Every week my Kiswahili teacher asks me what I’ve been doing, and each time my answer comes with what’s become a useful phrase: I stayed at home, kwa sababu ya corona. I didn’t go to the office, kwa sababu ya corona. We can’t go to restaurants now, kwa sababu ya corona. My new phrase explains a lot: because of the coronavirus.
His reaction is always similar: a look of surprise and a shake of the head, as he concludes: Maisha ni magumu Uingereza: life is difficult in England. In Tanzania, my teacher says, people aren’t wearing masks and they aren’t avoiding crowds. Life is as normal because there is no corona in the country.
Much of my work involves moulding and tweaking other people’s writing into shape. But with R and C, I never fix spelling mistakes or question confusing sentence structures. I never wince when they go off topic, never strike through nonsensical ideas.
R and C are writers – nine and ten-year-old ones – who I’ve been working with at the Ministry of Stories, an east London charity. It’s quite a contrast to my day job, which generally doesn’t involve learning about a monster’s detachable limbs or the newly-discovered land of Japina. Nor does my day job often allow the luxury of focusing entirely on one person and one task.
This year at Exposure we’ve been running a new project known as ‘I’m Inspired’ that gives young people the chance to find and interview a professional in their local area about their work.
The project has involved bringing teenagers and students — some shy, some not so shy — to radio stations, open-plan corporate offices, theatres, newsrooms, and community centres around north London.
Many of our interviewees, especially in the creative sectors, downplayed the importance of qualifications. It’s more about your portfolio than any certificates you’ve got, said a graphic designer. We don’t require qualifications to work here, just drive and initiative, said a radio producer. I’d hire someone with experience and the right attitude over someone else with a three-year degree, said a news editor. Continue reading ““People can always say no” and other careers advice”→
Talking about the UK education system isn’t very uplifting. Family income and where you live still seem to define how well you’re likely to do at school. In international rankings of reading, maths and science performance among 15- and 16-year-olds, little has improved despite government ambitions to make our schools among the best in the world by 2020. Meanwhile, there’s both a shortage of qualified teachers and a ever-tighter budget squeezes on the schools employing them, with almost two thirds expected to cut one or more teaching posts before September.
But another trend, said Joe Hallgarten, former director of Creative Learning and Development at the Royal Society of Arts — speaking at a recent On Purpose event — is the rise of organisations working outside or with schools. (The Charity Commission for England and Wales, for example, lists some 65,000 registered charities dedicated broadly to young people’s education.) They’re bringing writers and artists and scientists into classrooms. They’re helping kids start a business, or teaching them martial arts or philosophy. And they’re introducing them to modern-world skills like coding — “the new piano lessons”.
After an intense few days inside one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, I’ve stumbled upon two slightly different (and a bit more uplifting) movements.
On the way back to Kampala, I stopped for a night at the Social Innovation Academy, created about two years ago to address the desperate lack of job prospects in the country.
60+ young people aged from 18 to late 20s live in dorms and traditional African huts and new constructions made from sand-filled plastic bottles; several more buildings are in various stages of completion, including new housing for volunteers and a huge hall. Hand-painted signs are dotted around: “Do something every day that scares you”, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those already doing it”.
Scholars get free rent and board, and training for as long as they need it to develop business ideas that will benefit themselves, the community, the environment, or all three. Continue reading “Making things”→
I recently finished working on a first project with the youth media charity Exposure – helping them produce a range of materials around the topic of identity. All the articles and images in the magazine, below, were created by teenagers (with a bit of chasing and tweaking from us). The print version will be distributed to schools and youth centres in north London – and a short film on the same subject is coming soon.
Here’s what came out of my trip to Uganda, late last year:
The Guardian published my story – Uganda is a land of entrepreneurs, but how many startups thrive? – on the reality behind a recent report claiming the country is the most entrepreneurial in the world. It’s easy to start a business, and many people – even those in a full time job – do so, but few manage to grow or even continue their venture.
The bizarre and wonderful Wakaliwood is making ripples around the world.
The morning we visited the “studio” of Uganda’s homegrown action movie industry, the team was expecting a group of French and German reporters. The story has been picked up by the BBC, VICE magazine, Al Jazeera, and national Irish television. The films have a cult following, with fans in Russia, Guatemala, China. In the rehearsal space – which doubles up as a bedroom for some of the actors and storage space for props and equipment – there’s a wall with foreign names scribbled on it.
Earlier this year I gathered a few VSO colleagues to join me on the Acumen+ Storytelling for Change course, which is all about bringing (personal) stories into your professional communication, helping you to connect with (and convince) your listeners as you present.
I’ve tried before, and failed, to complete online courses; free ones like these are even harder to see through. What worked this time? Mainly it was committing to meet weekly as a group for the duration of the modules (guilt about letting other people down is stronger than the guilt of letting yourself down, it seems). But also genuine enthusiasm within the group for the topic, and a sense that the lessons were fairly universally relevant.
The series on youth opportunities I produced last year with Romanian TV journalist, Lorelei Mihala, is being published in instalments on Cafe Babel (appropriately, a magazine published in multiple languages and aimed at young Europeans).
We were funded by the Council of Europe, as part of a programme aimed at getting more diversity into the media – hence our focus on young migrants and refugees in both cities, London and Bucharest.