Soleil Levant

2017 has been the most (positively) life-altering year for me yet – like a rising sun or ‘Soleil Levant’ (more about this later). The last few months have been a whirlwind of change (hence the lack of blog posts). I’ve changed jobs and cities. I’ve travelled across Europe, Asia and Africa – including trips to Singapore and Denmark for the first time – and learnt new words as part of my ongoing ambitious attempt to teach myself Arabic.

I’ve been taught some unforgettable lessons this year, not least of which is that relocating to a new city is no easy task! However, what makes things much easier is moving to a lovely Scouse city, supportive and inclusive work colleagues and of course bountiful doses of humour and reality checks from good friends (you know who you are). My year – both personal and professional – could be summarised in this eloquent, brief ‘autobiography’ by Portia Nelson:

sidewalks
image source: http://shanahan1.pbworks.com/f/Hole%20in%20the%20sidewalk.gif (click image to open fullsize in a new tab)

I’m currently in either Chapters IV or V in various aspects of my life – but I’m slowly getting there and learning not to make choices that only lead me into the same ‘hole in the sidewalk’. Those who know me, will agree that I certainly applied the last chapter to a key area of my life that was bringing me nothing but stress and negativity. Also during 2017, I’m happy to report that following my reflections this time last year, I proudly wore my multi-potentialite and multi-localite identity. This is something I will continue to affirm, and hopefully, might lead to some interesting blog posts in 2018, so watch this space!

On a more solemn note, one particular experience from late Summer of 2017 which will be forever etched in my memory is that of standing before Ai Weiwei’s art installation in Copenhagen. The statement about the plight of refugees evoked powerful memories of my time volunteering with the refugees in Budapest, Hungary at the peak of the Syrian crisis in 2015. Weiwei’s Copenhagen installation, named ‘Soleil Levant’ (French for Rising Sun) is inspired by Claude Monet’s 1872 painting Impression, Soleil Levant. Monet’s art depicts the harbour in Le Havre, France, at the end of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, capturing the political and social reality of its time with its cranes, steamboats and industrialisation. Weiwei’s Soleil Levant draws attention to the political and social reality of today through the arrangement of 3500 used refugee lifejackets stacked on the facade of a building. The installation is particularly notable, for its location within the thriving Nyhavn district, and I found the stark contrast between the vivacious outdoor cafes on one side of the canal, and Weiwei’s sombre Soleil Levant on the other side to be a moving and poignant reminder of the vicissitudes of life. I have inserted a slideshow of some images that reflect this below.

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Weiwei’s commemoration of the refugees’ ordeals reminded me of another of my favourite artists, Nizar Ali Badr, whom I was also thrilled to see receive recognition and coverage by the BBC in 2017.  I recall writing about Badr in 2016; his works moved me then, and continue to do so today. Experiencing Weiwei’s installation first hand, seeing the marks on the life jackets, the dried sand and possible bloody stains, served to remind me of the immensity of my own blessings.

So here’s to 2018 – may it be a year in which, like a Soleil Levant, the sun rises to greet us and remind us each day to be grateful for our blessings. I leave you, dear readers of my blog, as I do each year, with an Irish blessing which is one of my favourite new year wishes:

“May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.”

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

TBT: My Year 4 Teaching Portfolio

I have recently been reflecting on what it takes to be a great – not just good – teacher. My professional experience includes teaching students from Year 3 all the way to, ahem, those over fifty. During the years before I embarked upon my PhD studies, I was a primary school teacher in one of Pakistan’s leading schools. In my current nostalgic frame of mind, I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog post about the ethos which I endeavoured to inculcate in my students through the visuals that surrounded them in their classroom. So I write below about some of the displays and activities that I initiated during my unforgettable and memorable time as a Year 4 teacher at the Karachi Grammar School.

Keys to Success: motivational prompts about positive social skills and good habits

Concept behind the display:

The Keys to Success were displayed prominently above the blackboard at the front of the class. This was in the children’s direct line of sight for main classroom instruction so as to ensure constant and subliminal reinforcement. The Keys included:

  1. Listen Actively
  2. Respect Everyone
  3. Ask Questions
  4. Do Neat Work
  5. Read Books
  6. Be Punctual
  7. Be Responsible
  8. Do Your Homework

Reading Garden:  developing and encouraging children’s creative and literary skills

reading garden.jpg

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the display:

Every week each child would borrow four books from the library:

  1. A fiction book
  2. A magazine
  3. A non-fiction book
  4. An Urdu (national language) book

To encourage the children to read, they would then make a flower, or any garden item, colour it and inside it, write the name of the book they enjoyed best that particular week. This way other children were encouraged to review their classmates favourite books and borrow the books to read for themselves.

