Friday November 13, 2015
We Might Be Down But We Are Never Out.
Poverty and Disadvantage…. The jargon of the decision makers and the image of the adverts.
When you think of those words what do you imagine?
Do you imagine the poverty-ridden cries for help that we hear on television every day, adverts from amazing charity’s like the Red Cross and Save the Children?
I definitely would have, especially if you asked me when I was at school.
I’m sure, like the majority of people in the world, you all see these adverts and you wish there was something you could really do, in fact directly do, to influence the lives of these people that are suffering.
But fairy stories are few and far between. If you are expecting a tale from me about a young person who comes from great adversity and hardship to overcome all of his issues with a single defining action then you are looking in the wrong place. Try Hollywood.
So, let me start off by telling you where I was.
My name is Chris and I recently turned 21. I have never been a drug addict but I was in rehab twice before I was 12 years old. I lived with my two brothers my sister and our mum in Wester Hailes which is a part of Edinburgh where a large amount of the population live beneath the poverty line. Well beneath it. I then spent three years in a young people’s centre or care home as they are commonly known, whilst my siblings where fostered. They still are to this day. I was then moved into my own house in the Calder high-rise flats at 16 years old. The 9th floor to be precise. You know, the ‘Penthouse of Paradise’.
For many of my childhood years before I went into care I witnessed a lot of drink and drug misuse, physical and domestic abuse and even death. When I think back to my childhood, the strongest feelings I can remember are hunger and sadness.
I want you to keep in mind that during my time at primary and high school all of this stuff was happening at home. I also want you to keep in mind the fact that these circumstances are not unique. Although they may seem like a horror story, I am not one of a kind. If you are in teacher in a school, or a nurse in a hospital, or even a professional working in an office, it is very likely that there are pupils, young people and even apprentices suffering from issues like these. They may not reveal them. They may put on a front as I did. They may lie to protect their true identity. They may act up and joke and try to be the centre of attention. To the untrained eye they may even seem highly disruptive and problematic. But what you all must remember is that sometimes the best place for a young person to hide is in plain sight.
This is where I am today.
I am 21 and have been out in the big scary world on my own now for five years. I have my own two-year-old with my partner and we all live in a two-bedroom flat in Wester Hailes, just 50 steps away from my childhood home. Although there are no drugs, no alcohol, no violence or anything like that, my young family still struggles. We are impacted daily by the events of my childhood and education. Every week I struggle to feed and protect my young family. I have had a few jobs and have always worked or done something since I was 16 but am by no manner of means settled or secure. I didn’t get much in the way of qualifications from school as my last year, my exam year, was basically non-existent attendance-wise. Like I said, there was a lot going on.
I do however consider myself as fairly bright and genuinely do enjoy learning. I think I was capable of achieving a lot more from my education. I also believe if this was the case my employment prospects would be a lot better and at this point in time I would no longer be forced to live in the scheme. I would at least have opportunities and paths available that could light the way out for me.
My opinion of how I feel today? Honestly? I’m mentally exhausted. Some days are better than others, but I genuinely fear for my young family and I worry that for the rest of my life I will always have to struggle and fight to get the basics. I’m not talking about luxury holidays or nice materialistic things here. I am talking about feeding, heating and clothing my family. The basics.
Although I do just get by and manage, there is, as you will agree, no fairy-tale ending to the story. I am still beneath the poverty line and, as it stands today, I do not feel any more confident that I will beat the cycle and come out the other side. I am still looking for that chance and that opportunity in life and I hope I can find it.
This is my My Education
Starting from the beginning as a pupil at Clovenstone Primary School my memories are happy and carefree. Me, my brothers and my sister, we would genuinely look forward to school. I used to play football on the pitch every morning, noon and night. I used to laugh with my mates in class then get a free school dinner. What’s not to enjoy?
At this point life at home was pretty bad. I was just a child then and had no idea that I was disadvantaged or living in poverty. However, I used to dread the holidays as it would most likely mean one of two things:
Firstly, it would mean being hungry
Secondly, it mean I would have to be at home with my mum.
I remember being jealous a lot at school as I used to see some kids getting to go to football teams, rugby teams, boxing club, school camps, afterschool activities or even just having clean and new uniforms. These are all things that come as part of education don’t they? Yet I was being told I couldn’t do them because my family had no money?
