Alastair Ramsay Award winners report back

Pupils undertake social responsibilty work in Uganda and India 

The Alastair Ramsay Award exists to offer pupils and recent alumni the chance to undertake social responsibility work overseas during their holidays. Funded by alumni philanthropy, it remembers the remarkable work of Alastair Ramsay (W85).

The 2018 Award was won by Alisha Iyer, a recent leaver, who spent the summer in Uganda. Alisha, who received a £2,000 grant, reports on her experiences:

My experience this summer has been absolutely incredible; exciting, fun and filled with challenges. Over July and August I helped develop a community based project with two other friends, travelling to Mbarara, Southwest Uganda. I was living and working with a refugee community in Alliance, whose members mostly come from the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda. Many of them are in the uncertain process of seeking asylum in another country or awaiting citizenship, which can take up to 10 years and is not guaranteed. Despite having freedom of movement in Uganda, these refugees face both financial and language barriers that prevent them from continuing education, securing employment or developing skills. This, along with a real sense of displacement and distress has led to idleness and a general lack of movement within the community. This project aimed at occupying some of these refugees, unlocking and exposing their potential as well as capacity building and training in the form of Entrepreneurship, Computer, English and Tailoring trainings.

I taught English every morning, and had almost 70 students of various levels. In the afternoons we worked with the team of youth from the local Church in order to set up a Congolese-style tailoring shop in the centre of Alliance. We formed strong bonds with the team and found that in spite of various hardships and obstacles, everyone was determined to make the project a success. This helped ensure its continuation after our departure, for example there are on-going English and tailoring trainings, and we will continue to support the team until we achieve our ultimate aim that the project becomes self-sustainable through the shop. Overall, this experience has taught me so much, not only in the form of skills such as team-building, management and communication, but also through adapting to and understanding different cultures, working in different environments, and embracing and learning from mistakes. Working at the grassroots level here also highlighted the importance of human connection as I was well-aware that my work was making a direct impact on the people I was surrounded by. At the same time, I was so warmly welcomed into the community, and found this an amazing opportunity to share food, music, dance, and lasting friendships with the people there. As for our mission, seeing even a small difference made in this community was rewarding: this project has managed to see a group of refugees occupied and empowered, and many more taking advantage of the opportunity to learn, develop their skills and grow in confidence, which will hopefully help them apply their knowledge in the future. As a result, a huge thank you goes to the Alastair Ramsay Award for believing in the project and making this happen. 

The Award Panel was also very impressed by the joint application of current pupils Christina Elling and Hetta Loughlin. They each received a £500 grant towards a teaching project in India. Christina (now Deputy Head Girl at Charterhouse) and Hetta report back on their remarkable trip:

On 11 August we embarked on the most-eye opening and rewarding volunteering trip to Udaipur in India. We lived in a volunteer house run by Gaurav and Ravi, who were brothers, and Neha who was married to Ravi. They run the charity STEP which works with rural schools in the surrounding areas of Udaipur. Through their work they have built classrooms and provided volunteers to teach the children as well as working with the poorest communities to provide them with necessities that improve their sanitation, as well as food and infrastructure. Their strong belief that every human has a right to get good education whether they are man or woman, old or young, and their aim to contribute to creating a society where all people are treated equally and have access to good education and health, was what drove all their work. Without the volunteers the school, consisting of seventy pupils, has two teachers: one who is an administrator and the other who accounts for teaching all six classes. In the mornings we shared a class and taught English and Maths. Our pupils were aged 7-8 and the improvements in the intellectual capability of the class was the most rewarding for us; they accelerated from struggling in single digit addition to completing worksheets of three-digit subtraction with ease. The smiles on the children’s faces made us proud to be their ‘Didis’ (meaning big sisters). In the afternoons we worked at a community outreach project with the ‘rag-picking’ children. These children were not allowed to attend school as their parents required them to work going through rubbish piles and finding items to sell so that they could earn enough for a living. The rag-picking community housing predominantly consisted of tarpaulin held up by string as houses and was surrounded by open sewers and farm animals. The children didn’t have much time to be children with the ideology that ‘when they can walk they can work’; therefore it was an excellent opportunity for them to explore the creativity of arts & crafts and music.

Speaking to some of the girls our age, mainly through mime and the small amount of Hindi we had learned was really eye opening as all of them were married and most had babies. One girl, who was roughly thirteen but unsure of her age, was married to a significantly older man and had just had a baby this really stuck with us both especially with returning to England as it put deeply into perspective how different the expectations of women in particular are, and makes us really appreciate the opportunities we have. These girls particularly enjoyed the activities that allowed them to be a child again using the activities as a form of escapism. We also had the chance to volunteer at a school for disabled children who had been ostracised from their families. The highlight of this was being taught Bollywood dance by a group of deaf girls who used the vibrations of music to learn the sequence of moves.

In our spare time we also took part in Hindi classes, Bollywood Dance lessons, cooking classes, trips to the city of Udaipur (a 15 minute rickshaw from the accommodation); we also went on an overnight train to Agra one weekend to visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort which was an incredible experience. 

Hetta: Coming home really put my volunteering into perspective. Thinking of the children both in the school and the rag-pickers shows how much we take the smallest things for granted and has made me really appreciate the opportunities I have. It’s hard to express the extent to which this trip has affected me: it truly was the most rewarding, amazing and eye-opening experience of my life. I have learned more than what I could have ever expected and feel so lucky to have been overwhelmed by these children and their fantastic culture. I will definitely be volunteering again soon and I really encourage my peers at Charterhouse to engage in a similar volunteer trip.

Christina: Having never ventured out in the world, India was an experience unlike any other. The vibrant culture makes India such a distinctive place to visit. The politeness of the community and the open-mindedness of the children made me feel comfortable, particularly in a new environment. I could recognize the immense potential in the kids and I hope that Hetta and my short but impactful stay will encourage them to maximize it.

Applications for the 2019 Alastair Ramsay Award will be invited soon. Applications must meet certain core criteria, not least ensuring that the work they undertake is sustainable and systemic, and of real value to the communities visited as well as to the individual.

For more information about Charterhouse’s Community & Partnerships programme, please e-mail Ben Cahill-Nicholls: [email protected].

Prospectus

Video Collection