Alongside this display, there was a list of reasons why particular books are chosen and enjoyed, that the class came up with together. This list included things such as colourful pictures, interesting characters and so on,  and was constantly being added to during the term. As a result of this display activity, children were exposed to a variety of authors and genres of books.

House Points: an eye-catching, child-friendly inspirational display

Concept behind the display:

house points

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Each child in the classroom was assigned a House to which they belong. House Points were awarded to children on an on-going basis throughout the week for classwork, homework, behaviour, personal presentation (for example, neat and tidy appearances, and wearing the correct school uniform), following school rules and so on.

Each day as children would have to go out of the classroom, they would line up Housewise. According to the positions of the markers on each House’s ladder, the children were then requested to move out of the classroom, usually with members of the House with the most points leading the group.

This display was located in a prominent place in the class and children were encouraged to put up their House points themselves. Each House had one member (who was appointed on a rotational basis from another House) responsible to ensure the correct tallying of points.

As a result of this display activity, the children were greatly motivated to behave well, produce their best work and work together as a team (members of a common House group). I found this display a particularly useful tool that the children used to encourage each other.

Notice Board at Class Front: reinforcing learning outcomes, important spellings and conceptsnotice board

Concept behind the display:

The position of the display board was right next to the main blackboard. Therefore, it was in the children’s frequent line of sight. I took advantage of the board position to put up a whiteboard on which I would write the main learning outcomes for numeracy and literacy for every lesson.

This was advantageous because I would review these learning outcomes with the children after each lesson and a number of times, the children themselves would in fact add some more of the learning outcomes that they perceived they achieved from the lesson! Once this started happening, I realised how essential this strategy was and how much it added to the children’s understanding of the practical outcomes of each lesson.

Additionally, the display also had a spelling list of words for each week, alongwith a mathematical word of the week and number of the week, so the children were constantly able to review them.

The display border consisted of a collection of flowers, each containing the name of every member of the class, which the children loved!

Interactive Train (at the bottom of the display): reinforcing learning outcomes and making cross-curricular connections

Concept behind the display:

Positioned in an easily accessible place, I made a train with a number of carriages. Each carriage had a ‘compartment’ within which slips of paper could be inserted as per the respective labels on each carriage. As illustrated above, there was a little container pinned to the board near the carriage which held slips of paper which children could pick up and insert into the relevant carriage.

For example, for the topic ‘Improving the Environment’, the carriages had various labels such as, ‘how litter harms the environment’, ‘why recycling is important’, ‘how we can save energy’, and so on. As the topic progressed, children were able to pick up slips of paper (the opportunity was usually given as a reward for neat work, good behaviour, etc) on which I had pre-printed phrases such as, ‘plastic bags can destroy animal habitats’, ‘we can conserve our resources’, ‘we should carpool’, and so on.

Nearby was also a notice asking children if they could think of some more of their own examples to put into the appropriate carriages and a number of blank slips were provided for the children to write on.

I adapted this display for Mathematics as well, during the topics revieweing multiplication and division in particular. Each carriage was assigned a random number and various sums were made up with the blanks in any place for children to insert in the correct carriage, for instance: ‘5 x _ = 45’, ‘35 ÷ 7 = _’

Character Building: promoting good habits, health, hygiene and school spirit

Concept behind the display:

 

character bulding

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

As the children would eat their snacks inside the classroom three times a week, before going outside to play, I utilised the opportunity whilst supervising them to discuss positive character building habits, such as the importance of saying ‘please ‘ and ‘thank you’, washing hands before and after eating and especially after entering the house, and so on. Usually I would try to link the discussion with a Science or Geography current topic, such as the environment, or the human body, or relate it to a character in a story that the children would be reading.

I would also regularly review the School Song with the children because I believe it is very important to inculcate a proper understanding of the words so that the children realise the very principles and backbone on which their school was founded and strive to live up to them.

