I’m a Global Citizen….Are you?

In the past few months my life has changed a lot, I quit a job which I loved with the ambition of moving home, working part time and finding some focus in what I feel passionately about.  I find myself getting so caught up in the routine of day to day life. The pressure to be earning money.The constant dramas and confusion that romances bring and the general challenge of being a slightly lost 28 year old woman fighting against what is expected of me and what I’m ‘supposed’ to do next, that I forget about what’s really important to me. When I look back in 5 years will I regret the lost loves or not pushing myself to do something that fights for what I believe and feel passionate about?

It’s difficult to motivate yourself to do something to make a change in the world, when it feels like the world has already given up on itself. I finished my job on Friday 24th June, a date which will be forever etched in all of ours memories. It became difficult to pin whether my emotions were to saying goodbye to my students and friends or to the EU.

The political madness that has rocked the world over the past year, has created something positive, its got people talking. People who would never normally engage or take much of an interest in politics are going out to vote and thinking about what they want from the world. When I look back and think about what I wanted when I started this, it was conversation. I wanted to get people who, like me, have never really understood what’s happening in the world, to think and start taking some kind of action.

‘Research data tells us that of the total population who even care about Global Issues only 18% have done anything about it’ Hugh Evans  

The last few months have not however been a complete waste of time. I now have a Facebook page where I can share some of the resources, videos and articles which relate to the global goals as well as keeping you up to date with any new developments and success stories of the young people who have been involved in the project so far.  We are now linked with an amazing charity in Togo – Halsa International, and I am in the process of making plans for changes and developments for 2017. As well as having a new logo which was chosen by young people. 

I might be a 28 year old white British woman, with nothing to show for myself but a cactus and a half alive aloe vera plant, but when I think about what I have achieved knowing that over 100 young people from various different Countries are aware of the Global Goals because of the Development Dummy shows we’re making a pretty big step in the forward, right?

I’m a Global Citizen…Are you? 

If you want to find out more about what it means to be a Global Citizen and how you can easily play your part, check out the Global Citizen website. Join thousands of others on the social action platform for a global generation that wants to solve the worlds biggest problems. It’s the easiest way to show the worlds leaders that you want to see some change!

Ambitious …. but not too ambitious

I wake up flick through instagram I see images of perfect body after perfect body toned,defined…beautiful. The girl who ran past me on my way to work had legs that I can only wish I had. She was beautiful. I get to work, I am surrounded by girls who are young, slim, curvy confident…beautiful.  Every morning before 9am I have compared myself to at least 20 other women. Am I the only women who does this? I don’t think so. I predict the challenge would be to find a woman who does not constantly put pressure on herself to be something different to who she is.

My relationship with my body is far from healthy. I danced a lot as a child and spent most of my youth wearing crops tops and leotards I never thought about what I looked like until I hit puberty when I have a vivid memory of standing in front of a mirror in a red tasseled top and matching mini skirt and realising I didn’t look cute like the other girls, I looked like a sausage fighting to burst from its skin…I was 12.

In recent years there has been increasing amounts of pressure on the media to consider the types of messages they are giving, particularly to young women about healthy body image. Even barbie has now had a total body makeover. Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves and where does this pressure really come from?

It got me thinking about the times in my life when I have felt happy in my own skin and ironically one of these points was at my heaviest during my time in Malawi. Many people believe if you go to Africa you’re going to loose weight, this is often not true. During my six months I gained weight and it only started to bother me when I thought about going home. Malawians are brutally honest, I was told regularly how fat I was getting and not as an insult. My fears about returning home were people telling me how ‘well’ I was looking  and then whispering behind by back ‘crikey she’s gained a few pounds.’ I felt comfortable with the fact I had gained weight whilst I was away because no one really cares, the bigger you are the wealthier and more attractive you are considered to be.The image of the ‘ideal woman’ just doesn’t exist in the same way. There is still a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, but in terms of body image us Brits have a lot to learn from African cultures. Tradition still stands, it is not socially acceptable to walk around with your stomach out and showing as much flesh as possible.Women are glamorous they wear clothes in beautiful fabrics tailor made to suit their bodies.I walk into a shop on the British high street and feel like someone found my childhood selection of crop tops and mass produced them. It’s almost impossible to find a top which is long enough to cover my belly button and not made of a material that contains some kind of spandex.

