal impacts of a military career as well as the agendas they would be serving, and be empowered to continually interrogate these agendas with conscience and with intellect.

Increasing militarism

Today, the development of militarism in our society is taking on new and significant forms. Despite media propaganda, the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan have been unpopular. Abuses of human rights, the conditions of military life and widespread cynicism about the efficacy, necessity and purpose of recent wars, have slammed into the limits of public support for the armed forces.

The British general public have maintained their strong support for the troops, but less so for military operations and even the military as an institution. In recent years, in an attempt to recapture or reinforce the sanctity of the military in the public imaginary, sections of the military, political and media elite have launched or supported a range of initiatives to build support for the armed forces, sustain morale, improve recruitment and increase sympathy and support for current wars. (Paul Dixon, 2017. See upcoming (2018) paper by Paul Dixon in collaboration with ForcesWatch).

The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom also influences modern militarism in the UK; and this is likely to be particularly significant in post-Brexit Britain given our perceived increased dependency on a ‘special relationship’ with the United States.

How military recruitment targets socio-economically disadvantaged and marginalised young people

There are lots of different ways in which the military seeks out young people for recruitment purposes. I’m going to talk mostly about their marketing campaigns and look at some specific recent campaigns. But firstly I want to mention that the armed forces also visit schools in the UK for the purposes of recruitment and PR. Most visits are explicitly careers related, and most are to state schools.

The MoD is constantly denying that its school visits have anything to do with recruitment. But Select Committee and Ministry of Defence documents make it clear that service personnel go into schools as recruiters and engage with schools for the purpose of recruitment and PR. Dr Jonathan Parry, who is a Birmingham Fellow in Global Ethics and Director for the Centre of the Study of Global Ethics, has described military influence in education for the purposes of recruitment as ‘moral exploitation’ .

Targeting disadvantage

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have expressed concerns that armed forces recruitment activities do not specifically target children of low-income families. Research indicates that not only are the youngest recruits at the highest risk during their training and careers, this particularly affects those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Furthermore, the high drop-out rate suggests that many young people sign up without sufficient awareness of armed forces life. Once they have dropped out, they find they are no longer in the education or training system and are without a job.

In general, information about military careers provided by the armed forces does not provide a realistic assessment of the risks involved, yet the unique risks of an armed forces career demand that young people sign up with a significant level of awareness of what they will encounter.

Military Marketing campaigns

Early this year, ForcesWatch and Medact, a public health charity, will be publishing a report analysing four recent military recruitment marketing campaigns, looking particularly at how they target the psychological vulnerabilities of disadvantaged young people. I’m going to share with you some of the findings and analysis we’ve been working on with regards to the Army’s latest recruitment campaign, which is called This is Belonging.

We know from Freedom of Information inquiries that the Army targets a core audience of 16-24 year olds. We now also know that the Army targets in particular such young people across the UK who are working class, with specific interest in Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Cleveland, Doncaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. They focus on lower income earners whose adult children are striving to gain independence, meaning space is limited, and those with an average household income of £10,000.

Every year, the British Army launches a recruitment campaign with a new theme. While the British Army predominantly attracts young, white male, there is evidence that it is aiming to widen its recruitment strategy and diversify its intake in terms of gender and ethnicity. The core audience remains young (16-24 year olds from working class families).

This is Belonging

This is Belonging is a £3m advertising campaign launched by the British Army at the start of 2017, which includes a series of short films, as well as billboard advertisements, radio advertisements, recruitment literature and online material. Each film is 30 seconds or less, and ends with “This is belonging. Army. Be the best. Find where you belong, search Army Jobs.”

In the This is Belonging film stories, most of the protagonists (and all the main protagonists) are men, and all are young. Message strategy analysis shows that the target audience are expected to have an emotionally driven approach to the decision to enlist, to be motivated by the idea of finding friendship and belonging, and also by adventure and stereotypically male culture. All the protagonists’ voices have accents, and all the soldiering activities portrayed are manual/practical – the implicit messaging here is that the target audience are working class and prefer working with their hands or physical activity.