The good habits and values talked about during these discussions were also the basis for a number of rewards given out during school time, for instance, ‘Sarah shared her colouring pencils with Adam.’ (based on the principle  of sharing with each other). Rewards would be in the form of Housepoints, certificates, a chance to take home Sylvester (the class mascot) and so on.

Our Pledges: personal pledges by each student

 Concept behind the display:

pledges

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

On the first day of each term, I conducted an exercise whereby we would discuss the school rules, come up with our own classroom rules, and talk about what we each expected, as a teacher and students respectively, from the classroom and associated learning.

Following this, the students and myself then each wrote down our ‘pledge’ of thought, behaviour or learning for the coming term. We coloured our pledges which were then mounted and displayed in a prominent place in the classroom.

Students’ pledges included, ‘I pledge to write in cursive handwriting’, ‘I pledge to improve my vocabulary’ and ‘I pledge that I will not run in the corridors’.

As a teacher, whenever the opportunity arose during the term, I would constantly refer children to the pledges they made. This served to keep them focused.

At the end of the term, children were returned their pledges along with a short note of appreciation from me on the back of each pledge encouraging them to strive for even more the following term.

The Classroom Layout: colourful, interactive, child-friendly, organised and conducive to learning

Concept behind the layout:

layout

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

It is common knowledge that the more child-friendly and colourful a learning environment is, the more conducive for learning it will ultimately be. Keeping that in mind, I arranged my classroom in such a way that as children were divided into various groups they were able to experience a positive ambience all around.

A number of the displays were interactive and required some form of input from the children, whether their writing on the boards in a given space, or placing slips or paper in the correct strategic places and so on.

The students’ work in the form of worksheets, posters (for instance those such as movie posters advertising movies based on their favourite books), bookmarks they made, and artwork was also displayed at all times, as seeing their work up on display was a great motivating factor.

Children’s cubbyholes and trolley baskets (for them to organise the books they required at their tables for various lessons) were also placed in easily accessible areas with clear labelling of each and every area and compartment.

Poetry Corner

Concept behind the display:

In my classroom I laid great emphasis on having a poetry corner. The objective of which was to enable children to compare and contrast poems on similar themes, particularly their form and language, discuss personal responses and preferences, find out more about popular authors and poets, and use this information to move onto more books by favourite writers.

The display also served as a tool to encourage children to understand the use of figurative language in poetry and prose, compare poetic phrasing with narrative and descriptive examples, reading the poems aloud, identify various patterns of rhyme and verse, read the poems aloud, locate the use of similes, making comparisons and identifying familiar features of the works of particular poets, to write poems of their own keeping all the explored factors in mind, and so on.

A key aspect of the display was the visual appeal of the poems. I endeavoured to show children how enjoyable poetry can be, particularly when combined with artistic creativity.

The perennial display was also a key build-up to the annual intra-school poetry recital competition, in which there were class and solo performances.

Sylvester: motivating and inspiring students to behave well, and inculcate within them a sense of responsibility

sylvester

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity:

I instituted a class mascot ‘Sylvester’, a stuffed toy replica of the famous character from the Looney Tunes series. The concept behind Sylvester was that he would go home every weekend with a member of the class who behaved well or performed outstandingly in a particular endeavour.

The student whom he went home with would have to look after Sylvester and ensure that he had an ‘enjoyable time’ with them whilst ensuring that no harm came to him and he was kept safely. They would then have to write an entry for that weekend in Sylvesters journal, pretending to be him.

Indeed, his own introduction in the journal was: “Hello! I’m Sylvester. This is my journal. It is all about my life and the exciting time I have during my travels. Every weekend I go home with a different member of Class IVG2. All my splendid moments are jotted down in this journal. Join me in my merry adventures with the students of IVG2.”

Children absolutely adored Sylvester and constantly referred to him as another member of the class. I would also use him as a positive example, inspiring their imaginations, for example by saying, ‘What do you think Sylvester would do in such a situation?’

Certificates: reinforcing and rewarding positive behaviour

proud of me certificates

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity: 

Every week on a Friday, a child would be presented with a certificate rewarding a particular aspect of their behaviour. Reasons were varied and included things such as, ‘My teacher is proud of me because I…

  • cared for the environment
  • completed my class work  accurately and neatly
  • listened carefully and followed directions
  • remembered to use kind words
  • was a kind and willing helper of my classmates
  • made commendable contributions to class discussions
  • asked questions when unsure
  • was sensitive to others’ feelings
  • offered to help without being asked
  • demonstrated a positive attitude towards a problem
  • read voraciously during the holidays

The certificates were laminated and presented in a mini-ceremony just before the close of school for each weekend.