I recently delivered a session about media and body image with my students.I asked each of the students to create a collage using images from magazines that they felt would make a woman feel positive about herself.

  • Only boys selected images of men (fit Ryan Gosling types)
  • There was only one image of a black woman
  • The only image students could find of ‘real women’ had come from an advert for dog food.

We discussed what the messages the magazines were giving women about what is expected of them.

  • They should be ambitious … but not too ambitious.
  • They should be slim and active.
  • They shouldn’t use bad words.
  • They should be funny but not too funny.
  • They should want to be mothers and need a man to make them happy.

Which led onto how this pressure might make women feel.

  • Basically every negative adjective you can think off.

The boys were asked what they looked for in a woman ‘the more flesh the better…but she shouldn’t display too much flesh if she is fat.’ I had hoped that being a multi cultural group we might get a few varied opinions but unfortunately my hopes were destroyed. I’m sure you can imagine how heated this conversation became, and the reactions of the girls in the room who retaliated by saying they also had expectations when looking for a man. He must be able to dance, have a good body, be tall and have good shoes!

Every article in one way or another is eroding your happiness with the Status Quo – Debra Francis White, The guilty feminist.

As women I can’t help but feel we are fighting a bit of a losing battle. We can blame the media and we can blame society but we also need to lay some of the blame on ourselves. We should be putting less pressure onto ourselves and onto each other.How can we expect the media image of the ‘ideal woman’ to change when we continue to buy into it? We are exposed to 1000s of advertisments everyday. (I’m currently being glared at by an image of a woman in a bikini in the shop across the street)  We need to stop looking in mirrors and wishing those images that glare down upon us are what we see looking back at us. Have you ever looked in a mirror and imagined what someone else sees when they look at you?When it comes to making change in the world, one of the first things we can do is change the attitudes we have towards ourselves. Stop comparing ourselves to everyone around us, stop judging each other, stop exercising to loose weight, exercise because it makes you feel good, and stop buying into everything that the media tells us we need to be a better version of ourselves. When we look at ourselves we need to start seeing more than just the way we look. 

There is more to life than Ivy Park.

Stuck in a bubble of half marathon training, job applications, a couple of weeks in Togo, and a ‘Pretty Little Liars’ marathon, I realised that 2 months have passed since I posted anything about the conversations I have been having with students about Global Issues. Keeping a blog is a bit like starting a diet and sometimes you need a something to shock you back into action. This week one of my students was my ‘fat bikini photo.’ She told me off. She brutally told me it was time I stopped wasting my time, and started actively making a change in my own life so that I am in a place that will allow me to encourage others to make change on a much larger scale.  

This isn’t to say that our sessions haven’t been happening, they have. Since we began over 100 young people from more than 18 different Countries are now directly aware of the Global Goals. Some students make these sessions an important part of their week where as others have just been once or twice. What’s most important is that conversations are happening. Each week the conversation creates a different atmosphere, I have felt every emotion possible throughout this process.

Recently, what I have found most concerning is the anger and frustration that we each express towards the people running our Countries.It seems no matter where we are from we feel disappointed by certain aspects of our Governments. We are left wondering if there is any Country who is getting it right? Last week our discussions were about peace and what peace means to us, which somehow moved onto heated discussions about whether the UK should leave the EU.

Leonardo climate speech
Watching Leonardo Dicaprio’s Climate Action acceptance speech.

