Working the Workshops with Totally Tasty

22nd July 2013 by

I am lying in Lynn’s garden hammock looking out at the massive oak tree in the park next door. “You look extremely happy”, Jessie says as she walked past. I am a bit. I feel really enriched after everything I have experienced and taken part in today. This morning we woke up at 6.37am. All ten of the Otesha tour members were sleeping in the Rope Walk Permaculture Project’s garden shed just behind a mosque.Yesterday was our first day on the road and today we were introduced to the world of environmental and social workshop facilitation.

This morning we cycled to a local school to spend the morning at the, maybe paradoxically named, “inclusion unit”. It was for children who had been deemed not adapted to be within a conventional class room. The average number of children in these inclusion classes were between four and six. Students would stay on a single floor on which all of their needs were catered for. All their subjects, tutors and even lunch was provided on this level. The teachers were all amazing and it I think we learnt much from seeing how they spoke to and engaged the students. While one team delivered another workshop, my group was presenting a workshop on Fair-Trade which looks at all the different people involved in the production on bananas; from the logger who has to clear-cut his beloved rainforest to earn enough money to get by, all the way to the consumer in the UK.

Later that day, I was shown a feedback sheet with Alex, one of the students had written after the class but had seemed one of the hardest to engage. In it he  recalled with great detail several of the facts concerning fair-trade and gave many interesting suggestions for how we could improve the workshop. In the second group, also four students, was one girl who was full of enthusiasm, excitement and charisma. We had one who wanted to read many of the character cards describing what each person in the supply chain has to do. After each card she would give a particularly conscience summary of what had just been said and apply it to examples she was familiar with as well as explaining it within the greater whole of the exercise. After class, the teacher, told us this student was normally the most introverted and shyest member of the class. He had never seen her as enthusiastic and engaged as she was. We felt we had been of use and that our presence at the school was being appreciated.

The last workshop was the one I thought was most successful. The four boys in the class seemed genuinely interested in what we were talking about and shared their knowledge about pesticides and GMOs. Later in the day, we discovered that this last group we had worked with were reputed to be the most difficult to engage with. Quite a result, we told ourselves.

After some not-so-vegan egg and cheese sandwiches the school kindly provided, we headed back over to Southampton Common [we had cooked an epic dinner for ourselves there the night before] to meet a home education group. These were children who were educated by their parents or grandparents and all met up on a regular basis so as to learn and play with their kin. These children take an active role in deciding what it is they are most interested in and would like to learn more of. “I drive my grand-daughter around 200 miles a week so she can receive lesson from all the specialist teachers in the region” one parent told us. The children now in front of us couldn’t have been more dissimilar from the ones we had spent time with that morning. Surrounded by supportive, reassuring parents, they spoke, read and posed questions with clarity, self-assurance and calm. At one point when talking about the distribution of money amongst the different actors on the supply line, they took the debate completely into their own hands and we  no longer needed to facilitate and actually stepped back and watched (slightly in awe) as children of six and seven discussed who in the supply line deserved the most pay. This seemed like a million miles away from the disheartened students we had met earlier that same day.

Personally, I felt greatly privileged and enriched to have had the opportunity to experience these two polar opposite worlds. We had witnessed first hand how socio-economic segregation is passed on from one generation to the next as a result of systemic causes within our society. These skills and experiences are fantastic to get, and the whole team is developing in leaps and bounds ready for all the schools we have ahead. Thomas

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