Remembering Srebrenica

Edmund Burke once said that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. With this powerful quote in my mind, I didn’t know what to expect from the journey that I was about to make to Bosnia, for an educational trip in December 2014, through the Remembering Srebrenica charity initiative, but I did know it will be one that will teach me the importance of fighting for social justice throughout my life and to continue to do so even when the smoke has cleared.


Although, the Genocide in Srebrenica happened in 1995, it is a genocide that we should never forget because of the tremendous pain it caused and the damage it did to the people of Bosnia. The educational trip taught us how the passive behaviour of the United Nations led thousands of unarmed civilians to their deaths only because they followed a different religion and because, as it seemed, more importance was placed on securing land for Greater Serbia over humanity.

The survivors of Srebrenica till this day are hurting and trying to come to terms with what happened to them and their loved ones in 1995. What keeps the survivors going is the hope of prevalence of justice through the courts. Hope because what else do you have when everything else is taken away from you? Many survivors hope till this day that their loved ones are still alive because their bodies were never found. Hope is one of the greatest weapons for survival. It empowers people to raise their voices against injustice.

As a matter of fact, Bosnia is still trying to build itself back up again from the ashes it was reduced to. Distrust, pain, broken lives and a broken community from once what it was. This is visible in the landscape in Bosnia. You can see the scars and you can certainly feel that there is still a lot of work to be done.


How could this have happened in Europe again when the world had pledged never again after World War Two, and on a continent which leads the way in regards to justice and human rights. Why was the International community unresponsive to the provision of help needed?

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From 11th  to 16th  July 1995 the Bosnian Serb forces of Karadzic and Mladic massacred more than 8,372 Bosniaks only because they were Muslims. Many of them were hunted down in the woods and forests near Srebrenica and many of their bodies are yet to be found. These were men who knew the international community was not going to help them in their hour of need and so fifteen thousand Bosniak men begun on a horrific 63 mile journey through mountains and minefields to Tuzla for safety. Many died along the way in the most inhumane way possible. These were unarmed civilians. Some of the victims were as young as 5 years old and some as old as 94 years old. All of them were someone’s brother, husband, son, father, grandfather. Hasan Hasanovic, one of the few survivors said;

The instinct to survive is a powerful one, but nothing spells death like the face of a helpless man, so, we just looked away from each other.

At the same time, 23,000 women and children were forcibly deported. Prior to this they burned down 269 villages in the region. There was a systematic plan in place to drive and kill all those that stood in the way of creating Greater Serbia. Margaret Thatcher described Serbian ethnic cleansing as combining;

The barbarities of Hitler’s and Stalin’s policies toward other nations.

Thatcher also described what was happening in Bosnia as a second Holocaust.

Background to the conflict

In 1991 Yugoslavia disintegrated into civil war. Serb Nationalism was rampant in the early 90s. Serb Ultra nationalist led by Slobodan Milosevic had launched a campaign to create greater Serbia. Through an unequal fighting, they drove Croats and Muslims out of parts of Bosnia and Croatia, which they hoped to incorporate into Greater Serbia.

In 1993, the United Nations Security Council declared Srebrenica the worlds first internationally protected safe area. With Bosnian Serb forces positioned to overrun the territory of 60,000 Bosnian Muslims, the UN astonishingly demilitarised the town. Bosniak soldiers were forced to hand over their weapons. UN arranged for peacekeepers to protect the city’s inhabitants. UN secretary general at that time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, asked UN member states to contribute 37,000 peacekeepers to defend Srebrenica. However this request was criticised and was scaled back to 7,600 peacekeepers. More than any other act this decision was the beginning of the end for the civilians of Srebrenica. By July 1995, only 400, not very well armed Dutch peacekeepers remained in the town. When Serb forces launched a major offensive on 6th July 1995, Dutch forces requested NATO air strikes twice to stop the Serb forces advancing. UN commanders repeatedly rejected requests. On July 11th 1995 the request for bombing was finally approved but it was too late. The enclave fell to Serb forces on the 11th of July in 1995.


The Aftermath

In December 1995 American and NATO soldiers arrived in Bosnia to implement the Dayton peace accords. The Dayton Accords has played a big part in allowing Bosnia Serb nationalists to veto any efforts by Bosnian Muslims and Bosnia Croats to create a strong central government.

Ethnic tensions are still present in Bosnia. It is unfortunate to discover that the population of Srebrenica was majority Muslim before the war and now they are in the minority, so far only 2000 people have returned to the region.

It is estimated that 20,000 Bosnian soldiers committed war crimes and only 500 have been convicted. In addition, 20,000 rapes have been reported, when it is estimated that 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia; shockingly only 7 soldiers have faced trial over rape charges.