As a young person I don’t remember ever reading the newspaper, taking an interest in anything political, voting, or caring a huge amount about what’s going on in the world around me. I also don’t remember that ever being something that I was encouraged to do or think about. I never understood what was going on in the world because it was never explained to me. In school we never looked at a newspaper, I didn’t watch the news because it scared me, our conversations were always about relationships, fashion or music. An opinion or a discussion about whether or not we should leave the EU is certainly not something I would have had.  I don’t know when or what changed, maybe I’ve just grown up but i find myself flicking through the news headlines when i wake up rather than my facebook newsfeed. The students I work with do not reflect my younger self. They are engaged, passionate and want to see change in their Countries.

 

Pollution
Discussing pollution and finding different examples from around the world. 

I find myself questioning what made me start these sessions, what was I hoping to achieve and why did I feel so strongly about it? I remind myself that I wanted to be part of making the Global Goals famous, but it’s now becoming more than that! I want to create environments that ask young people questions that they may not ask themselves, I want to make them think and to give them the tools and a platform to express themselves no matter what their nationality, sex, or religion. The comments and discussions that are coming from our sessions need to be heard.Governments should be listening to their young people in a way I’m just not sure they are doing yet. What these sessions really show is that young people do care more about the world than Beyonce latest clothing line but they just don’t often have a space where they are encouraged to think and talk about the types of topics that the Global Goals highlight.

 

women day
International Women’s Day 

“This school is proof that you can work together and learn from each other no matter where you are from or what your cultural beliefs may be”. – Swiss Student during conversations about peace.

Who, or what inspires you and why??

I was recently asked the question, Who or what inspires you and why? It got me thinking about how are first got involved in Youth Work and how I have now ended up in a position where I am trying to encourage others to engage with the Global Goals….Here is my response…

‘I grew up in a small village in East Sussex. One of my earliest memories was sitting on the school bus and watching one of the older boys handing out flyers for a youth centre his mum was setting up. I remember being completely gutted that at this point I was too young to attend. I spent the next couple of years seething with envy that my older sister was allowed to go to the youth club and I wasn’t. As soon as I was old enough I attended every week until I was 16 when I then became a young leader. I always remember how inspired I felt by the woman who set the centre up. Wendy a mother of 4 who wanted to give young people somewhere to go, to give them a space that belonged to them where they wouldn’t be a ‘burden’ on anyone else in the community. After a few challenging years being based in village halls a youth centre was built on the recreation ground, not only a youth centre but a space which has now been used by the whole community. We as young people were able to feel like we were a valued part of something, our voice was always heard. I really value a sense of belonging, the feeling you can work with others to achieve common goals.

 

 

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As I  grew up through the youth club I watched my friends develop and move onto other things. I finished school and had no idea what I wanted to do with myself, whether I wanted to go to University or not. I wasn’t the most academic person and had no idea what I was good at. I, like many other 17 year olds was completely confused. I felt like a small fish in a big pond. Wendy encouraged me to recognise the skills I have working with people, she made me realise that working with young people was something I was good at. I hadn’t even realised a career in youth work was a possibility. She supported my application and helped me to be accepted into University to study Youth and Community Work. Wendy had also spent some time volunteering in South Africa, she also supported me to do the same thing before I started University, at 19 this experience was overwhelming, but opened my eyes to different cultures, and showed me how you don’t need money to buy happiness just the support and love of other people.

 

I feel so fortunate to have spent the last ten years working with young people in different capacities, from small UK villages to African cities I have learnt to accept everyone as an individual, not to judge people on your first impression of them and that friendships can be made in the most unlikely of places.

 

I am currently based in a language school working with young people from all over the world. I have set up a project which focuses on raising awareness of the UN Global Goals for sustainable development. My students response to these sessions has only enhanced my passion. I recently asked some of these young people for some feedback on their feelings towards Global Goals since being involved in the project. One student said that before these sessions she didn’t know what she could do to help make change in the world so she chose just to do nothing, but from this she had learnt that by just starting conversations about global issues she was setting others up to make change. These sessions taught me how much young people care and think about the world, that they understand more about what is happening around them than they are ever given credit for, I am learning that it doesn’t matter which country you come from, what your background is or how Hiromi and Fernandamuch your culture varies, you can always find a common ground, build your own Community and work together to make change. I am continually inspired by the people around me, and by the power people have to inspire others.