Bookmarks: a memento of their time with me and encouragement to continue reading

bookmark

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity:

At the end of each school year, once exams were over, and children had some free time, I would give each child a bookmark to colour. On the reverse side of it, they could draw their favourite character from any book that they had read, write the name of the book, and the year. Before the last day of school, I laminated all the bookmarks, and presented them to the pupils with their report cards to take home as a memento of their time in my Year 4 class.

 

 

Note of Appreciation: students’ application of taught concepts which make all my effort truly worthwhile!  

As a teacher, I receive a number of sweet notes from my students not just during their time with me, but long after too. The notes are often full of love and appreciation. A number of them often reflect some particular skill or strategy that the student has recently been taught by me.

One such example are these notes from Year 4 (Key Stage 2) students. At the time, I had just taught the children how to explore and write poems based on different styles and structures. In these particular poems to me, what is most pleasing to note is students’ application of concepts taught in the classroom and their extended learning from it.

These notes are just one example why the teaching profession is so immensely rewarding and joyous and why I return to it time and time again. Teachers come in all forms, for all facets of life: academic, personal and professional. Do you consider yourself a teacher too? Or do you know of a great teacher? I’d love to hear from you, so do please share your experiences in the comments below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

Breaking the cycle of poverty

I have recently returned from a trip to Pakistan. It is a country close to my heart as I spent a number of years during the 2000s studying and working there, and now often return for personal visits to family and friends. During my years in Pakistan, I was an active volunteer with community outreach projects to enable the economic independence and empowerment of rural populations. These experiences are what also contributed towards my current professional remit as a global capacity builder, inclusive educator and researcher in social innovation and impact.

Since 1994, I have been – and even today, from a distance, continue to be – involved with the Galaxy of Youth (GoY).  Established in 1980, GoY is an NGO registered with the Government of Pakistan. Its aims and objectives include moulding young people into better citizens, without any political, racial, religion or social bindings. My involvement with GoY has been through various roles as Member and Vice President. Despite not living in Pakistan, I still keep abreast of its many projects and make time to visit them whenever I’m in Karachi, particularly its project in Qasba Colony. However, this time around, I was saddened to learn of the closure of that project as a result of political tension in the area. I feel particularly emotional about this, because my association with the Centre in Qabsa Colony goes back more than 20 years.

Beyond the glittering streets and affluent localities of Clifton and Defence in Karachi, Pakistan, Qasba Colony in Orangi Town on the outskirts of Karachi is an area rife with poverty and deprivation. In fact, Orangi town was named one of the largest slums in the world in the United Nations World Cities Report 2016. Qasba Colony has a mixed population of lower income groups. It is an area that is under-developed, over-populated, heavily polluted and extremely filthy. Here, the life is a vicious circle of birth, drugs and death.

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image source: personal picture taken at Qasba Colony

In 1987, in this far-flung remote area, GoY succeeded in establishing the Mother and Child Vocational and Coaching Centre. Although GoY’s efforts were but a drop in the ocean, the girl child in particular has been greatly assisted in this dismal and drab area. This project focused on six of the current seventeen Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations has recognised as being essential to it’s global plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, which I have written about here. The Mother and Child Vocational and Coaching Centre, as its name implied, aimed to provide education for children coming from poverty-stricken homes, as well as youth employment, specifically for the young girls. If the Centre was in existence today, it would doubtless be a model case study for the United Nations Development Group (UNDG).

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image source: personal picture taken at Qasba Colony

In Pakistan, the story of the destitute child is heart-breakingly tragic. Children are denied basic human rights, and indeed, despite some small steps, Pakistan has also fallen behind most developing countries in its achievements in basic education, health and gender empowerment. In Pakistan, it is an alarming fact that in the rural areas especially, majority of girls are prevented from going to school simply because families do not want to lose their household labour. In the polluted and garbage-strewn streets, many little girls are seen caring for their younger siblings, while their parents are out working for minimum wages.

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image source: personal picture taken at Qasba Colony

In these areas grown-up girls follow a set pattern of lifestyle – cooking and attending to other household chores – until they are eventually married off. Through GoY we reached out to these girls and their families and helped in providing them the general awareness of basic education.

