Imagine losing a necklace, one given to you for safe-keeping. Now imagine that this necklace was precious – a gift from a grandmother, handed from a student to a member of staff before a rugby match.
A colleague found himself in exactly this situation a couple of weeks ago. The story of what happened next taps into something very special about Wellington; it is a story that highlights the importance and the power of our community, and a story that helps to define what ‘community’ means to us.
At the end of the match, as the student and coach went their separate ways, the necklace was neither claimed nor returned. Temporarily, it was forgotten. Later, when the coach went to check his jacket, the necklace had vanished. Over the next few days, he searched everywhere: on pitches, in pockets, under piles of leaves. The necklace was nowhere to be seen. Other colleagues heard the story and offered to help. One person prayed. Driving to work the next day, another glimpsed a notice in shop window: Necklace Found, with a number to call. The number led to a house in Crowthorne, and the house belonged to a man in need. The man had the necklace, but he also had a story.
It turned out that the man who had found the necklace (let’s call him Fred) had recently lost something precious. Fred was coming to terms with the death of his mother. And it turned out that Fred’s late mother had founded Mityana School in Uganda and that she had worked with countless Wellington students on this project over the years. Mityana, known to Ugandan locals as ‘Wellington on the Hill’, is supported to this day by the students of the Orange through the Mityana charity. Fred produced a whole album of photos depicting Old Wellingtonians engaged in various activities: painting the walls of the school, taking part in dances, visiting a school for the deaf. There were photos too of Nabukenya Primary School, at various stages of its construction, a school that was largely paid for by donations from the College.
As my colleague thanked Fred for the safe return of the necklace, Fred thanked Wellington for making a ‘huge difference to hundreds of otherwise uneducated children’ at the other side of the world.
The story of the necklace typifies something that is so important to me at Wellington. Kindness is the attribute that we place first and foremost among our College values, and so often our acts of kindness reach far beyond the College gates. The characters in this story capture what we are all about: a trusting student, an accommodating shop-owner, a caring co-worker, a neighbour in need, an inspirational philanthropist and mother, a group of students engaged in charitable enterprise and, of course, the protagonist of this story, the colleague who had taken his jacket to the dry-cleaners in Crowthorne, and who arrived on Fred’s doorstep just when he needed a friend.
We have recently renamed our Wednesday afternoon activities, bringing them all under the umbrella of ‘Global Citizenship’ and the story you have just read goes a long way to explaining what we mean by this term: it is about active engagement on a global scale – and by global, we involve everyone, from the person sitting next to us, to the person on the other side of the world. Our Global Citizenship programme encompasses community service, along with the Arts Award, Enrichment, Adventure, the Combined Cadet Force, and the Connected Curriculum – but key to all of these is action, experiential learning, and working together to make a difference.
‘Citizenship’ became a statutory National Curriculum subject in England in 2002. According to the Department for Education, a ‘high-quality citizenship education helps to provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society’. Students across the country sit in classrooms to learn about Citizenship, following a written scheme of work.
At Wellington, we do things differently.
On Wednesday afternoons, groups of students head to primary schools and care homes. Others stay within the College creating healing gardens or helping at the foodbank situated on the College site. Elsewhere, students deliver Skype tutorials to children in Africa and, through our Global Social Leaders programme, they learn to create and run innovative and social action projects, tackling local and global issues.
It is the face-to-face interactions with people that matter. By actively helping others, we start to shift our perspective, we start to develop empathy, and we can then start to make a difference in the world.
‘Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.’
Jean VanierBack to all Master's Voice