What is freedom?

seagull

What is freedom?

What does freedom look like to you? Should we all seek to have the same concept of human freedoms or are they always going to be culturally-relative? Perhaps there are different levels of freedom, all equally valid yet some more fundamental to the entire human race than others?

Freedom takes many forms

For as I talk about ‘freedom lifestyle’ (such as the ability to travel when and where you want, to educate your children as you please, to trust that you will always have enough financial and material resources to get by, to engage in mutual relationships with whomever you choose, to simplify your routines that you may do more of what you love, and to construct whatever personal image you desire), I am also aware that the idea of freedom takes on a much different form for many people of the world.

The ‘freedom lifestyle’ I so enjoy discussing is a prime example of the privilege of WEIRD societies (that is, Western, educatied, industrialised, rich, democratic societies – but certainly quite weird too). It is painful and sickening to see the injustices against human rights taking place on a daily basis across the globe – yet rather than be wholly ashamed at our unconsciously colonial concept of freedom and personal autonomy, I wish that others had the opportunities that I have had for self-actualisation. This is not about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Speaking from this place of privilege, I can see how strongly our concept of freedom is interlinked with the individualist ideology of neoliberalism. Whilst having such personal autonomy is a huge luxury, it can also be a curse – for in seeking this autonomy, we inevitably disconnect in some way from the community, the collective, ending up in our own little bubbles in which the freedom to seek personal gratification detaches us from the needs of the ‘tribe’.

This is one of the cons that many full-time worldschooling families find – enjoying independence yet yearning for deep human connections. Whilst the culture of the internet is quickly creating ‘global communities’, I wonder at how much strength and integrity these actually have in the rootless, fluctuating nature of them (and I’m referring to those communities that actually end up having physical meetings, not just online communications). Or is this just an extension of the idea of being free to choose our friends if not our family – choosing where we go to if not where we come from, yet never quite sure how strong the new bonds are until something tests them?

While I can thus tar the love of travel as weakening social bonds even as we develop cross-border friendship, the versatility and survival mechanisms of humans that have resulted in the anthropocene are what drive us to seek to explore new terrain just as much as we seek to set down roots.

It seems freedom is a spectrum – whilst I write about our adventures as a family that enjoys to travel, I also write about the basic universal freedoms that human beings should have, but are kept from through apartheid and denying freedom of speech.

But does ultimate personal freedom come at an expense, discarding the very values that have bound human beings together in kinship through the ages?

Boys in the mountains

Freedom is choice

Of course, not everyone can choose freedom – let this not play down the struggles of those who are oppressed, wrongly incarcerated, or living with war. And the spiritual freedom which often gets people through such trials needs another post entirely (in the meantime, read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as an example of the spiritual resilience of survival). Yet you know you have freedom when you have choices – when your life isn’t mapped out ahead of you just because of where you were born or who you were born to, when you know you can choose to stay or go, when you know if you don’t like something you can change it.

We should be so grateful for all the freedoms we have in a society such as ours – to not take them for granted and neither to eschew them (I absolutely believe you should take advantage of any new opportunities that life offers you, even if it does make you more self-conscious about your privileged status in the world – perhaps a necessary realisation to make to truly appreciate our rich lives and respect the lives of those born without the same status?).

However, our freedom to make such choices puts us under other psychological pressures. What if you make the wrong decision? What if you regret the choice you made? What if your choice as an individual has repercussions for the lives of others? What if? What if?

It seems that the more personal freedom we have, the less we rely (or are able to rely) on interpersonal relationships to guide us – that we are free precisely because nobody else necessarily relies on us in a physical manner, that we may not rely on anybody else to provide for us, and that no other can make our decisions for us. Yes, often our choices will seem conflicting and indecision will loom precisely because we are weighing up what the best thing is for our families and other loved ones, and others’ opinions certainly abound, but ultimately we make the final decisions – and then individually shoulder all the blame when things go wrong or take all the praise when they work out.

Yet in a society where you have less choices available and therefore less decisions to make, you also have less stress relating to indecision and whether or not you are really “following your heart”. We are indeed blessed by having so much say over the direction of our lives – and then cursed when the analysis paralysis kicks in! The social conformity of collectivistic culture is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for those who recognise the beauty of the simple life.

What we sometimes forget is that, much like we limit choices for a child so as to not overwhelm them, we are also free to limit our own choices. Just because an option is available doesn’t mean it has to end up on your plate. In a culture of sensory overload and information overload, it becomes all the more important to engage in activities that simplify and streamline our lives. It can seem like an uphill battle at times but, as counter-intuitive as it seems to those who have grown up under rampant consumerism, minimalism is a lifestyle that invites in many freedoms. Less really is more.

We are sold the same options when it comes to embarking on relationships – I’ve come to see this freedom as inherently tainted with fear, because we’re all just one out of “plenty of fish” that could be discarded as “too this” or “too that” barely seconds after being caught. All the tears shed and days wasted trying to decide whether to leave a relationship or “is this really an expression of love?” – only to find myself in my mid-30s and a single parent to 4 children with the grand realisation that love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. It’s a state of being.

Yet the wrong relationships can significantly limit our freedom, and there may be occasion to choose personal independence above the desire for relationship. Despite this, freedom should always have a synonym in love, and freedom does not have to be at odds with commitment. Human mothers are not supposed to raise children in solitude, and this is one reason why social contracts of wedlock exist. While they may have different social issues to address, I can understand why so many cultures remain stable through the practice of arranged marriages. Unfortunately, individualistic independence and relationships of codependence seem more prevalent than freedom-granting relationships of interdependence.