This is belonging positions a job in the Army as a unique experience through which lasting bonds of friendship are formed. The This is belonging recruitment page on the Army website, which is designed to match the marketing theme, says:

The benefits of belonging in the Army.

A sense of belonging may sound like a small thing. Yet it fuels you as much as food and water, because it doesn’t just feed your body, it feeds your mind and soul.

The stronger the sense of belonging – the stronger you become.

Sure, you could look for belonging in a football team or club, but the sense of belonging you’ll find in the Army – well that’s the next level.

When you’ve trained together side by side, learnt things no classroom can teach you and fought with each other, for each other – that creates a bond like no other. A bond that lasts a lifetime.

Belonging sees you through whatever life – on or off the battlefield – may throw at you.

This is belonging.

http://www.army.mod.uk/belong/belonging

The ‘belonging’ portrayed through the films is a simple, ‘boyish’, playful friendship. Speech is limited and could be called ‘banter.’ The soldiers interact through shared activity.

The theme of belonging is also utilised for recruitment by other entities in which conformity and distinction are key, such as gangs, sports teams etc. It appeals in particular to adolescents and young people who are undergoing the most intense phase of social identity formation.

All the confusion, instability and changes adolescents face, are compounded by their under-formed personal and social identities, resulting in their tendency to over-identify with others or with groups in order to gain a sense of security and belonging. These might take the form of love interests, cliques, or even gangs or extremists.

By appealing to the adolescent child’s need to belong, the army have therefore latched onto a very popular recruitment tool, powerful in particular among those who feel isolated or marginalised, or who have a sense of non-belonging and potentially low self-esteem. As seen in the Navy’s Made in the Royal Navy campaign, this message strategy is normal in military recruitment campaigns – but it is the overriding message strategy in This is belonging

The promised reward of signing up is ‘belonging’ to the army is becoming stronger and stronger by virtue of ‘belonging’. This is tempting indeed for adolescents who tend to crave social acceptance and a feeling of importance in a group context. The army claim to offer a sense of belonging stronger and more powerful than any other

The domination of militarism over perceptions of social and personal identity is very evident in the Belonging advertising campaign. The Army is presenting itself as having ownership over belonging – there is no belonging like belonging to the Army. You gain social power through belonging to the military might of the British Army; in militarist ideology, the capacity for violent possession and domination is a key mode of power

Even though the Army is trying to appeal to more females, there is still an evidently gendered perception of personal identity they put forward: militarist power is intricately linked with hegemonic masculinity. Indeed almost all of the This is belonging characters are male, their interactions are stereotypically boyish – banter, a lack of conversation, and interaction through practical shared activity.

To ‘belong’ in the army has conditions which are not apparent in the This is belonging campaign. A recent report by Veterans for Peace called First Ambush shows that The erosion of self-determination, of autonomy of movement and of privacy and choice of personal appearance are all integral to the training regime in which recruits are anonymised and controlled. They are subject to relentless activity and the resulting fatigue, to authoritarian power and an absence of civilian norms and social support, which can cause anxiety and disorientation. Clearly, not everyone ‘finds where they belong’ given that bullying and harassment are endemic in the military according to countless reports.

The campaign presents this ‘belonging’ as life-long. But many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life and can feel lonely and out of place. Isolation and loneliness are widely known to affect many veterans upon return to civilian life. Many are at risk of depression, self-harm and suicide – and the younger they sign up, the more likely they are to face mental illness later on.

Aside from the visible weaponry, there is no sign of fighting or violent conflict in this recruitment campaign or any other recruitment marketing campaigns. In This is Belonging, unlike in other campaigns which focus on diving, dolphins etc., there are harsh, exotic landscapes – but they emphasise travel and adventure without context of why the soldiers are deployed in those areas.

The army photography policy says that images should never show soldiers pointing weapons at the camera (because it seems hostile), or be shown as if they may be in any danger – in other words, the army does not want soldiers to appear either dangerous or in danger.

Aside from the immorality of recruiting people (particularly young people) who are not fully informed, recruiting people with expectations that may not fit the reality of a soldier’s life feeds into military retention problems.