Initially, it was a most difficult task to get the girls to attend classes. Together a team of GoY members set out to the task at hand. It involved firstly, convincing and motivating the parents and relatives, and secondly, getting the cooperation of the area mosque committee, and then, finally, securing their much-needed approval. At the outset, general education was provided, together with the knowledge of nursing, health, hygiene and nutrition. Later, the Centre evolved into a an Employment and Career Guidance Centre where women, girls and children came to meet, learn and gain knowledge and skills such as typing and stitching. This transition occured through GoY’s interaction with the community at Qasba Colony, which indicated a lot of unrest and frustration among youth coming from poverty-stricken families. This frustration was – and still is – largely due to the fact that the youth lack proper guidance and do not have access to information about job-openings. In fact, as a result of GoY’s work at the Centre, over 200 young women and mothers were able to break free from the cycle of poverty and went to get paid employment as secretaries or seamstresses, or start their own tailoring businesses between 1987-2014.

Despite the Centre having to close as a result of political upheaval in the area, GoY continues to strive towards its mission for the improvement of education and youth development. Recently, GoY has set up the Paqburgh Progessive Institute in the Gizri township of Karachi. Currently, the Institute supports 7 levels of English-medium education for the toddlers and children of daily wage labourers in the area: pre-nursery, nursery, kindergarten KG1, kindergarten KG2, and Primary Classes 1-3. Plans are in the pipeline for an indoor assembly hall, a library and a computer room, and I am looking forward to seeing progress towards this on my next visit to Karachi.

Welfare projects such as the Paqburgh Progressive Institute, are in constant need of funds. GoY has fund-raising drives, donations from benevolent people, grants and various other fund-raising schemes through which it tries its utmost to aid the less-privileged members of society to break free from the cycle of poverty.

During the course of my experiences volunteering with GoY, and my years living in and visiting Pakistan, I have come to realise that there is abundant potential that lies within the poverty-stricken areas of Karachi. I am proud to still be a part of the GoY family which strives to bring about positive changes in the lives of youngsters from destitute areas.

Do you know of any similarly socially impactful projects in your community or country? I’d love to hear about them and learn from the experiences of those who support such projects.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

Oh, Earth!

This blog post has been inspired by Erhan Aqil Arif, the 8 year old son of dear friends of mine. Erhan wrote an eloquent poem about Earth, which he beautifully and smilingly illustrated (including a depiction of the little red planet Mars as well):

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Oh Earth – A poem by Erhan Aqil Arif (click on image for larger version to open in a separate window)

Oh Earth

Oh earth, such a beautiful planet.
Oh earth, you have big cities.
Oh earth, you have beautiful people.
Oh earth, you have beautiful, clean rivers.
Oh earth, you have boats that people can travel on.
Oh earth, you have different countries.
Oh earth, you are such a big planet that God created for me.

(Erhan Aqil Arif, Aged 8 years, January 2017)

Erhan’s poem made me reflect on two counts. The first being certain electoral events in 2016 that have resulted in political upheaval which is still rippling across the global arena in numerous respects; climate change being the primary focus of this post. Climate change pertains not just to global warming, as was the buzz term in the nineties and noughties; but to any changes and extremes (both hot and cold) in global or regional climate patterns as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a concern so grave, that countries’ national interests have been threatened. Climate change has long been the subject of discussion as a collective action problem, a focus of celebrity cause for concern, and divested political campaigns. Sadly though, there is not much contemporary information available about children’s voice in the discussion about climate change, bar one now-defunct website for teachers about curricular activities on the subject; the 2009 Young Voices on Climate Change series; a 2014 UNICEF publication on ‘Climate Change and Children‘ and the odd scholarly article.  It is my hope that more authentic and unaffected poems such as Erhan’s, or other prose written by children about their regard for our precious planet Earth, make their way  into the minds and hearts of not just politicians and policy-makers, but the common man too, who can do his part – his little drop in the ocean – to tackle this grave issue.

The second manner in which Erhan’s poem made me reflect, was a result of Erhan’s maternal grandfather’s (his Nana’s) response to his poem. He wrote the following to his grandson in acknowledgement of his eloquent ode to Earth:

Oh Erhan, What a nice poem.
Oh Erhan,  What wonderful ideas
Oh Erhan,  keep writing
Oh Erhan,  be happy.
Oh Erhan, Nana is proud of you.