Hope for justice through the courts is proving slow and painful for many survivors, who have to live with the ordeal again and with the fear that those who are guilty walk away free.

Sarajevo 2 303The International Commission of missing Persons is responsible for the heavy task said that they uncovered the remains of one man in four different gravesites, 50 kilometres apart. We had to carry out 13 separate DNA tests to identify him. To help many survivors get closure over what happened to their loved ones, on 11th  July every year, the victims and survivors of the genocide are honoured, on Srebrenica Memorial day. Nigel Casey, British Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina explains that;

It is a moving and emotional occasion for all those present. For the families of those being buried, it is the first chance to say goodbye properly to their loved ones.

There are on-going discussions about reconciliation between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs; however this is not going to be an easy task without justice being served first. The international community can also help play a part in healing pain of the survivors by simply acknowledging that Genocide did happen, by showing solidarity with the survivors, and by pushing for justice to be given domestically. An EU resolution was introduced on 15th January 2009 by The European Parliament to call on the council and the commission to commemorate appropriately the anniversary of the Srebrenica Potocari act of genocide by supporting Parliaments recognition of 11 July as the day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide all over the EU, and to call on all the countries of the western Balkans to do the same.

The importance of Activism

Reading about what happened in Bosnia in 1995 cannot be compared to actually meeting the survivors, hearing first-hand accounts of what happened, and being at the centre of where those horrific acts happened. It is a profound experience, one that stays with you. The visit also helps to put things in perspective, especially how any effort to challenge injustice and discrimination is better than no effort. It is important for all to take steps in creating a safer society, one that respects differences and celebrates diversity.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reminds us that:

Genocide does not just take place on its own, its a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented.

Waqar Azmi, the chairman of Remembering Srebrenica said:

There is no doubt in Britain we have come a long way on race relations and achieved a lot. However, we must also recognise that there is still a lot to do. Racism, discrimination and the promotion of hatred, continues to persist. We must recognise the dangers of these and understand the failure to play our part can result in something gruesome.

In addition, Professor Timothy Winters of the University of Cambridge highlights that:

As xenophobic and anti-muslim parties gain in popularity in our troubled Europe, the memory of Srebrenica reminds us of the fearful end point of ethnic hatred. The victims of July 11th live in our memories, urging us never to forget the duty to respect and protect those whose religion and culture is different from our own.


The importance of promoting peace, respect and co-operation within our communities is vital.

Unfortunately, in recent times we have witnessed history repeating itself on different continents of the world. Injustice is still taking place, to name a few  in Burma, Palestine and Central African Republic.

Genocide is crime that needs to be prevented at early stages. History does not need to repeat itself. Chief Rabbi The right Hon Lord Sacks said History is not a film endlessly repeating itself. The ending has not been written History is made by our choices. And nothing that has happened in the past forces us to let it happen again.

Written by Sophia Begum




The Ugly Side of War & The Beauty of Survival: Lessons Learned from Srebrenica

It’s been a while since I have written an article. My thoughts and experiences are sometimes difficult to express and capture into words. In fact, this is the first time that I feel compelled to write an article to share my personal thoughts and experiences. Therefore, I hope what I am about to share with you, will help you to have an understanding of the physical and mental journey that I have taken to understand what it really means to hate, forgive and survive.

I have recently returned from Bosnia and Herzegovina; where I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in a learning trip with 20 young leaders from all parts of the United Kingdom that included; London, Birmingham and Manchester. The trip was organised by UpRising and Remembering Srebrenica. The purpose of the trip was to honour the memories and the courage of all the victims of the Bosnian war and genocide. With the aim that we would all use the lessons from the dreadful events in Srebrenica to create a better world, one in which our differences become our strengths, and the only thing left intolerable is injustice.

Prior to attending this learning trip, I had some knowledge of the Bosnian war and the genocide which happened there. But to be honest, I did not have a comprehension of what exactly took place and how many victims there were.

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On our first night in Sarajavo, we were taken to meet Tariq Samarah at his Gallery 110795. At the gallery we watched a documentary about the war and the genocide. During that evening, I was shocked to see and find out that on 11 July, in 1995, 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically massacred in Srebrenica. The gallery had a collection of unforgettable and distressing photographs taken by Tariq Samarah that captured the severity of what happened in Srebrenica during the war. When we asked Tariq, if he hated the oppressors and what was happening to his people, he said œwhen you hate someone for any reason, you let in weakness. He then explained that he took those photographs out of love for the people of Bosnia.

After visiting the gallery, I wanted to know more about the war and genocide. I wanted to understand why there was no intervention by the United Nations and the international community. I had many questions about the war and some of these questions were answered by the informative booklet that we were all given.

