An article by Iris Skipworth (UWCAC 2015-17)
‘Next week there are no lessons’ we were told deadpan by our fellow students, our teachers and our houseparent. No lessons? What an amazing week that will be we thought, and we were right, though not for the reasons we initially hoped.
This week was our first Diploma Period as AC students – only a month into school life it seemed as though lessons had barely started – and the theme of the conference was Social Justice.
Quickly our hopes of a week lazing about were banished, but were replaced by many workshops, lectures, and discussions upon new topics.
The first day we were thrust into the experience by a great speaker, Uzo, who had personally faced many inequalities and eventually overcome them through hard perseverance. A room full of groggy teenagers yelling ‘I AM A LEADER’ before nine in the morning helped to show what these few days were going to be like!
It’s a hard fact of our world at the moment that there were many inequalities to highlight, and so next we split off into workshops led by second year students and professionals alike. For some these sessions seemed like common sense, yet for others they highlighted issues they had never considered before. In groups we then discussed how these situations had come about, and what people could do to change them.
In the afternoon we then had an ‘Open Market’ discussion, where students suggested topics they wished to discuss, and were allocated places in which to hold these talks. People would then go from discussion to discussion, and the easy environment of talks led by your co-years really helped to get ideas flowing. The talks could range from LGBTQ+ rights, and grey water recycling, to spirit animals and new ways of sharing information via the internet. To round off this session, the speaker gave a talk on the importance of the ‘first followers’, a concept few of us had truly realized the importance of, and reminded us taking initiative was vital – a lesson few of us will forget, since the £10 note he offered only went to the student who dared get up and take it from his hand!
The second day followed the same format as the first, but this time during our morning lecture we were split into groups, and had to come up with cheap, effective actions young people could do to combat a problem, or raise awareness of an issue we were told of. This session really helped to remind us we could implement change – as the ideas we brainstormed and presented to the hall, were then collected by our speaker to be taken to a motivated group of young people (RECLAIM) elsewhere in Britain, to be enacted.
After another set of informative workshops we had a lecture by an activist, who taught us many of the ways to create change in our communities.
On the third and final day, we had the only part of the conference we had any prior knowledge and expectations about – the house presentations! Each house had been organizing meetings over the past weeks, to research and decide upon an inequality to highlight, to create films and petitions, and best perform to the rest of the school about something we knew had to be changed. The presentations ranged from child labour, to albinism persecution in Tanzania, and it was well worth staying awake after these tiring few days, to see a personal video message from Malala about gender inequality in education, or watch students enact fights over the limited water supply between Kenya and Ethiopia. Even our break time music entertainment featured a video highlighting the refugee crisis, made by our resident student band, and if there is one thing everyone learnt from the conference, it is to spot how close at hand inequalities are in our everyday lives, but what a power for change we each, personally, hold. Let’s act!