Stay blessed.

(Erhan Aqil Arif’s maternal grandfather, January 2017)

Now, I may be biased in the first instance, as Erhan is already very dear to me, when I say that I thought his poem was an excellent effort for an 8 year old, who articulately expresses the reasons why he loves the planet that he lives on. Of course, Erhan’s grandfather is also biased in his view of Erhan’s eloquence. However, the exchange above epitomises the experience that each and every child should have – the ability to express themselves, to have that expression be positively and well-received and to have future expression encouraged and supported. Erhan’s paternal grandmother too, showers him with love, support and encouragement. No matter what cultural backgrounds children come from, this manner of nurture is one that each and every child has a right to, and that they should receive, so that their self-esteem and self-confidence can be developed and enhanced during their precious formative years.

It is my hope that Erhan takes from this experience the lesson of how much value his thoughts and views, and indeed, his very existence has in this world. It is through children such as he – indeed, all children (proud Aunt alert!) including my beloved 3-month old niece Ayzah – that we adults can experience joy and positivity and follow through on emotive calls to action for a hopeful future.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

There are no kangaroos in Austria

I’m currently in Austria as a guest of the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz. JKU is hosting the EERA Summer School 2016 where I am a tutor, facilitating sessions on research methodology for PhD students. The sessions are going well and there is excellent learning taking place for both the students and myself.

Today we had an away day in Salzburg where students attended sessions on quantitative and qualitative data analysis at the Federal Institute for Educational Research, Innovation & Development of the Austrian School System (BIFIE).  After a morning of intellectually challenging sessions, we had the afternoon off to explore Salzburg (and solve a problem like Maria! – worry not though, this won’t be a blog post with cheesy lines from The Sound of Music). However, I cannot resist mentioning one of my favourite things: the ‘No kangaroos in Austria’ souvenir slogan which made me giggle as I pictured hapless tourists perplexedly demanding to view these marsupials. I did ask if any zoo in the country had specially brought a kangaroo in, but was told that the seasonal European climes make it impossible for the roos to thrive.

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image source: personal picture

Anyhow, back to my exploration of Salzburg. My colleagues and I strolled around the city admiring the various historic locations and quaint buildings. At one point we came across the designated UNESCO heritage site, Mirabell Palace and its luscious gardens.

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image source: personal picture

The Palace was commissioned in the early 17th Century by the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for his Mistress Salome Alt (an eyebrow-raising story in itself). But  I digress.

Now I attach here the sign that was at the Garden entrance for your convenience. Allow me to explain: you see, I am used to such signs in public parks and gardens usually having one coherent message: either prohibitive or informative.

 

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image source: personal picture (click on image for larger size to open in a new window)

So I quickly scanned the sign. (Please bear in mind that my colleagues and I had vowed not to use our map or translation apps during the course of our exploration of the city). The upper level cautions made sense (although I was saddened to see that juggling is prohibited). The middle level cautions were also easily construed by the diagonal red lines across them. The lower left one seemed to me like a wishbone, goggles and a paper being thrown in the bin. Although on second glance, I surmised that’s probably a banana peel and apple core, not wishbone and goggles. Anyhow, the red arrow made it clear that this particular caution was of an advisory nature. Now the last one on the lower right. No diagonal line and no arrow. Whatever is one supposed to make of it? Run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance? Or maybe don’t run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance?

My point is, as someone who has studied Special Educational Needs, I think it’s important  that public signs – whether they are informative, prohibitive, cautionary, or advisory – be clear and unambiguous in their message – even to those with vivid imaginations such as myself. Therefore, in the spirit of public service, I’ve taken the opportunity to make a little amendment to the sign. All that remains now is for the Salzburgian City Council to officially proclaim my genius!

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image source: edited personal picture

Fortunately though, apart from this one instance, I am happy to report that all the other public signage was up to my irrational wacky nonsensical exacting standards; my favourite of course, being that there are no kangaroos in Austria. I am loving every moment of my trip and the warmth and hospitality of my Austrian hosts and the wider community here.

Have you had any experience of confusing public signage?  Please do share your stories below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

I’m an impostor

A dear friend emailed me this Buzzfeed article ‘13 Charts That Will Make Total Sense To People With Impostor Syndrome‘, saying that she was pretty sure I that had stated or continually state at least one of the thoughts in the article on an almost-daily basis to her.

