Footsteps from the Western front to a Western wall

The Journey

Back in 2016, Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls met with a German school, Marienschule, in the trenches of Ypres. The trip’s aim was to examine the causes of conflict, develop empathy for those on both sides who had suffered, and more importantly to understand the importance of forgiveness, reconciliation and the need to work for peace.

The trip’s intended legacy has indeed provided a lasting impact on students evoking many emotions as they recognise the far-reaching negative impact on society due to conflict of war. The human side of war was brought very much into context together with the significant aftermath of long lasting detrimental effects on people’s lives, relationships and future welfare

As the world becomes a more divided place with opposing views and values, education plays a more vital role in helping students to cultivate the skills to diffuse hatred and to promote tolerance and harmony. An argument presents itself on how the nations of the world can come together to address this phenomenon which sadly is seen so readily in the news.  How can we be all things to all people? Our Ethos and values are the working culture of our schools, helping to provide a framework to enable us to practise what we teach and determine a way forward. Be doers…not merely sayers of the word.

The strong bond and friendship that grew between Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls and Marienschule,  enabled discussion into awkward topics such as the effects of the Second World War and the hatred displayed in the concentration camps in Europe set out by the Nazi Government.

Presently we see the uncomfortable rise of reported cases of anti-Semitism in European countries, so we agreed that it would be important to take the peace findings of the trip at Ypres to a new place…Israel. So that “we never forget” we must remember how conflict begins. It begins with us as individuals. How we resolve it, remains the responsibility for us all. The planning began earnestly for the visit to Israel.

The Meeting

We set off with eager expectation early on the 19th February, to meet up in Vienna with our German companions, continuing as one united group to Tel Aviv, so that the experience could be a shared memory from the beginning. In preparation, we had discussed that the impact of the visit should have a wider setting and that it was important to gain support from major community leaders. Letters were sent to Her Majesty The Queen, Pope Francis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minster Boris Johnson, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, to share our hopes and aims.

Following positive replies, the trip was confirmed as an important cornerstone of learning within our educational communities. In January 2020, the German President Frank Walter Steinmeir, voiced regret that his country was still dealing with the bigotry and hatred that led to the holocaust. Joint intercultural learning experiences, such as our meeting in Israel, addresses the roots of evil and provides solutions to the next generations. Over the coming days, the group visited the main historic sites and enjoyed the diversity of modern Israel. Each day we reflected on the day’s events and how the various communities live together peacefully within such a small country.  It was our privilege to visit a Secondary School in Bethlehem which has Muslims, Jews and Christians all contributing to a successful learning environment.  Our students witnessed first-hand that even the most diverse groups can work together for peace, by celebrating shared values and using the Arts to bring unity.

The strong ethos of the school, embodied in daily life, encourages the students to be future world changers. A hope we all have for our young people.

Voices

As part of being educators, we often want our young people to have a voice, but voices must be heard whether in the present or from the past.  Our final day was spent at The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.  This was a harrowing experience for many of us as we wrestled with how a human being could exact such hatred and cruelty on to another. In order to counteract the hatred, we need love.  Such a short word but such a powerful legacy if you can show love to someone who does not show love back, or indeed, is your enemy. Edith Eger, Holocaust survivor, said that we all have a choice and that love is not what you feel, but what you do. By the shores of Galilee we had seen water breakers which were huge stones in the shape of hearts.  If hate grips you, your heart becomes hard like a stone, cold and impenetrable. Yad Vashem shared accounts where hatred ruled.  Where one life was deemed worthless over another. We must NEVER allow this to happen again. As educators it is our responsibility to teach what went on 75 years ago in Europe in the hope that we it will never be repeated. Our students have a voice, they returned from Yad Vashem with a mission that they must help the voices of the past to be heard, to be echoed throughout history. That as individuals they must not be silent when they see things that are wrong. That we must all show kindness and love to one another, forgive and reconcile our differences.

Postcards from Palestine

As with most successful trips, memories are embedded with good photographs and postcards home. We want to encourage others through our visit to this historic land, examining its history, celebrating its cultures, learning from its past. Our shared values, our common beliefs in humankind will sustain us through these challenging global times. Our legacy for the future is how we live now.  Jesus Christ said “Love your neighbour as yourself, there is no commandment greater than these” What is love? Love is patient and kind, it does not boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, hopes all things, endure all things.

Dare to achieve the extraordinary ……………..

Rachel Grimwood 

Culture and Ethos Manager for the LIFE Education Trust  

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