 

All of my experiences and achievements are linked to the support I had as a young person by someone who helped me to recognise what I was good at. I aim to encourage young people in the same way someone once encouraged me. Wendy has always been and continues to be a huge inspiration to me and I am grateful that she taught me so young how we as individuals have the ability to help shape other people, she taught me to teach others how to feel like they are more than a small fish in a big pond.

Why the “White Savior Complex” Won’t Go Away

Kweschn Media

This article addresses many critical issues regarding Western aid to Africa though in a compressed manner. A lot has been said and written about the pros and cons of foreign aid and the global NGO business. There is even a Kenyan mockumentary called the Samaritans that pokes fun at the NGO industry, while exposing inconvenient truths.

Important questions have been explored in the article: What is “white savior complex” and how does it operate? Why do the Western mainstream media frame their narratives in such a way that people from the developing world, especially from Africa, are simply marginal characters, without complex sense of self understanding, who need to be saved by some generous, know-it-all Westerner who has the key for their endless socioeconomic or political problems? Why do some White people who are so passionate about “solving African problems” become completely indifferent to, or even ignorant of, pervasive social…

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Global Goals Launched!!!!….Where??

January 1st was the official release date of the new Global Goals for sustainable development…supposedly.

In my head I was envisioning our News years day news bulletins to be emblazoned with images of the Global Goals. For our Facebook advertisements to change to ideas about small changes we can be making to make the Goals a reality.Our viewing of the Eastenders to have credits running on top of the Goals rather than London.  Maybe I’m a bit keen but something is better than nothing.

On New years day I wrote Global Goals into Google and was shocked to find no recent updates about what was happening, the only things I have seen in the last few days are from Websites and organisations that I already happen to be following. It amazes me that I search google for the goals more than anything else and I am never reminded of that, but the new trainers I considered buying or the last minute holiday… I’m constantly reminded and tormented by things I can’t really afford, but the Global Goals seem treated like something the internet is desperate for me to forget. There are many organisations doing amazing things to raise awareness of Global issues, my concern is they are only being reached by people who already have an interest in Global Development. It’s the people who wouldn’t usually search for international development issues that we need to target, getting them on board is where the change will really start to happen.

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2016/jan/06/flying-flag-global-sustainable-development-goals-in-pictures

I know I am very naive and lack a lot of understanding about how these things work, but I don’t think it’s naive to expect our Government to be making a more noticeable effort to acknowledge an agreement they sign up to.  Its becoming so apparent that it is down to us, we as young adults now more than ever have a responsibility to make a change. Like many of us I have been thinking about my new years resolutions and on the whole they are the same as always. Eat less flapjack, learn to handstand, but topping my list for 2016 is doing everything I can to help make the Goals famous.

 

ICS volunteer = Active Citizen?

I am often asked by my students why I feel so passionately about the Global Goals. They can tell without me saying anything that I must have been somewhere which has made the goals something I can relate to more than other people might. My first response is always to tell them about my experience in Malawi as an ICS team leader. Explaining to them that ‘International Citizen Service is a UK Government funded scheme which brings young people from different backgrounds together to fight poverty.’ There are times I feel like a walking advertisement for ICS. I often wonder, would I even know what a Global Goal is or care about fighting poverty and inequalities if I hadn’t volunteered?

I am always asked if the experience has changed my life. It would be easy for me to say that it hasn’t. I am still working for the same company I was before I left. My life is now in many ways exactly the same as it was 18 months ago.

I’ve been home for over a year now and had a lot of time to reflect and think about my ICS experience. Would I do it again? Honestly, probably not. Those six months shaped me, there hasn’t been a day since when I haven’t in some way thought about something to do with Malawi, my fear is that if I did it again it wouldn’t be the same. How could it ever even compare?