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Throughout the whole trip, I could not stop reading the booklet and thinking back now, I believe this booklet helped me to cope with some of the shocking facts and stories that we saw and heard during the trip. There was a quote in the booklet that has stayed in my mind. The quote said; Ethnic cleansing was at the heart of the Bosnian war right from the earliest days. When I saw this quote, I speculated how ethnic cleansing can be part of a war which took place only 20 years ago; this seemed barbaric, inhumane and unbelievable. The more I read about the Serbian policy on ethnic cleansing, I was shocked to learn that this involved mass rapes and death camps. I found out that there were 20,000 rapes that had been reported, with 50,000 women estimated to have suffered sexual violence. The youngest age recorded of a rape victim was 12 years and during the war there were 10,368 women killed. The shocking fact about this is that only 7 soldiers had faced trial over rape charges and only 1 soldier pleaded guilty.

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In the following days, we had a very busy schedule that involved visiting historical locations and meeting historians, academics, specialists and survivors.

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On our third day, we met three mothers who had survived the systematic massacre in Srebrenica. These incredible women had lost their husbands, sons, brothers and nephews. I was astonished at the bravery of these incredible women, who sat with us as we watched a documentary detailing the death march and executions. I struggled to watch the documentary and I could not grasp the struggle and pain that these women had gone through.

After the documentary, we heard the individual stories of the women, which was overwhelming to hear. One of the women said to us that she sees us as her children and she does not see our religion or ethnicity. When she said this, I was moved because I could see in her eyes a mother who had lost her entire family. When we asked the women if they can forgive the Serbian soldiers and if they hated them; they said to us that they don’t know how to hate but they cannot forgive. They also said forgiveness is an act of an individual and if they were given the chance to kill the Serbian soldiers responsible, they would not. I understood what they meant by forgiveness, but I was marvelled by the courage they displayed in not returning an obviously hateful act with a hateful response, even after all the loss and pain that they had gone through. It was remarkable to hear their stories and what they had endured.


Later that day when we visited The International Commission of Missing Persons (ICMP), I realised that these three women along with the other mothers who had survived, had to re-live the pain of losing their families over and over again. You see during the war, the Bosnian Serb military did not only massacre and bury the bodies of the Bosnian Muslims, but they would also dig up their bodies and re-bury the remains at various locations. This was done to conceal the mass killings and make it seem like the buried bodies were casualties of war as opposed to innocent civilian victims. This means that at the end of the Balkan war 40,000 people had been reported missing and in 1996 the ICMP was established to find the missing people. To identify the thousands of bodies recovered from mass gravesites, ICMP uses DNA from blood and bone samples. Since 1996 ICMP has taken 71,195 blood samples. What this means for the mothers is that they would have re-live the pain of their loss, every time remains of a body is found. I found this very difficult to cope with, because if I had to go through that kind of pain over and over again, I don’t know if I would be able to depict the same patience and grace that I have witnessed with these mothers.

When I asked the surviving mothers, what I can do to help, they said to me three things, one; spread love and not hate. Share what you have learned here with others, two; we want to be recognised by United Nations and three we want our economy to improve so we can provide jobs for our young people.

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I believe in the power of words and stories to change lives for the better and by attending this trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina I have taken a physical and a mental journey to understand what it really means to hate, forgive and survive. By writing this reflective article, I hope I am able to shed light to the consequences of hatred and misunderstandings between people. Therefore, I have learned that hate is a very powerful human emotion that can lead people to do very evil and unimaginable inhumane acts. But love can lift the human spirit to endure pain, loss and struggle to become a survivor and a positive energy that can in turn heal the hearts of many. Love can help people to see the good in our differences, regardless of religion, gender or nationality, just like the mother who said to us that she sees us as her children.

The incredible bravery and strength of the mothers that I had the honour of meeting has had a profound impact on me and how I see the world.

Please help me to honour the memories of all the innocent victims that have lost their lives to hatred by sharing this article and as a result ensuring that such horrific things do not go unnoticed or overlooked. All the innocent victims were more than just a statistic; they were fathers, husbands, sons but most of all they were loved ones.

Written by Farah Mohammoud

Hope for the Unemployed Voices

I slowly rolled out of my bed this morning and stood up to stretch out my arms. As the sun was shining its warm golden light over my bedroom, one thought came to my mind; in fact this thought has been on my mind for the past 6 months like a broken harp playing a broken record. The thought that I am referring to is that I need to find a job soon or I will certainly go bonkers.