I must admit, that although I giggled at the charts; each and every single one resonated with me. Apparently, I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. Admittedly, I am in esteemed company, as the actress and UN ambassador Emma Watson has confessed that she feels like an impostor, as have Sheryl Sandberg, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Kate Winslet and Maya Angelou.

For a number of years, many around me, including my family, my supervisor during my PhD studies, my current boss, and recently and more vociferously, a close friend and colleague, have urged me to consciously overcome this syndrome, because it’s doing me no favours, particularly as I make ground in my professional achievements on an international level.

A TED Talk by Amy Cuddy (suggested by said friend) has been particularly inspiring and I watch it at least once a month, fervently trying to “fake it, till I become it”. I also pull similarly inspirational articles via my Feedly RSS reader, including this recent piece in the Telegraph, ‘Imposter syndrome: Why do so many women feel like frauds?

The path to changing my mindset is no mean feat; after all, I am someone whose all-time favourite childhood poem is ‘I’m Nobody! Who are You?’ by Emily Dickinson. I shall shamelessly take this opportunity to share the poem below (and use this blog post as an excuse to recite it as I did for my prize-winning School Elocution Competition Performance way back when life was so much simpler):

 

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

by Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)

I feel it obligatory to end this blog post on a hopeful note. Caltech has a list of positive behaviours to reinforce the sense of acknowledging one’s achievements, and moving on. My favourites though, and ones that I earnestly try to incorporate, are from a Forbes article:

  1. Focus on the value you bring; not on attaining perfection.
  2. Own your successes. You didn’t get lucky by chance. 
  3. Cease comparisons. They’re an act violence against oneself. 
  4. Hold firm to ambition.  Risk outright exposure!

What about you? Do you, or anyone you know suffer from Impostor Syndrome? What’s your take on it? I’d love to know, so do please leave a comment below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Stories through pebbles

A few months ago I spent some time volunteering with Syrian refugees in Budapest, Hungary. The memory of the experience is forever imprinted in my mind. So much so, that whenever I come across news to do with the refugee crises, I am compelled to read it through the lens of someone who has spent hours talking with these brave souls about their unimaginable journeys from what were once their homes and safe havens.

I recently came across the work of a Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Hailing from the historical Syrian port city of Latakia, Nizar’s latest works of art are based on  pebbles and stones found in his town of residence. A recent corpus of his work is based on the theme of the Syrian refugee crisis – a  situation quite literally close to his heart.

Nizar’s work “transmits the pain of the people who have to die, to suffer, to leave the country, but also… a hope for the revival of the country, the return of human values – love, home, family.” I believe his pieces of art speak louder than words; his work is painfully accurate in its portrayals of the emotions and physical tribulations that refugees have to endure.

The incredible power of Nizar’s wordless visualisations of human suffering and migration due to war are made even more poignant by the fact that they are made from Syrian pebbles and stones.  Nizar himself is a man of a few words, saying on his Facebook page, “”I love the dust and stones from Syria. My message is a humanitarian message.”

I leave you to absorb a few of his works.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Spurious correlations

A chance conversation with my two dear friends Tor and Sarah (who are massive football fans) brought my attention to a popular and bizarre theory making its rounds about the ‘Grim Reaper of Football.’ Apparently – and the statistics prove it – whenever Aaron Ramsey the Arsenal midfielder scores a goal, a celebrity or famous personality dies. Most recent evidence being the passing of David Bowie barely 24 hours after Aaron scored a goal. So strong is the correlation, that there have been numerous articles written (examples here, here and here) and even a Facebook page dedicated to discussing and dissecting the ‘Ramsey Effect‘ of poor Aaron who is understandably not amused.

After many minutes of giggles with Tor and Sarah though, conversation turned to how correlations can – and indeed, have – been created between the most inane occurrences.  I vividly recall how in one researcher development  workshop on data interpretation, I learnt about the ‘10 weirdest things linked to Autism.’ Among them, maternal factors which include getting an infection during pregnancy; not getting an infection during pregnancy; being pregnant near freeways and other dubitable factors:

Source: E.J. Willingham, “10 Weirdest Things  Ever Linked to Autism,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2013/09/04/10-weirdest-things-linked-to-autism/#8a581053fb1a

However, one of my all-time favourite questionable statistical relationships (aka spurious relationship) is that of per capita cheese consumption correlated with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets. Yes! – apparently the CDC in America collects data on people who become tangled in their bedsheets. (Note to self: Must thank my boss for allowing me to manage more, ahem, robustly evidence-based research projects!)