This brings me to the perceived military ‘recruitment crisis’ that we hear about so much in the news.

The Ministry of Defence tells us that it is facing a ‘recruitment crisis’ – this is nothing new, it has been saying this for many years. I’m not going to focus here on the discussion we could have about Britain’s maintenance of an expeditionary force, the fact that UK already has the seventh highest military expenditure in the world – while measures to address long-term security threats are underfunded etc. etc., or even on the influence of militarism on our perceived need to feel constantly under threat and able to invade other countries. But what I am going to say definitively is that even if we accept the narrative of recruitment crisis, then rather than trying to make up for adult recruitment shortfalls by recruiting people who are legally children, the MoD could spend more on the welfare of personnel so that retention rates go up. The army has very high turnover, which means it constantly has to find new recruits. If soldiers were happier and stayed longer, recruitment wouldn’t be such an issue.

The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2017 reported:

  • 40% non-officers are actively looking for work outside the armed forces
  • Only 39% of soldiers would recommend enlisting to a friend.
  • Reasons for leaving: low morale, low pay, lack of job satisfaction and impact on family life.

High turnover in our Army is particularly a problem because we recruit so many under 18s and target people from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Almost half of those who leave school at 16 to join the army have left it within four years. A third of all army recruits without core GCSEs at any grade drop out of training, a rate of attrition around 50% higher than among recruits with A*-C grades. This contributes to a high rate of unemployment among ex-soldiers, particularly if they left full-time education early. (See https://forceswatch.net/resources/does-military-give-young-people-leg-armed-forces-and-social-mobility)

In the US, Americans without a high school diploma are normally deemed too cost-ineffective to enlist and, compared to the UK, the US recruits relatively few minors. The British Army actively seeks adolescents in their mid-teens from deprived backgrounds and without GCSEs, particularly for infantry jobs. But young age and a background of disadvantage lead to a high rate of attrition.

There is an over-representation of younger, typically disadvantaged recruits in the infantry, where training is tougher and retention is poor. There is greater susceptibility to the stresses of training among younger adolescents from adverse childhood backgrounds,

Those most likely to suffer mental health problems enlist at a young age and/or are from a deprived background; are deployed to war in a front-line combat role, meaning one where the frequency of traumatic experiences is greater; and/or struggle to readjust to civilian life after leaving the forces. The youngest recruits face the greatest long-term mental health risks. There is a 64% increased risk of suicide among young men (under 20) in the Army when compared to the general population.

Research by the British Legion has found that the unemployment rate among working-age veterans is approximately twice the civilian rate; a lack of transferable, accredited qualifications acquired in service is a common complaint. Veterans who are most affected by deprivation are those who are youngest, who are Early Service Leavers, who have a lack of social support and who are Army veterans.

So, we should be calling on the Ministry of Defence to focus on retention: improve conditions for personnel, and stop recruiting and targeting children. And we should challenge propagandistic recruitment materials, particularly when they are aimed at vulnerable young people.

Conclusion

Please see more about the work of ForcesWatch at www.forceswatch.net, and follow us on twitter and Facebook @ForcesWatch .

You can download a pack on taking action on militarism at www.forceswatch.net/takeaction

Join a public Facebook group where people are recording the #everydaymilitarism they witness in the UK: https://www.facebook.com/groups/everydaymilitarism/

*This article is based on a talk Rhianna Louise gave at This is Belonging: Challenging militarism at home and abroad, an event that was held at the Secular Hall in Leicester as part of the 2017 Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

100 Years of Tear Gas, Policing with Poison & Its Implications

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10 December 2017

Secular Hall
75 Humberstone Gate, Leicester LE1 1WB

6.30pm

https://goo.gl/oiH9bG

On Human Rights Day 2017, Dr Anna Feigenbaum explores how tear gas came about, the uses it has been put to over the past 100 years, the uses it is being being put to now and its implications on human rights.