I was the team leader for the first two cycles for one of the ICS agencies and I don’t think that anyone would disagree that there were endless amounts of challenges, disagreements, mistakes and a mutual feeling that we were hugely underprepared. This impacted not only our team dynamics but also the impression we were having on the communities we were working in. I think the local people would have a lot to say about the UK volunteers in their communities, and not all of it positive. Most of us are surprised by quickly we adapt to life in the Country and forget about the bubble around us which screams ‘volunteer.’ As young people embarking on a journey like ICS we feel like independent grown ups, we want to be seen and treated that way by our agencies, our fellow volunteers and the communities we are working in.

1012050_10152000778857615_1584263297_n ICS is full of rules and restrictions, curfews and team bonding. It’s different to many other volunteering opportunities. The independence and maturity we initially feel can quickly turn into frustration and isolation. We don’t feel we are being treated like adults at all. We somehow think that because we are volunteering, we automatically gain the active citizen stamp, but often our behaviour in Country by no means reflects that. We feel angry with in Country staff for not holding our hands when we are feeling a little unwell. We become frustrated that our host family doesn’t speak as much English as everyone else’s or when we’re the only one who doesn’t like our counterpart. We are shocked when no one does anything about the corruption because ‘that’s not how we do it in the UK’ and we wonder why people aren’t compassionate that we were mugged at 11pm when our curfew was 7pm. We complain that we don’t get a big enough allowance or sometimes we receive it a couple of days late, meaning we can’t pay the tailor for the 8th dress we had made. We don’t stop and think about the people who work tirelessly to do everything to make sure we are happy, and safe. We have a few beers, even though we know drinking makes our National Counterparts feel uncomfortable. We run straight back to UK staff for help disregarding the in Country team. How can any of us expect to be seen as responsible adults when we find rules and lack of independence so difficult. It is so easy for us to act selfishly forgetting why we are there and what our team is aiming to do. Blaming everyone but ourselves when things go wrong.

I truly believe that as young people we do have the opportunity and ability to change the world we live in. volunteering offers us an amazing opportunity to better understand some of the issues there are in the world. Its taken me a year to really understand and appreciate everything that I have taken and learnt from being a volunteer, I have attended a number of pre departure trainings and know that agency staff work endlessly to improve the volunteer training, they are far better prepaid than we were for the challenge and difficulties we can expect to face, they are doing everything they can to prepare us, but no amount of training will change our personal attitudes. I would, and do encourage every young person I know to volunteer either overseas or in their local areas. But I would strongly advise them to think about what they are volunteering for.

10570375_10152548590047482_6704873361837521905_nI’m by no means trying to disrespect the ICS or any other volunteering programme, but to encourage other volunteers to respect and appreciate the opportunity. Think hard if you can stick to rules, live with restrictions and be surrounded by people everyday for 12 weeks, on paper it sounds easy but in reality its hard work. Behave respectfully and you’ll be treated that way in return.

In answer to my original question, I know that if it wasn’t for my volunteering experience and the opportunities I have had since, I wouldn’t be writing a blog about Global Goals, but I do not feel that it is the one thing that defines me as a Active Citizen, there are many of us who reflected positively on our experience, accepted it for what it was a continued our journey as active citizens, likewise I am sure there are plenty of people who have written it off as one of the worst things they have ever done! We as returned volunteers have a responsibility to teach others, to start conversations and continually learn from our placements. Things may not have been perfect and may have been completely different to what we expected them to be, but it is the challenges, the arguments and all the things which go wrong which make the experience so worth while….

 

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Taking ownership

We have had a few weeks off from talking about Global Goals in the school, we returned to it again this week. The majority of the students who attended hadn’t been to any of the previous sessions, and when the goals were introduced to them, they all explained that it was something they had never seen or heard of before. I asked a few leading questions, but mainly left them in small groups to discuss it for themselves.

http://www.unitedworldschools.org/sustainable-development-goals-sdgs-and-uws/?gclid=CjwKEAiApYGyBRC-g_jIstuduV8SJABCEzhZzz7KRXZZlZRPG0RahDjVGSRAykwy1Tix4FkrrLdJnRoCzP3w_wcB

Of the few students who had been before I was impressed by the ownership they took over the goals, they spoke confidently about it and explained to others which Goals they felt were most important and if there were any that they hadn’t really thought too much about. They weren’t frustrated that some of the conversations were ones they had had before but excited to get new perspectives and opinions. My students seem to be gaining a much better grasp over the Goals than I am.

