Arden Academy & The Zuri Project

I’m frustrated with myself that it’s taken me so long to write a post about this. Mainly because this partnership and the resulting opportunities it has created thus far have been life changing, quite literally.

I first rocked up to Arden Academy, or Arden School as it was known then, as a skinny, anxious 11 year old in Autumn 2002. The five years that followed were full of the usual ups and downs of senior school and I have too many stories and memories to go into any great detail in this post. However, there is one memory in particular that I would like to share, as it’s particularly relevant to the development of my relationship with Arden as an adult.

In Year 11 I was (rightly) told that I was crap at Maths. I didn’t need to be told as I was already dreading the Maths GCSE more than any other. However, I was offered the opportunity to take up additional one hour Maths lessons after school on Friday evenings. Unable to remember my motivation for doing so, I agreed. With initially little to no enthusiasm, I started to attend these after school sessions, led by a new teacher, Mr Pete Simpson.

After a couple of weeks, for the first time in my school career Mr Simpson had managed to do something no other teacher, in my humble opinion, had; he was actually talking sense in a Maths lesson. I can’t remember exactly what it was about the lessons, but I suddenly developed a basic understanding of some of the concepts that had been keeping me awake for years and I dared to dream that I might actually pass my Maths GCSE. It turned out that Mr Simpson was tutoring intermediate Maths very patiently, whereas previously, for some unknown reason, I had been in a class where higher Maths was on the agenda. With Mr Simpson’s advice, I ditched higher Maths and chose to take the intermediate paper at GCSE level.

When I got a B I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately Mr Simpson, or Pete as I now know him, has no recollection of this, which is great for me of course as I wouldn’t want him taking too much credit for my incredible turnaround and newfound outstanding mathematical genius (wink wink).

When I met Pete in his office 10 years later, we weren’t together to discuss GCSE Maths. Fortunately. We were meeting to discuss how The Zuri Project could form a mutually beneficial partnership with Arden Academy, particularly the Sixth Form, of which Pete was (and still is) the head. With nothing grandiose in mind, I was just enthusiastic about the idea of going back to my old school and having a chat about Uganda and what i’d been up to. Over the course of a number of meetings, Pete and I had many rich, engaging conversations about international development, Arden’s interest in engaging students in rewarding extra-curricular activities, as well as a whole host of other interesting topics.

Somehow, we agreed that it would be a good idea to plan a school trip to Uganda for four Arden Academy students. I shared my research into Voluntourism with Pete and told him about our charity’s stance on engaging with volunteers in Uganda. (You can read about this in my post from last year). If I was to be involved in supporting young adults to visit Uganda, it was going to be in a totally different way to anything I had previously encountered. And this was the beauty of our partnership, we had a blank canvas to work from.

What we came up with, essentially, and with the help of our Ugandan partners Opportunity Africa, was the opposite to what I would regard as conventional Voluntourism. This trip was to be forged by the people of Kihembe, through the leaders of the community. It was an opportunity for Opportunity Africa to show ‘the Uganda that Ugandans want you to see’ and the focus of the trip was to develop cross cultural relationships and develop compassionate understanding. We decided that the students would not actually do anything – they wouldn’t teach classes, they wouldn’t dig a well, they wouldn’t help build a school. They would simply visit, learn and enjoy the company of their Ugandan hosts and the natural beauty of ‘The Pearl of Africa’.

Walking in Bwindi.JPG

(Arden Academy students with some of the OA team’s family members, taking a leisurely walk just outside the Bwindi National Park)

The only thing that we actually built into the trip, was the opportunity for the students to sit down with the Opportunity Africa team at the end of their time in Kihembe and help plan a legacy project that would be designed and delivered by OA and the local populace when the students returned home. The students, through a non-uniform day at school and some of their own creative fundraising initiatives, managed to raise £3,000 to contribute to the legacy project, and it was decided that the money would be spent at Kishunju Primary School (more on this in future posts).

I was taken aback by the trip in many ways. I was delighted to witness young people from Knowle interact with people from Kihembe. The contrast in their upbringings, their culture, their beliefs, traditions and interests made for some remarkable conversations and interactions and the building of some lasting friendships. Personally, I achieved something that I so desperately desired; to show people that there is an achievable, impactful alternative to Voluntourism. One that does not place the foreign visitor on a pedestal above their native counterparts, nor one that relies on outdated stereotypical assumptions that wealth and privilege is a pretext for alleviating ‘poverty’.

Bright 1.JPG

(Project Manager Bright proving to us that he does in fact love millet)

The trip was remarkable. It was inspiring and it was life changing for many of us involved. But i’m not going to tell you why and/or how. I’m going to let the four students who participated tell you that.

All will be revealed in next week’s post.

Ross x

@ZuriProject

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