Signpost International has had a link with Monifieth High School, a local secondary school since 2005. Every second year a team of senior pupils, teachers and Signpost staff have spent two weeks in India visiting areas in which Signpost work in partnership with local agencies.
Another culture is best experienced in the company of people from that culture and so the team spend a lot of time with the local communities. In 2016, the team visited marginalised Dalit and tribal communities in Signpost’s programme area of Tamil Nadu, helping to bring insight and a deeper understanding of the real issues that people face in some of the world’s poorest communities.
For one student, the visit to India was hard hitting. Rebecca said, ‘the village of Alathur was a place that had a particularly big impact on me’, she said. ‘One of the girls insisted on giving me a ring. It was difficult for me to accept it, but it showed how friendly and generous these people are, despite their poverty.
‘I also met a small boy with a disability (cerebral palsy) who joined in nevertheless, running excitedly behind us. He was so happy and full of energy! I really felt for him ‘, says Rebecca, ‘because I know that he will have this further disadvantage to contend with in his life, even beyond being part of the outcast Dailit community’
Rebecca concludes, ‘My experience in Alathur showed me that these people are real, like us – I don’t understand why the rest of Indian society doesn’t recognise this. It has been good to see and know that Signpost is helping people to improve their lives.’
Throughout their time in India the Scottish students interacted closely with a peer group from the Indian link school of St Joseph’s, helping to highlight both disparities and similarities between the two groups of students. Despite the lack of resources and technology at St Joseph’s – and therefore a greater reliance on rote learning – the Scottish students were surprised at the comparable level of achievement. But this alongside seeing the Indian students in their immaculate school uniforms, masked the reality of the difference in the two situations.
Whilst visiting a village a Scottish student was asked whether she had a water tap in her home. Confused and picturing the many taps throughout her house, she said ‘Yes, of course’ – realising by the Indian student’s amazed response that this was a sign of incredible wealth when compared to a village that shared its water from a single tap and standpipe in the street.
In the summer of 2018 the team will be visiting Uganda, with Jamie Morrison, Signpost’s Chief Executive heading up the trip. The trip will be the culmination of more than 18 months’ of workshops and practical activities around aspects of poverty, global citizenship and cultural preparedness. During their time away the group will spend time with schools and communities in two project areas in Uganda, both teaching and learning in a fully immersive cultural experience.