I asked the students if they felt there were any goals that were really difficult to relate to, or that weren’t something they felt their Countries needed to work towards. Number 6 Clean water and Sanitation seemed like an obvious choice for them. They have access to water and they don’t know what its like to not have that everyday luxury. This led me to ask them if they felt they would be able to relate more to the Goals if they had had an opportunity to visit a Developing Country. They all said yes. I find this a little frustrating. I often question whether the only reason I feel something towards the Global Goals is because I have volunteered.

I have learnt so much from my experiences in different African Countries and continue to learn from it, but I do not feel that it is the one thing that defines me as Global Citizen. Taking what I have learnt from the people I spoke to on placement, the staff at the agency I volunteered for and my students, who continue to teach me about Global Development, this is what is shaping me as an active global citizen. I feel so grateful that I was given that opportunity, but I don’t think that means everyone needs to volunteer to feel something, and to feel passion to make change. We live in one of the most multicultural Countries in the world, we each have stories to share and we can learn so much about the world just from the people around us. Alongside the challenge of making people start conversations, I have stumbled across an additional and somehow more important challenge, of making the Global Goals something that everyone I talk to feels they can relate too, that others can take ownership off in the same way as some of my students are beginning too.

Girls, Lena Dunham and Preparing for the negative

I ran a second session with some of my students last week and after the reasonably positive response the week before I expected similar feelings towards the Global Goals this week.

However, throughout the session I could see the thought bubbles forming above my students heads‘ I’m bored’ ‘why am I here.’ There was a tense atmosphere and clear cultural clashes around which goals students felt were most important. I was left with a room full of bored deflated young people who wanted nothing more than to go home… to say I felt frustrated is an understatement, all I wanted to do is to curl up under the table and cry.

I struggle to imagine how when you first hear about the goals you cannot be inspired and feel like it is related to you. I had expected that by the end of each session the students would feel some what motivated…even if it was just to share the goals on facebook. I suggested that they post a selfie with the goal they felt most strongly towards, I was stunned by a room of silence followed by a few whispers of ‘there is no way I am doing that.’ I showed videos from the Global Goals website and used largest lesson resources, but I got very little response.

https://www.tes.com/worldslargestlesson/

In the week since this session I have hidden away behind my ever growing obsession with the TV show ‘Girls’ a tried not to think too much about why people aren’t reacting in the positive way I had hoped. I have taken a slight step back and tried not to even think about the goals, and avoided talking about the session with students. But if my love for Lena Dunham has taught me anything its not to let a little negativity get the better of you.

Action 2015 Event to light the way to the Global Goals
Action 2015 Event to light the way to the Global Goals

This week I decided to approach things differently, I hadn’t even planned to talk about the Global Goals in the session but was secretly thrilled when the students themselves found a way to talk about it. Those who had been to previous session wanted to tell the new students what we had been talking about over the past few weeks….. those blank, bored looking faces told me how they had been home and read a bit more about the goals. The session reverted to a heated discussion about how religion effects gender equality. I am learning never to underestimate the young people I work with. That even though they may not engage in the way I might hope they are listening to me and they are gradually realising that despite the variety of backgrounds and culture, together they have the power to start making small steps to change. 20150924_184134

on Sept 25th myself and my friend Ingrid joined hundreds of others and waited in the cold to light the way to the Global Goals
on Sept 25th myself and my friend Ingrid joined hundreds of others and waited in the cold to light the way to the Global Goals

‘It’s interesting how we often can’t see the ways in which we are being strong’ Lena Dunham.