The creation of a charity, from the very beginning.
These are the only three words I’ve heard over the last two weeks.
I have volunteered to be a Residential Mentor at my University, which means living in and amongst the students I have to care for. (Not quite an African Safari but still pretty wild.) It is my job to look out for their welfare, which, during Freshers week, I have frankly given up on doing. If an 18 year old man wants to drink five litres of vodka in the space of three minutes and then proceed to run around stark naked on a September night, then the most I can do is watch in amazement and call the ambulance at the necessary moment.
I may sound slightly bitter. It’s not that I disapprove of their behaviour. No, not all. In fact, I once was that brave, naked 18 year old. Of course, there are serious issues with young British people’s attitude towards alcohol. A point that was beautifully highlighted by a recent encounter with a Fresher. I explained that his flat mate cannot drink as he is Muslim and it is against their religion. He looked at me as if I had told him the sky was orange. Or that some girls don’t like having ‘FIT’ shouted at them just because they’re wearing a skirt. All three concepts equally confusing to him. After serious consideration, he replied, ‘But… how do they have fun?’ I responded with, ‘You know you don’t need alcohol to have fun!’ and as soon as I’d left, quickly prayed to the god of alcohol to forgive me for my blasphemy.
My issue with Freshers, is not really an issue. It’s more a reflection. I work as a Support and Development Worker with homeless 16 to 21 year olds in a particularly deprived area of Sheffield. It is one of the best jobs, nay, things, I have ever done. I have a case load of seven young people who have been moved in to accommodation with us. I see these seven young people every day, and talking to them about their dreams, after the obstacles they’ve had to face, is nothing less than inspiring. Not one of them made it through secondary education and yet every one of them appreciates the value of it. They all work so hard to find a college course, training opportunity or apprenticeship that they can be part of; that can take them somewhere other than the deprived and often ruthless area they come from. But it doesn’t always matter how hard they work. It often seems that if you hadn’t had the good manners and patience to do education properly the first time, then you shouldn’t expect the same support and guidance as those who have. Never mind the fact that your Mother used to routinely beat you, or you watched your Father drown your little sister in the bath. (As two of the homeless young people I work with have experienced.) I dread to think what will happen once the Government have finished with the Connexions Service.
My (non-) issue with students is that they are the ones that made it. I am the one who made it. I, and others, may have had difficulties when we were younger, but we also had enough support and time invested in us to make it all the way to University. Many don’t realize just how amazing this achievement is. University is a opinion-altering, mind-expanding, life-changing experience and it is only those at the bottom who truly see what a great gift it is.
I am not saying that University is the only mark of success. Some people don’t want to go to University. My point is, that for those seven young people I work with, University is not even an option. Nor am I saying that every student should spend one minute a day reflecting on just how lucky they are. (We can barely concentrate for that long in lectures). It’s fantastic that so many young people make it to University. But knowing how life-changing it has been for me, I think it needs to be a viable option for everyone.
‘But how can we do this?!’ I hear the critics cry. ‘Stop being so naive!’
The answer is to start from the day someone enters education. I watched two lovely documentaries on Channel 4 about life inside a primary school. One was called ‘The School Years’ and the other, ‘The Nurture Room’ and I would definitely recommend watching both of them. The children who had difficulty fitting in at school; who were struggling to learn or focus, were given special attention and education by calm, caring and consistent teachers. By the time they turned six, many of them could return back to the mainstream classroom and were a lot happier. Idealistic? Naive? No. Hopeful. Possible.
Promoting opportunities in education for young people, therefore, will be central to the work of my charity. Education is perhaps the best long-term solution to poverty, another issue which will be integral to my work.
Now, it is time for me to get back to reminding Freshers that they have to study as well as drink. Repeat after me, ‘drink AND study’.