Sadly after I had freshened up, I found out that in the period; March-May 2012, 1.02 million young people aged 16-24 were unemployed and the number of young people aged 18-24 claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) was 463,200 in June 2012. As an ethnic minority living in one of the poorest boroughs in East London, this was shocking news for me. Especially since I come from a culture where if a man is not working, he automatically losses his status and role in the family. As the eldest brother in my family, I have always worked since the age of 15 and I have always tried to be a positive role model for my younger siblings. In my family I had always played a leading role in being a good son that looked after his mother and younger siblings. However since my contract ended from my job over 6 months ago and after many unsuccessful job applications, I have often wondered, how can I support my parents and younger siblings, if I can’t find a job?

This may come as a shock, but despite these depressing statistics the truth is there is hope for us, the unemployed voices, even if at times it may not seem so. The past 6 months I have learned that in order to not lose focus in finding a job, one must;

  • Face it that there are days when you want to give up and never wake up from your bed. But if you can pull yourself out of your bed and go for a brief walk, you will feel better. The brief walk and fresh air will give you a chance to reflect on why it’s important for you to not give up. By doing this I was able to make optimism, expectancy, and enthusiasm a part of my daily experience.
  • Tap into your support unit, whether it’s your family or close friends. Believe me when I say to you that there is nothing more powerful or therapeutic than talking to your support unit, especially on the gloomy days when you might feel like giving up.
  • Take control and realise that it’s a numbers game. The more job applications you make, the higher probability there is that you will find a job. Keep applying!
  • Plan and strategise your daily job applications and activities. This way you’ll never lose focus of your end goal. There’s a famous quote that states that, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. By doing this I was able to sign up to many recruitment agencies and build a strong network base to inform me of job opportunities.

It’s only a matter of time until I find a job that I am looking for and I know that I may not be able to control external factors. But I can certainly control my attitude and have hope.

A Balanced Lifestyle

How many of us can say that we have a balanced lifestyle? Well for me, I thought I did.

This time last time last year I was working 35 hours a week in a job that I thought I had enjoyed. But subconsciously I hated it and sure I led myself to believe that I enjoyed it. But in reality I was only fooling myself, especially since I had become over occupied with other commitments of my professional and personal life. It wasn’t until I found myself admitted into hospital for three weeks that I had the chance to reflect and realise that I did indeed have a very unhealthy lifestyle. This consisted of less than 5 hours of sleep a night, an unhealthy diet and unhealthy habit of smoking shisha on a regular basis. As a result my body couldn’t take this battering anymore and I became so ill that the type of pain that I experienced I couldn’t comprehend with words, even if I tried.

While I was in hospital I was fortunate to meet a wise patient, who shared the same ward. After short introductions we become very close friends, as if we had known each other since childhood. We would spend hours on hours talking about life, family, religion and our hopes for the future. During our many conversations, I remember he would always remind me how precious our health was and how easily we neglected to look after ourselves because we become preoccupied with work and other commitments that seemed more important at the time.

As the weeks passed my health started to improve and I was eventually discharged from the hospital. But unfortunately for my friend, his health deteriorated and took a turn for the worse as the weeks went on. Once I was discharged from hospital I would visit him on a regular basis. On my last visit to see him at the ward, I found out that he was in the intensive care unit and couple of days later he passed away. It was a complete shock for me to have gained and lost a friend in such a short period of time.

I wanted to share this personal story, as a reminder of how short life is and how sometimes we forget to see how precious our health is until it’s too late. To honour my friend’s memory I try everyday to have a balanced lifestyle in order for my life to be fulfilling, whether it is within my personal or professional aspirations.

As you read this article, ask yourself do you have a balanced lifestyle?

Life is a School

As far as I remember I have always struggled with education, but that’s not to say that I was a dumb or a lazy student. It just that my earliest memories of education consisted of corporal punishments and competitions to be at the top of the class with the best grades, which never really motivated me to do well in school. I went to school in East Africa, where corporal punishment was the norm. I was led to believe that if I didn’t get the right answers to a question, my back side would be whooped by my teachers and trust me the type of whooping I got in my class, you wouldn’t dream of getting a question wrong!

When I moved to London, this perception of education was replaced by the thought that if I didn’t get into the best secondary school, college or University, I would ultimately fail in securing a successful career.

Luckily, I was fortunate enough to learn at that stage that education is not actually determined by how hard you were punished by your teachers or by which school you went to. It is determined by what you do with your education to shape your future and the life’s of your loved ones. This became most evident to me on my trip to my home town in East Africa. While I was there I completely absorbed my culture and got in touch with my roots. The experience was overwhelming; it made me very appreciative of the benefits that we take for granted here in the UK, such as free education and free health care. I saw poverty that I could never have imagined and this experience made me sensitive to the human condition and more compassionate to give back to those with fewer opportunities. From that point, I knew then that succeeding in life was mandatory, if I wanted to make a positive difference and live a fulfilling life. While I was there I remember seeing a quote on a bus that still resonates with me today. The quote said “Life is a School”, which made me realise that education is a life long journey that never ends when your formal education comes to an end.

