Patrick Widdess writes poetry, prose, and arts and travel features. He is based in Norwich, UK.
Eye-Opening Conversations With Pupils
I arrive at the school gate in the Fort area of Mumbai in good time on the morning of my second day in India. I wasn’t expecting to go to school on my holiday until I heard about Clap Global. Now I am the guest speaker for a class of 13-year-olds.
Clap Global is an online platform which launched in 2016. Through the website, travellers can sign up to visit schools and give a Clap Talk. This means talking about their life, country, and culture before asking and answering questions to stimulate conversation.
Clap Global's Founders
Founders Aarti Chhabria and Shirin Johari came up with the idea after realizing how little exposure they had had to different cultures when they were growing up. “As a child, my only exposure to foreigners were my dad’s Dutch and Swiss business customers. I remember the women being dressed in ‘bold’ clothes and consuming alcohol. I grew up with the idea that being ‘Western’ somehow meant being superior,” Aarti recalls. Shirin too grew up with a long list of prejudices: “In school, I thought Germany was a ‘bad’ country because my textbooks only spoke of World War II. I believed white skin was more beautiful than brown. I thought telling your family about your boyfriend was wrong if you didn’t intend to marry him. Till I grew up, I thought cooking was a pretty much a woman’s job.”
Travelling outside India in their 20s broadened their horizons. Shirin found herself asking: “Why must children wait to grow up before their stereotypes are questioned, before they discover new worlds, cultures and ways of thinking? What if foreign travellers could come into classrooms and share stories of their lives and dreams directly with children?”
Aarti, meanwhile, had found from ten years working in education that textbook learning was very limited. She longed to introduce kids to diverse perspectives from around the world. Teachers, too, wanted more international exposure for children, but they didn’t have a system or resources to do it regularly or effectively. When Aarti and Shirin discovered their shared vision Clap Global was born.
Shirin meets me at the school gate and takes me to the class teacher Ms Seema who helps me get ready. Two days before leaving for India I had been sent a PowerPoint presentation template to prepare my talk. It included slides for my country, hometown, family and a range of other topics relating to my life, home, and the traditions and issues that are important in my country. In between work and packing I pulled together photos and illustrations for a talk I hope will be entertaining and educational. It will be a long hour with the class if I have to do all the talking!
The students seem like a lively bunch when I enter the classroom but they soon settle down. They are quiet as I introduce myself and begin my presentation, but when I ask them questions their enthusiasm can barely be contained. “What do you know about Britain?” I ask as I introduce my home country. "Brexit!" is the first in a rapid-fire round of responses.
It’s early November, and like many Brits I am wearing a poppy. When I ask what it’s for, one child suggests Christmas. I explain it is worn for Remembrance Day on November 11 when we remember those who died in the two world wars. I show pictures of ceremonies at the Cenotaph in London and explain how the nation observes two minutes silence to remember those who lost their lives at war.
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To contrast this sombre topic I treat the class to some British music. With its upbeat message of love and peace, The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" is the perfect antidote to misery and war. I ask the class to stand up and sing along but when the first verse starts I’m the only one singing as I point to the words on the screen. A few students join in on the chorus and I cheer them on. By the second chorus everyone is singing so loud that the caretaker puts his head round the door to see what's going on.
Lots of Questions
The second part of the session is a Q&A. It’s hard to keep up as I am bombarded with questions about my life, interests, travels, experiences and opinions on everything from politics to football. One boy asks if I speak Hindi and teaches me how to introduce myself to the amusement of the class. I manage to ask a few questions as well and learn about the students' own travels, places to visit in Mumbai and grim predictions that air pollution in the city will keep getting worse.
After the discussion, each student writes me a short letter of thanks. “It was an incredible experience to ask you questions and gain knowledge about your country,” is one typical comment. “I would not have known a lot of things if you had not come here,” is another. There is a confident prediction that I will be famous one day: “We kids will be proud to say that, yes, he had come to our school.” Many of them mention learning about Remembrance Day. One girl writes: “Whenever I see a poppy again, I will always think of you.”
By the end of the lesson I am surrounded by kids asking questions and taking selfies. It’s an overwhelming moment and I feel proud to have actually taught them something. It is another small contribution to Clap Global’s mission of bringing a global perspective to education to raise a more compassionate new generation.
Since launching last year more than 5,000 students in 150 classrooms across 25 schools have experienced Clap Talks by travellers from 52 different cities from across the world. The program is currently only operating in India but it has the potential to spread and successful pilots have been run in Chile.
Aarti and Shirin hope to make the talks a regular part of the curriculum. They point out that most students cannot afford an international exchange program, which only allows exposure to one foreign culture. A child who has six Clap Talks a year throughout their education, on the other hand, could gain exposure to 80 different cultures.
The project also gives more travellers the chance to have a unique cultural experience and make a positive change. Work in schools has long been a staple of gap year and volunteer holidays but a Clap Talk can fit into the itinerary of any backpacker, holiday maker or ex-pat. It is easy to sign up on the website and the simple format means each talk is successful and worthwhile for both students and travellers. Travelling offers fantastic opportunities to experience other cultures but Clap Global offers the equally important and rewarding chance to share your own.
Why Should I Give a Clap Talk?
Tips for Giving a Clap Talk
- Registration on the Clap Global website is easy. The organisers will then contact you to arrange a talk.
- Bring lots of photos. The more visual your talk is the better.
- Objects from your country really help stimulate interest: books, money, stamps, souvenirs, traditional crafts etc.
- Teach students something traditional from your country: A song, recipe, dance, story etc.
- Let the school know if you are planning any special activities and check that they have the necessary resources.
- Be prepared to ask and answer lots of questions!
- Don’t think that you have nothing interesting to talk about. The children will love to hear about who you are and where you’re from. If you go in with a positive attitude your talk will be a success.
© 2017 Patrick Widdess