The journey to a home

People sometimes wonder why schools have strategic plans. Surely, they say, it’s pretty clear what running a school is about – fostering outstanding teaching, offering a breadth of opportunities and of course ensuring the wellbeing of each child in the school. Well, we of course do all of this but great schools should be underpinned by great values, and two of the major areas of emphasis in our own strategic plan came together brilliantly in the event we hosted at the school last Saturday evening: ‘The Journey to a Home’ with Help4Refugees founder Jordan Hattar. If you haven’t come across Jordan’s work, he is a 25-year-old American from California who was inspired to action after seeing the inaction and apathy of the American government during Hurricane Katrina. After a spell in Dafur at the age of 20 building a medical centre, he then was moved by the plight of Syrian refugees and has been working to help provide support and shelter in their camps.

First, we want all our girls to develop a real understanding of the wider world during their time with us. The phrase ‘global citizen’ is much maligned but it’s never been more important with the rise of isolationism that characterises so much of the political rhetoric at the moment. What the girls so admired in Jordan was his activism, his belief that no matter how small our actions in aid of others, we can all make a difference. In short it was his humanitarian values which so inspired our students.

Second, we provide our girls with a huge range of opportunities but we also want them to be fully aware of how privileged they are to have these opportunities, and to use them to help others. We have a very successful programme of engaging with the local community and a number of ongoing initiatives through which the girls get direct experience of working with those less fortunate than themselves overseas. Our link with The Springfields Academy and helping schools through The Charitable Foundation for the Education of Nepalese Children (CFENC) are just two examples of this.

But there could hardly be a better illustration of what we are trying to achieve than Saturday night’s event. What was particularly impressive was that it was inspired and led by the girls themselves: Jordan Hattar had so impressed our senior girls when he spoke at school in May that they invited him back and the Head Girl, Farida, along with Alice, Sophie, Olivia and Amber, built the event around his work, featuring his moving testimony about the lives of the Syrian refugees he has met. The Junior Choir sang and girls in the UV gave readings of poems, and we also Skyped a Syrian doctor, Omar, who himself is currently working in Syria and spoke about the need to train more midwives and nurses there.

It was a moving evening in many ways and I felt really proud of what the girls achieved – as well as a little in awe of the achievements of Jordan Hattar himself, of course. I know the girls benefit hugely from getting involved in the whole range of our charitable and community activities but it was clear that what they heard about Syria really resonated with them and made them reflect again on the self-absorption, materialism and excess that can easily creep into our culture. We have so much; they have so little but we are all connected by our common humanity. I am sure that the experience of this very special event will stay with many of them for the rest of their lives and in turn move them to become agents for positive change in the world.

 

Dr Felicia Kirk, Headmistress, St Mary’s Calne

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