The Power of Words in Nasutow

Break The Generation Gap

I am not surprised to find out that words could be considered to be like living organisms, capable of growing, changing, spreading, and influencing the world around us in many ways, directly and indirectly through others. Words have incredible power to continuously propel us through life. It can either motivate us to achieve great things or break us, as individuals or as a society.

As Maya Angelou once said “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning”.

This morning an idea came to mind while I was speaking to a Polish lady called Dana, in my workshop. Although our conversation was not a traditional two way conversation, I was lucky enough to have a Polish friend translate for me. In the mist of our conversation, I was inspired by Dana’s incredible experience and passion for life and at that moment I thought how interesting it would be to capture a single word from all the seniors and all the participants. Who represented 5 different countries which included United Kingdom, Finland, Poland, Spain, and Czech of Republic.

With enthusiasm and excitement I started my quest to collect words from everyone! I successfully managed to ask the majority of the participants to give me a word that they thought truly captured their experience so far. To my astonishment, I was surprised to notice an occurring similarity between the young participants and the seniors (which could be referred to as breaking the generation gap). The similarity that I am referring to is the amount of time each person paused to think about their chosen word. Majority of the people that I spoke to literally paused for about 10-20 seconds and in some cases the conversations led to humorous misunderstandings with the help of Google translator. Watching and listening to how everyone responded to my questions, I became even more intrigued to observe and find out the words that each person selected to represent and capture their experience thus far. This was particularly interesting because majority of the people that I spoke to did not speak English as a first language, which meant some of the conversations I had were translated through body language.

Some the words that I collected from the participants that expressed their experience in Poland (with the training) were:

Joy, Strange, Enriching, Refreshing, Fun, Excitement, English, Brilliant, Imagine, Cool, Juicy, Friendship, Surprise, Beautiful.

With the seniors the words that captured their experience thus far were:

Amazing, successful, Improvisation, Play, Exercise, Photography, Friendship, Happiness, Inspiration.

With these collections of words from the seniors and the participants, I decided to put all the single words together to form a text that tells its own story. As illustrated below!

Imagine beautiful enriching friendship!

Imagine strange brilliant excitement!

Beautiful joy, imagine refreshing cool juicy fun.

Amazing English, successful friendship, exercise happiness, exercise inspiration.

Strange improvisation, strange play, strange photography = happiness.

Referring back to Maya Angelou’s quote “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning”. I experienced this at first hand, as I noticed how words became powerful and how they form deeper meanings. I particularly enjoyed collecting the words because I had the opportunity to interact with people from different countries who spoke different languages from my own. Reflecting back on this experience, it could be said that I was trying to break the language barriers and generation gaps. In many ways I think I accomplished some aspects of this, while at the same time I gained a new profound appreciation for words.

How to use Body Language in Nasutow

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Speaking English (which is considered to be the universal language) does not necessary mean you will be understood by everyone you meet and speak to. So what do you do if you find yourself in a foreign country with 23 people from 5 different countries, with English not being their first language? In the middle of nowhere, in a countryside, in Poland this was my predicament.

Recently I had been invited to Poland to participate on breaking the generation gap training, because last year in the summer my team (You Press) and I had won 1st place for the International Citizen Media Award held in Germany for the Internet category! The award highlighted the commitment of the international, European or national producers in reporting on local, regional and global socially relevant themes. As part of the award I was invited to this training to learn and develop new skills focused on breaking the generation gap between young people and seniors in our respective countries (through the use of social media training). This is where I met 23 participants from 5 different countries, which included United Kingdom, Finland, Poland, Spain, and Czech of Republic.

According to a research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, 93 percent of communication is determined by body language and 7 percent of communication is determined by verbal communication. This is really interesting, especially since I come from London, where I mostly speak English apart from my native language of Somali and Swahili.

At the beginning of the training I found it a bit of a challenge trying to speak and understand 5 different languages for the first time. I think this was partially due to the fact that I live in one of the most multicultural cities in Europe, where everyone speaks English. But here I was, for the first time in a middle of nowhere, in a countryside called Nasutow in Poland which in many ways resembled a location for a horror movie.

I soon found out if all fails, especially Google translator, language barriers can be broken with body language. Interesting enough the 5 essential steps that I’ve learned thus far, which I believe would be really helpful if you ever find yourself in a similar situation are;

1) Be willing to communicate and show interest. This puts the person at ease to communicate with you and makes them feel that there is nothing to be afraid of because you are trying your best to understand and communicate with them. Also remember to be friendly, nice and kind to the other person as they may already be self-conscious and uncomfortable by the fact there is a difficulty in their understanding.

