As part of Bickley Park’s Centenary programme, I agreed to lead an initiative to build links for our boys and staff with those of a similar age from another continent, to develop a deeper awareness and appreciation of other cultures.
As a first generation British Asian, I wanted to look at ways in which to bring two communities together that mean a lot to me and that I knew would be mutually beneficial. A chance meeting at around this time with a well-connected and like-minded individual from India, coupled with the outward-looking attitude of the SLT at Bickley Park, was what it took to spark an exciting international outreach project.
Setting up the Global Citizenship Initiative
The Global Citizen Initiative began with developing reciprocal cricket tours with The Kiran More Cricket Academy in Gujarat, who do fantastic work in developing the cricketers of the future and providing coaching opportunities for less privileged boys in the region.
Summer 2019 marked a significant landmark, as Bickley Park welcomed four talented cricketers from the academy, and the visit truly captured the imagination of our school community.
The four boys from Gujarat travelled to the UK and spent two weeks with us at school. We offered a fully immersive programme for the boys and staff members from India, so that they got to experience life at a UK prep school.
I can only describe this experience as intensely rewarding and enriching for both communities
This was the first time that these boys and staff had visited the UK and, in most cases, travelled outside of India. The group lived in the school cottage that had been furnished entirely by donations from the school. Parents of Indian heritage from Bickley Park cooked meals for the boys, making sure they were authentic in style. Members of the school community organised sporting and cultural trips, such as a visit to watch a cricket match at Lord’s and tours in London.
I can only describe this experience as intensely rewarding and enriching for both communities. It was described as a ‘life changing opportunity’ for the boys from India and we received extremely positive feedback from The Kiran More Academy and parents of boys who attended. It highlighted clear opportunities for further development.
The return trip for Bickley Park boys took place in December 2019. Mrs Patel (who also teaches at Bickley Park) and I accompanied four of our boys, who were selected by The Kiran More Cricket Academy for their cricket talent.
We felt privileged to be able to share our love of India and its culture in a trip that included cricket matches, cultural visits and time spent in an international school. Each of the boys experienced all that India had to offer in their own way and were able to return and share those experiences with the rest of Bickley Park.
Collaborating through Covid-19
I was a long way down the road to planning the next trip for another four boys from India, when Covid-19 struck and the world changed forever – countries were in lockdown and school gates were shut.
I was determined to keep this initiative moving forward and was delighted to continue working with the impressive Cygnus World School in Gujarat, which we visited in December 2019.
Teaching and learning remotely has been both a challenging and rewarding experience, which also meant that we had to think outside the box. Unfortunately, the pandemic has struck India hard resulting in children still having to work remotely while children in the UK have had the benefit of going back to school. However, many challenges and experiences have been very similar.
Just before the pandemic hit, we were working on a collaborative performing arts project which involved pupils creating a video about life in both schools. Fortunately, we both managed to complete our projects and we took a lot of pleasure in getting a snapshot of a typical day in two schools over 4,000 miles apart.
The distance did not stop us from working together, as our developing use of technology meant that we could organise a really special interactive online session with pupils and teachers, where we learnt about our two schools and discussed our similar challenges within the current Covid environment.
As teachers, we appreciate that a school is made up of a lot of moving parts, but when they all come together, great things can be achieved. This collaborative, international project has been extremely rewarding for all involved and the links and friendships made across continents invaluable.
I look forward to the day when we can all meet again in person but, until then, I will continue to adopt the sentiment in the Hindi saying, ‘sab kuch milega’ (everything is possible).
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