By the time I got into High School I had social work involvement at home and my school were at least partly aware of my circumstances. I was at this point getting to school by taxi from a rehabilitation centre at the other end of town where my mum was detoxing from her heroin addiction. Me and my sister stayed with her there as it was deemed safe by social services. My brothers were temporarily fostered until the detox process was complete.
I was now starting to find school hard. Not academically as I was smart enough, but my ability to concentrate was being effected I had so many things on my mind 24/7 - how would my mum be when I got home? Where my brothers okay in their foster placement? Who would be waiting for me at the gates after school? I was starting to struggle in classes and get into trouble for being disruptive. Yet still nobody would aske how I felt or if I was ok?
To them I was just a disruptive student.
Things went on like this for a while. Two stints in rehab and two relapses later we were back at square one in Wester Hailes. Gradually my work became worse and my attitude and behaviour towards school became what you might call bitter. I had started to resent and even blame school and the system for my situation. Looking back this was wrong but I felt invisible, I felt like nobody actually cared about me or where I ended up. And now I no longer had school to look forward to as I did in primary. I still envied the people in my classes. They got to do things that, by now, I knew not to even ask for. I remember distinctly to this day the painful embarrassment of turning up to my hospitality class without the required money that you had to pay for ingredients. I enjoyed that subject but knew not to take the class in 3rd year as that class WAS NOT FREE.
My worst day at school is a moment I look back upon now with no bitterness but at the time I felt extreme anger and embarrassment. It was an event that caused me two years of relentless bullying at three different schools and, along with everything else, eventually led to my decision to drop out before my exams.
Whilst in the rehabilitation centre a documentary was made about children in poverty and was shown on daytime TV. Part animation and part filmed, It was called The Wrong Trainers - Chris’s Story and it detailed how a poor family lived in poverty and struggle they suffered on a daily basis. Nobody from my school watched it and nobody realised that, in actual fact, I was in it, that it was about me and my family
To my horror, about a year later, I went into my modern studies class after lunch to find the TV set up and the teacher holding the DVD in his hands. YES, THAT DVD. ‘The Wrong Trainers’. My story!. I begged and pleaded with the teacher not to show it as discreetly as I could so as not to alert the rest of my class. I told him it was about me and told him what would happen if he showed it to my class but he shrugged me off as the class clown.
That was the worst 45-minute lesson of my life.
The next day I found out that it was shown to every modern studies class in the school. Nobody asked how I felt or even thought for one second I could be telling the truth. They – the teachers - thought I was just joking. But every young person in my school had now branded me a smelly junkie from rehab.
Granted, the school’s act of showing the film wasn’t to purposely hurt me and, ironically, was to try and educate my fellow pupils about poverty in the UK, but I tell you this story as It highlights an important point.
Even whilst a teacher was teaching about poverty, it was more plausible for a student to be joking than to be actually experiencing that level of poverty, for that story to actually be about him.
Never did anyone think that one of their own pupils could be living in such hardship and poverty yet the unfortunate truth is we all think like this on some level. We hear about poverty and disadvantage and we associate it with the adverts on the telly or the what the media shows us but the truth is that a quarter mile away from the very wealthy estate of Colinton village lies the suburban council estate of Wester Hailes where extreme poverty exists. But this is the case all over the UK.
While there is no silver lining, there is hope. YOU CAN DO SOMETHING TO DIRECTLY HELP! If you are a teacher or you work with young people, there are things you can do to make sure the children in your care don’t experience some of the things I went through.
Here are a few things I can personally ask that will directly make a difference. It may only be a miniscule difference but any difference is better than no difference. That one thing you do may be the trigger a young person needs to spur him or her on to seek help or even give them the confidence to fight the adversity and actually be that fairy-tale ending.
If you work in a school or somewhere that provides education ask yourself the question - are your opportunities and education really free? If the answer is ‘no’ I implore you to act!
If you work in a job that encounters young people - look out for the signs of poverty and, even if there are none, what harm will it do to you or them to ask a young person once a day how they are doing and if they are OK?
Don’t let any young person fade away at the back of the class and be invisible. No matter how much we might hide we all want to be seen
And most of all if you come across a young person who is struggling or is acting out, always remember; they might be down but, with your help, THEY ARE NEVER OUT!!
Here is the video of the 'Creative Conversation'. Chris starts his talk around 13:36.