2) Be patient and speak slowly. This allows the person to know and understand that you are interested in the conversation. By speaking slowly it helps the person to process the information in their head before they can understand what you have said.

3) Be adventurous and creative to use body language. By this I mean be willing to back-up words with body gestures, as it will help to express what you wish to say.

4) If communication gets harder because of the language barrier, use an interpreter or a translator who can explain and relay the message between you and the other person.

5) Don’t give up and keep trying. In some cases it may take a little bit longer to understand the other person and it may also take a bit more effort to get your message understood by the other person. But if you don’t give up and you keep trying, until you understand one another, it will be worth the effort. One thing I found that helps the situation is to have a sense of humour, as it lightens up the ordeal and makes the whole experience enjoyable and fun.

It’s Wednesday, the third day of the training, as I write this article and these are some of the useful steps that I have learned thus far! As the training ends on Sunday I am intrigued to find out what else could be learned from this experience, especially in relation to the intergenerational aspect of the training with the Polish seniors.

Class Prejudices – the creator of apartheid schools

Class prejudices the real reason for London’s segregated schools

Last week’s reports that the ethnic composition of London’s state secondary’s have swelled to 60% in some boroughs, contained the usual xenophobic undertones of floodgates being opened spiel our tabloid press routinely peddles. Ethnics make up around 40% of the capital and yet in inner London take up over 60% of state secondary school places. This is in part because recent immigrants are more likely to be of childbearing age. Most reports would have us believe that poor Oliver and Arabella’s places have been hijacked by their swarthy skinned compatriots rather than because of white flight.

Unsurprisingly none of the reports mentioned the bleeding obvious- that just before secondary school most white and middle class Londoners escape the city into the burbs and shires- or if they can afford to, opt for private.

The issues here are myriad and complex, but largely about class and choice. What we are seeing in London’s state secondary schools are the consequences of an education system afflicted by free market forces.

Choice; that ever ted argument favours the few and creates imbalance, creaming off the best and discarding the rest. Choice thrives on the gap between perception and reality, a gap that is riddled by our own deep-seated prejudices and snobberies. Often our perceptions do not accurately connect with reality and on closer inspection and (crucially) introspection is based on stereotypes and lazy tropes. Perception can be incredibly damaging, ghettoizing and damning schools into self-fulfilled prophecies.

David Levin, the South African head of top independent school City of London, uses London schools sleep walking into apartheid as his motivation for offering a bursary scheme to bright but poor minority children. The need for such a scheme only serves to highlight a prevailing bourgeoisie belief that a good education and its (supposed) resulting social mobility are almost impossible in the London state sector. The purchase of their children’s education may bare fruits- this year privately educated students (who make up 7% of total student population) walked away with 53% of A and A* grades at A level, but at what societal cost- more August riots?

That’s the problem with perception.

The scheme does nothing to close the gap between our two tiered education system- the real problem, but rather serves to exacerbate it because race and class are sometimes but not always mutually exclusive. London secondary’s colour issue is symptomatic of a wider and more insidious class issue. This bursary underscores that.

The sad truth is, London our great city is no melting pot, but a salad bowl of contrasting and conflicting peoples; an endless cycle of movement, migration and gentrification; each displacing the other. This is evident everywhere from the fauxhemian hipster hangouts of Shoreditch and Hoxton, to the Bengali communities down the road, the Caribbean’s, Vietnamese and Turks in Dalston and Mare Street, the West Africans in Seven Sisters and their affluent yummy mummy neighbours in Crouch end- all side by side, sharing a space but never really sharing in the place.

We the selfish children of Thatcher our schools are but a microcosm of the society we live in, and have wilfully created.

Written by Frances E. Abebreseh

Jon Snow on the Truth About Journalism, Youth Representation and Migration


Like 1 million other young people in Britain today I woke up this morning feeling heavy hearted, apprehensive and unacknowledged by the many employers whom I had sent lengthy applications to several months ago. This had become my regular state of mind. Since my job ended in March this year, I had, like so many others, attempted to apply for jobs that I liked, jobs that I was overqualified for, jobs that paid the wage I was on five years ago and jobs that were simply available. I was astonished to learn early into my job hunting mission that many employers do not even recognise receipt of applications these days. Meaning that for suckers like me, I hold my breath for jobs that I really want without evidence that my application has even been seen by the prospective employer! These are certainly difficult times and this morning I wished I could roll back into bed and wake up on the right side. Just as I considered resetting my alarm, I was reminded that this was no regular day of mine. I was preparing for an interview with someone whom I hoped could shed some light on these uneasy times for future generations.