I could, of course, go on and on about other entertaining correlations that have been developed over the years. However, as with any good idea, I have been beaten to the punch by an entire book being dedicated to the subject; I highly recommend ‘Spurious Correlations’ for a riveting and hilarious read. For now, I’ll leave you with this bemusing statistical visual of the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool correlated with the number of films that Nicholas Cage appeared in that particular year… oh dear!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

 

 

Bombolulu, Kenya

I will shortly be travelling to Albania to attend a partner meeting about the EFESEIIS project, for which I am part of the Institute for Social Innovation and Impact‘s research team representing England. The project – about which we are collaborating with partners in nine other European countries – aims to develop an evolutionary theory and ecosystem of Social Entrepreneurship.

Whilst preparing for the meeting, I was reminded of a fabulous social enterprise that was a regular shopping spot during my formative years in Kenya. The Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre were always a favoured destination during family holidays in the beach town of Mombasa. Created and managed by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK), Bombolulu, as it is commonly referred to (named for the Mombasa suburb where the facilities are located), consists of  several workshops and a cultural centre. The facilities offer a range of goods and services that provide social and economic rehabilitation and empowerment of people with disabilities.  (Alas, I have no pictures from my last visit).

Since 1968, the artisans at Bombolulu have attempted to tackle poverty through the creation and trading in handicrafts, producing jewellery, clothes, carvings and other crafts of a high standard. Vocational training is also provided to those with physical disabilities, and the cultural centre houses mock-ups of traditional Kenyan homesteads which visitors are invited to tour.

Their motto of “Disability is not inability” was further demonstrated in 2004 when the Bombolulu School of Promise was created to provide education to the children living in the slums of Mombasa. If you are ever in the vicinity, I would highly recommend a trip to both locations: the School and the Workshops and Cultural Centre to witness first-hand how the lives of those from impoverished families or those living with disabilities, are being impacted for the better.

My reason for blogging about Bombolulu today is that, whilst I am looking forward to learning about socially entrepreneurial initiatives around Europe at my meeting, I am also proud to highlight but just one such fabulous and well-established enterprise that exists in developing countries such as mine.

Do you know of any other exemplary social enterprises? I’d love to learn about them, so please do comment below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

What matters to you?

Since 2011, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has undertaken research within OECD member countries which compared wellbeing across the world. The Better Life Index, which resulted from the project, depicts the results in the form of ‘flowers’ in which each flower depicts a country, and each petal represents a topic. Although visually very appealing, one should approach the data with caution, because it is based on voluntarily-submitted data, which means the participants are self-selected. Therefore, the results indicated in the Better Life Index are not necessarily representative of the views of the global population, and indeed, could be argued to represent mainly those with an internet connection.

Nevertheless, the OECD has extracted further data from the Better Life Index study, and developed an interactive map illustrating ‘What matters most to people around the world.’ Among those in OECD countries that have used the tool, health narrowly beats general life satisfaction as the topic people identify as most important to them. Although interesting to browse through, I’d argue two caveats whilst looking at the map: firstly, some of the terms used to define the parameters are rather vague, for instance, “life satisfaction”; and secondly, the number of respondents varies greatly from country to country.

The ‘What Matters to you?’ map makes for a thought-provoking point of reference when one considers that later this year in September 2015, the UN will meet to finalise the new framework for global development priorities 2015-2030. This week the ‘zero draft of the outcome document‘ was published of 17 goals and 169 targets. The accompanying image on the left (which you can click on for larger legible version) illustrates a more user-friendly summary of the overall framework. On a personal note, I am disappointed to see no mention made of the educational needs of those with disabilities and/or those living in war-ravaged countries. I fear the danger of a whole generation of children growing up amongst strife, not being given educational opportunities in any form, so as to enable them to break to vicious cycle of poverty or the state of civic unrest within which they live.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the results depicted in OECD research? Do you think UN goals and targets reflect global (not just OECD member countries’) priorities? Do you think that 17 targets and 169 goals are enough to meet the needs of over 7 billion people? What matters to you?

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015