The best of both worlds…..

I have just come back from the first round of the conference and my head is already buzzing with ideas. Joining me at the conference are around 40 professionals from a range of backgrounds from teachers to criminologists, journalists to social workers and the setting is a far cry from the standard business-style conference centre. FUNDESO have decided to do things differently this time and it is a very welcome change.

The conference will take place at their newly established Hispano- African centre, a five-storey cultural centre dedicated to providing meeting spaces, job and training centres, a crèche, cultural and exhibition spaces, amongst others, to the African communities of Madrid. Over the next few days the space will be home to a number of discussions around citizenship education with experiences from the Basque country, Latin America, the U.K and Spain, anthropological and other academic approaches to citizenship and immigration and a range of workshops around the themes of migration, citizenship and new media.

The first evening begins with a short UNICEF film written and produced by a Spanish director and children in Senegal. It follows the story of Binti, her father and a young girl in her village who’s family refuse to send her to school. Using the metaphor of storks and other birds that migrate from North to South throughout the year, the film presents Binti and her father’s perspectives on the value of education and the education of values in the South and the North. Concluding that the birds “have the best of both worlds”, in other words, the best of “the North” including the right to education, resources and material support and “the best of the South” the strong sense of community, shared values, care, tolerance and support for one another that he believes just does not exist as strongly in the North. Ultimately, Binti’s father concludes, that the answer is for his village to adopt a “toubab” (a white child) to learn from the South and, like the birds, take back his/her knowledge to the North.

The film provokes a lot of debate about education and values, whose role it is to promote values of tolerance, co-operation, learning about basic rights, the idealisation perhaps about a time in the past or a community where such values just happened and were respected without the institutional form of learning.

From discussion we move on to a presentation by a teacher involved in one of FUNDESO’s projects in Madrid. The online active citizenship project www.ciudadanet.net offers young people an online blogosphere where they can discuss issues which they feel are of concern to their school, communities, neighbourhoods. Most of the entries are very honest and often speak of the lack of community cohesion in Vallecos, the area of the city they live in.50% of students at the school do not speak Spanish as their first language. The largest population of students whose parents are not Spanish are Bolivian, closely followed by Colombian, Chinese, Romanian and Hungarian. In allowing open discussion about what they as young people felt were issues in their community, the teacher spoke of how it transpired that many of the students had built incorrect stereotypes around the different nationalities at the school. For instance, it was generally the feeling that most students thought that anyone who is Chinese “works in a restaurant or sells souvenirs in the street”. The students responded to this by getting the school’s help to organise a careers day inviting parents to speak to students about the different jobs that they do.

Some of the posts on the site are very frank. It is great to see a school allowing the space for the discussion of difficult issues to take place and maybe this kind of honest dialogue with young people is key to ensuring Spain can face the changes that immigration is and will continue to bring?

Here are some photos of my time in Madrid

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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