I would meet Jon Snow, an accomplished and widely-respected news reporter of Channel 4 news in five hours time. My excitement of meeting Jon Snow was three-fold. One, he is a well known journalist who has enjoyed a hugely successful career in broadcasting. Two, unlike most reporters he gets away with being openly opinionated. And three, I hear he is a great supporter of young people.

I’m always curious to discover how public figures such as Jon Snow connect with every day common folk like me. Generally I feel young people are becoming less important to our society. We have little consumer power; we’re under represented in politics and if that wasn’t bad enough many of us still have to live with our parents! I wondered how Jon Snow would regard someone like me who on the surface is an ethnic minority living in one of London’s poorest boroughs.

I was encouraged at first glimpse by seeing this 7ft tall figure embrace his old friend Vaughan Jones (whom I had got the interview through) with broad open arms when we met. Phew. Jon Snow was clearly in a light hearted mood. I felt I could be confident that he wouldn’t grill me in the way I’d seen him effortlessly do to so many of his guests on TV. And later having spent the next hour or so with him, I realised that he is in fact, as he described himself, like a young person inside. My team mate Farah Mohammoud kicks off our interview with Jon Snow.

FM: Jon, what did you gain from your experience teaching in Uganda with VSO?

JS: I was 18 and I had never been out of England. I wanted to impress my father who regarded me as a very stupid boy, due to my poor A-Levels. I applied and I got it. I was totally radicalised by it – it completely changes your perception of the world in which you live and your relationship with human kind.

FM: Was this the catalyst that propelled your career into journalism?

JS: Absolutely yes – I wanted to be a journalist and I wanted to make a better world – so you could say going to Uganda affected me profoundly. I am probably a politically motivated journalist, I want to change the world, I want to make it a better place – I want to expose corruption, evil and praise good things.

FM: This makes me think of the many young people today who are desperately looking for similar opportunities or life experiences to give them a sense of purpose and direction. Maybe if there were such opportunities for young people to explore their capabilities; more young people would actively work to change the world like you. Sadly with the recession, high tuition fees and major public spending cuts already implemented, the future does not look promising for young people.

Farah delves deeper and questions Jon Snow on the role of the media with regards to youth representation.

FM: What are your thoughts on the portrayal of young people in the media?

JS: Portrayal of young people depends on what media you are talking about. In Tabloids clearly young people have a tough deal. I think the electronic media to some extent ignore young people. I don’t think they consult them, take for example debates about education and schooling. On the other hand there are various constraints to talking to young people. For us you have to have the permission of the parents up to the age of 16. So it’s very difficult to speak to young people of 14-16. By the time we have the parents’ permission, the day is gone.

This is one of the challenges posed by recent technological developments especially within online social media. Not only are journalists expected to respond to broadcasts quickly but the increased demand on their sources and representatives to be instinctively reactive can result in compromised quality reporting.

JS: The image of young people isn’t good and it’s not a conspiracy to portray young people in any light. Many of the journalists divorce themselves from their children and they don’t look through the children’s perspective.

In our 24 month investigative quest to understand how young people have became so unmercifully demonised by the UK press, this statement from Jon Snow was as close to the truth that we had ever been. The journalists’ separation from their own kin must allow them to see other children, these ‘Hoodies’, ‘ASBOs’ and ‘Chavs’ not even as their own human kind, labels such as ‘Feral Children’ would suggest that. And some wonder why young people would riot after being discriminated for their age. Are young people the victims of Ageism?

Farah moves on to discussing the experience of young Somalis in particularly. This is especially important to the two of us, Farah being a young Somali who is living in multicultural London.

FM: What are your thoughts on the portrayal of young Somalis?

JS: I don’t think people differentiate between young Somalis and old Somalis. The general portray of Somalis is poor – they are the latest in a sense the largest wave of immigration that Britain has experienced and there’s a very little attempt to understand where they are coming from, what their particular problems are and what gave rise to this exodus. You ask me how young Somalis are portrayed; I don’t mean to detach young Somalis from Somalis in general or from Somali crisis. But generally speaking in a recession people are always looking for people to blame and Somalis are handy people to blame.

FM: What can be done about the misconceptions about Somalis or young people in general?

JS: I am very glad to have been approached by a number of Somali community leaders who have tried to lead me to understand what’s going on and I’ve benefited from this. So I am very aware of the outreach coming from the Somali community itself. The best thing I would suggest that you do is to begin to educate young people about why Somalis are here and what gave raise to their parent’s flight & to your parent’s flight.

Living in Newham, one of Europe’s most multicultural areas, we are painfully aware of exactly how uneducated the general public are on migrations to the UK. At worst a consequence of this misunderstanding leads to violence, racism and xenophobia and at best it can result in ineffective public services.