The talk is hosted by the Leicester Secular Society in association with the Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

Dr Anna Feigenbaum is Principal Academic in Digital Storytelling in the department of Journalism, English and Communication at Bournemouth University. She is the author of Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of WW1 to the Streets of Today (Verso, 2017). She has also co-edited books that include Protest camps in international context: Spaces, infrastructures and media of resistance (Policy Press, 2017) and Protest Camps (Zed, 2013).

The Leicester Secular Society is the world’s oldest Secular Society. The society hosts a series of public lectures that are free and open to all. Past speakers at these lectures have included George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Tony Benn and Annie Besant.

The Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival is now in its fourth consecutive year.

The festival runs from December 4 through to December 10. It aims to draw attention to human rights issues at home and abroad as well as draw attention to International Human Rights Day which is celebrated annually, across the world, on December 10.

A note on the image:

… from left to right:
1. German infantry soldiers (equipped with gas masks) in a cloud of poison gas, 1916, on the Western front in Flanders (either Belgian or French), Wikimedia and the German Federal Archive
2. Playground protest (Source: “Kenya police fire tear gas on playground protest“, BBC News, 19 January 2015)
3. ‘woman in a red dress’ (Ceyda Sungur), Gezi Park, Turkey, 28 May 2015 (Source: “Police who sprayed Gezi’s ‘woman in red’ ordered to plant 600 trees“, Hürriyet Daily News, 10 June 2015)

Music without Borders 2017

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9 December 2017

Firebug
1 Millstone Lane, Leicester

4pm till 10pm

https://goo.gl/DKgmvU

Music without Borders 2017 is a music concert in solidarity with children who are seeking refuge.

Musicians, artists and bands that are taking part include:

Mellow Baku
Autumn Dawn Leader
Sweetbellechobaby
Paz Alexander
Luke Broughton
Red Leicester Choir, and
KGB Jazz.

The event is free and open to all and is being held to raise funds for the Leicester-based projects, After18 and LE Solidarity, and for Maya Harding and The Flying Seagull Project who work with children in formal and informal camps in places like Greece.

In Leicester, “Music without Borders” was conceived as part of the Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival by The Brandy Thieves lead vocalist, Andrea Kenny, and environmental and sustainable development specialist, Mariangela Veronesi, who in 2015, co-organised the first event in the series.

Metal Without Borders 2017

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8 December 2017

Pi Bar
cnr Narborough Rd & Norman Street, Leicester LE3 0BA

7pm till late

https://goo.gl/pZQ3vb

Metal without Borders 2017 is a metal music festival / metalfest that is being held at Pi Bar at 1 Norman Street in Leicester in solidarity with children who are seeking refuge.

Performing at the event are:

My Legacy
Mordrake
BEARPIT, and
Monachopsis

The metalfest is free and open to all.

It is being held as part of the fourth annual Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival to raise funds for:

After18, a Leicester-based charity that works with unaccompanied children who are looking for refuge
LE Solidarity, which supports people who are looking for refuge, including those who are in informal camps in places like Calais and Dunkirk, and
Maya Harding to support the work she is doing with The Flying Seagull Project who work with children in formal and informal camps in places like Greece.

This is Belonging: Challenging Militarism at Home and Abroad

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8 December 2017

Secular Hall
75 Humberstone Gate, Leicester LE1 1WB

6.30pm

https://goo.gl/tZZFHE

In Leicester, as in other deprived communities around Britain, the army is targeting children for recruitment.

This is Belonging will look at how communities in Leicester and beyond are resisting the attendant militarisation of schools, public spaces and childhood.

Speaking at the event are:

● Rhianna, ForcesWatch
● Chris Paling, Veterans For Peace UK
Jo Phoenix, Professor in Criminology, Open University
● Sarah Levitt, Head of Arts and Museums, Leicester City Council
● Joseph Wyglendacz, Executive Member, City of Leicester NUT / National Education Union, and
Penny Walker and Sue Taylor.

“This is Belonging” will be chaired by Dr Helen Dexter SFHEA, Associate Professor of International Politics, University of Leicester.

The event is free and open to all and is being held as part of the 4th annual Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival which runs from 4 December through to 10 December every year.