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Our Mumbai schools project gets some incredible mileage as primary school children find their Voices

By Anna Hussain “Dear Mr Cowling I am writing to express my deep concerns about the appalling state that people living in the squalid slums of Mumbai are living in. I am an absolutely disgusted year 5 pupil that has experienced what life is like living in an Indian slum as part of my Indian topic in school. It is Disgraceful! This has got to stop straight away!”…read the impassioned words from Lilly Sutherland’s ‘Milldene Primary School’ headed letter to Robbie Cowling, the owner of Colchester Football club. Excitingly he replied;

"I recently received a letter from Lily which raised concerns regarding the plight of people in Mumbai. Myself, the first team manager and a number of Colchester United players would like the opportunity to visit Lily at your schools and hear more about the plight of the Mumbai people.Would such a visit be possible and if so can you provide me with some options for time and date?"

Robbie Cowling

And the class still await with baited breath to see what will come of his visit later this week.. What questions will he and his players have? Will they dig deep? And what will be his reaction to such bright and enthused young individuals who felt so passionately about this cause that they took it upon themselves to reach out and write to those in positions of power to seek help in their quest to give back?

To put it all into context, Lilly and her class mates had taken part in our ‘Slum Experience’ lesson from our bespoke Mumbai Education Project, an initiative to teach youngsters about the daily challenges faced by those living within Mumbai’s most impoverished communities, created collaboratively by the Prince’s Charities and The Sharma Foundation, with a view to the children fundraising and campaigning for their counterparts after they have carried out the lessons.

During the Slum Experience lesson, children are given the opportunity to simulate the squalid and cramped conditions lived in by many of India’s under privileged communities.

Going by the notion of ‘learning by doing’ our charities felt that a sensory awakening was key in really being able to understand the circumstances faced by millions across the world.

Anyone can read facts and statistics on the situation, but it is only when we are visiting Mumbai, amongst the pockets of extreme poverty, that we feel the depth of its severity.

Knowing it is more likely for Simon Cowell to reply to one of the Milldene pupils letters himself than getting these children onto a school trip to visit Mumbai, we decided the next best thing was to bring the slums and dumping grounds to UK school assembly halls.

Bringing in recyclable rubbish from home, children sit amongst the piles of discarded cereal boxes and juice cartons while a Mumbai city soundscape buzzes noisily overhead.

They watch a video which takes them on a journey round Shivaji Nagar, one of India’s biggest dumping grounds. They then have to rummage around and try and make something that can be used or sold out of the rubbish; (and are told the fib that they won’t be able to have any lunch unless they’re resourceful and make something that can be sold to pay for some grub – of course optional depending on school policy whether they actually go without!)

The point of the whole experience being that yes purposefully, they are exposed to the sheer deprivation and appalling living conditions of their counterparts, however they are also taught how incredibly resilient and hardworking these communities are. They aren’t told to lay down amongst the rubbish and give in, but on the contrary are told to make the best of their situation, to be enterprising, creative and resourceful.

This experience teaches that giving in isn’t an option, as no one is going to feed you for free! We ask the questions, are these communities miserable, depressed and fighting and stealing from one another? No, they are not. They are tenacious and positive with a fire in their belly to work hard and survive.

Of course we want them to fundraise and campaign for better living conditions for the under privileged, but it is also a mutually beneficial exercise as we know just how much can be learnt at the same time.

So, suffice to say the project had the desired effect on Milldene Primary School, and now hopefully their passion and enthusiasm will rub off on Mr Cowling and the word of this cause will spread across the footballing world and beyond.

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