I woke up this morning unsure of what the day may bring. I go to bed tonight satisfied by our experience of meeting Jon Snow. He demonstrated to us that despite his years of experience and his privileged background that he was just as open to listening and learning from us as he was to talking and sharing the truths that he had discovered along his journey. Furthermore I am contented that Jon Snow reaffirmed the need to educate the British public on the experiences of young people in general and also from migrant communities.

I might not be working in the exact industry and role that I desire but the events of today makes me feel that our voluntary work with Praxis and our commitment to developing You Press is more than worth waking up for.

Interview by Farah Mohammoud and Lé N Ho © Praxis and You Press

Riots: A wake up call for the black community

I shuddered as I watched the freakish looting on London’s streets. Fear has spread to almost every corner of this nation as rioters attacked the focal points of our communities: our high roads and commercial centres where people socialise and do business.

As a young Black British woman I am enraged to see a considerable number of black and mixed race youth involved in this mass, violent shop-up.

The Turkish community had the capacity to fend off rioters because they had positive community values, but the Black British community had little hope of self-defence, as a disproportionate amount of men (in proportion to the majority population and as a racial group alone) were perpetrators or already behind bars.

I would like to say, this is an unfortunate comeuppance for a community where there is virtually no male authority. These young men and women have experienced disorder in their homes and are not pressurised from within the community to do better than their parents, to leave the cycle of dependency on welfare provision and enjoy a professional career. The street culture many young black and mixed race kids appropriate, advocates short-term glory respect on the street, which ultimately boils down to an intimidating street presence; scraps over drug domains; internecine violence and aborts the prospect of long term success in life.

Some community leaders have hailed liberal pro-child policy as a cause of disorder amongst the rioters.

My parents generation, born in the 1960s need to understand they cannot roll the clock back to an imaginary never-never-land where corporal punishment was a remedy to all bad behaviour.  The past, in this regard, is far more disturbing. Many men from the Windrush Generation (the first wave of Caribbean migrants to Britain 1948-1960s) left their wives, partners and children in the Caribbean behind, to enjoy new-found ‘freedom’ and exotic status in the UK; they found girlfriends, remarried, spawned new offspring with various women and unfortunately helped establish a pattern of familial brokenness to their grandchildren by walking away.

The answer from a lot of black clergy has been to pander to my parents generation we need to be able to discipline our kids i.e. we need to be free to punish them physically. I am from that generation and I bet you your bottom dollar the rioting young children have been smacked. Smacking was used indiscriminately by the Windrush Generation parents on their children (my parents’ generation) who often used it to avoid healthy discussion of awkward issues.

A certain level of education or training is needed to be integrated into the Knowledge Economy. Certainly there are issues of tacit racism in schools and swift recourse to exclusion. But difficulties do not entirely excuse parental responsibility to push one’s children. Indeed African-Americans faced more explicit discrimination in the United States, yet they fought back and overcame certain hurdles by fighting low expectations. Black parents have to recognise we are living in a country where there are considerable opportunities, especially in comparison to the Caribbean or Africa where primary and secondary education are not free. If black parents want their input to be valued they need to incorporate broader parenting styles, faithfully attend parent-teacher meetings, which are poorly attended in inner city schools; become school governors, and local councillors and actively encourage their children to enter the professions.

On another note, youth initiatives in the black community are sidelined. Churches in the black community have invaluable access to young black NEETs (not in education, employment or training), however many have misplaced priorities. Black Majority Churches have a tendency to spend extortionate amounts on rent for halls, stadiums and flights for international preachers for religious conventions that can last up to seven days, when events and initiatives for young people are strapped for cash and youth pastors are left to make do.

An extensive auto-critique of certain phenomena associated with the black community is needed; this is why so many black people screamed ‘racist’ at David Starkey’s remarks. If there is no introspective self-analysis, outside forces will step in and examine our community which will inevitably hurt more and are likely to be specious. With regards to Starkey’s critique of what some call ‘Jafaican’: there has been a weird change in young people’s vernacular. My grandparents generation from the Caribbean spoke better English than most street-speakers. Although they had an accent, they used Standard English and were taught that patois was only for home use. Unfortunately many young people cannot differentiate between the two.

To move forward community leaders could gain insight from the experience of young people from the black community who are educated or well trained. For example, I attended a ‘good state school’ yet I was bullied by the black girls in ‘the black group’ for being bookish and not hanging out with them; this happened amongst black girls in every year group in a multiracial school. Some of my bullies became single mothers and didn’t attend university; they are not fulfilling their potential.

In other words, my message to the Black community is to wake up and act like a community. We must address our lack of progress in recent years in order to avoid the loss of another generation to crime and hopelessness.

Written by Zaneta Denny