Freedom is love

If love is freedom, freedom is love. I believe that those who truly love are not afraid of others’ freedom.

I believe freedom is always fought for from a place of love – that I will campaign against the oppression of strangers in other countries because I actually love the human race, for all the misdeeds we commit and quirks we have.

I believe that anyone who seeks to oppress others – restricting the freedoms of other human beings due to their ethnicity, religion, class, or any other socially-constructed label we use – is an agent of fear who is deprived of love and seeking to deprive others in turn.

I believe that freedom is the state you find yourself in when your first port of call in each moment is to tune into the love that resides within yourself (it’s never really about what other people are doing). Wherever you find yourself – as a willing hermit, in an unhappy marriage, or alongside your soulmate – true love within yourself creates spiritual freedom, and this is such pure freedom as it does not depend on any other human’s approval or affirmation.

Unfortunately, human love may come up against policies that restrict freedom, something that has become more of a headline story since EU nationals have started feeling the effects of anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK.

I also believe that freedom is the ultimate test for any human relationship – that as soon as we cling to another person or rely on them or their actions for our happiness, we are living in a state that is not actually conducive with real love. Relationships grow because they have room to grow. Only when we can give one another this space and still find one another on the other side are we ready to commit in confidence. Because if love is the basis of your relationship and if love is freedom, then so too should your relationship be one of freedom.

Fire & Water

Freedom is not opposed to commitment

Of course not, for I am committed to freedom!

So, I have learnt that I deeply respect those who find comfort in marriage and in making the choice each and every day to work alongside another person, finding their mutual balance between freedom and security.

I used to be something of a commitment-phobe – this doesn’t just apply to intimate relationships, but to ideas, interests, plans, and places. I’ve only been in my current hometown for the length of time I have by taking one day at a time and interspersing the past 14 years with lots of travelling, lots of visitors, and lots of daydreaming about emigrating – if someone had told me when I first moved to Weymouth that I would still be here over 14 years later, I would have laughed!

It’s not in my nature to settle – and certainly not for less than I deserve. We need the freedom to discern when we should persevere and when we should let go.

At the beginning of 2017 I finally put a full stop on an abusive relationship (one of our freedoms – indeed, rights – must be the power to walk away from dysfunctional relationships). I then focused on all the things that would make me feel ‘free’ – paying off debt, enroling on business and psychology courses, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, pursuing minimalism, having live-in helpers through Workaway, and chasing our worldschooling dreams.

The freedom to step back and take refuge from a bad situation is necessary in order to remember your light – in the midst of something, you cannot see the woods for the trees. The combination of utilising my power to walk away and recognising the dynamics that had been at play was a huge lesson about freedom and choice. Only by having the freedom to get out of a negative situation, find myself in a contrasting situation, and therefore take on a new perspective did I realise what I actually wanted to commit to.

I found myself committing to a path with my self-development that I am still walking over 3 years later.

I found myself making a significant financial investment into something that I would have to follow through to make it worth the cost.

I found myself gaining comfort in routines and schedules, and putting procrastination into the past due to a commitment to just getting things done as they needed doing.

When you’re not fully committed, you do things by halves. A person or an employer or a project will never get the absolute best of you when half of your heart is elsewhere – and neither will you necessarily see the best of yourself (even if you know your ‘true potential’ – knowing what could be is no substitute for acting upon it).

Hence, I recognised it was my commitment to freedom at all costs that prevented me from making the most of what the previous few years had offered me – that stopped me from learning my children’s Imazighen family’s first language (“What’s the point if my future isn’t here?”), that took goal-setting as a contract against freedom (“But if I commit to this I won’t be free to discover what other paths could have been!”). Options are freedom but inaction is a cage made of fear.

Freedom is emotional freedom

When I’m happy and full of energy, everybody knows about it – I’m sharing my new ideas, connecting with friends to arrange meet-ups, being generous with my time, and possibly recounting not-so-happy moments because of the spiritual and psychological revelations that have dawned on me through them (yes, I’m happy today!).

When I’m not-so-happy, I hide away until the storm has passed, making sure no-one ever takes pity on me or sees me tearful. Much of 2017-2018 was spent in this state as I slowly recovered my sense of self and dealt with another unexpected pregnancy that coinciding with moving into a brand new chapter.

I have lost count of the number of times in my life when I’ve bluntly been told to stop crying because the person I’m with can’t handle my emotions. Too many of us have been taught to lock our feelings away, restraining ourselves lest we make another person feel uncomfortable. However, I know that it takes great strength to be vulnerable, and that we will never be free for as long as we keep things bottled up inside – prisoners of our own making.

I sincerely tell my friends to see me as a shoulder to cry on and to never go it alone if they don’t have to (I have often found this offer taken up, touched by the trust shown in me in being the person they open up to) – yet do I take my own advice?

Part of my reticence to discuss big emotions as they happen is that I also believe we can choose how far to head into our emotional responses – we should never deny or repress our emotions, but neither should we feed them or be governed by them. We should be mindful when they arise (“Oh, hello anger!”), but do we need to act on them and allow them to consume us? No. No, we really do not need to announce things to our entire Facebook friends list each time something remotely shitty happens – let it go. Meditate instead.

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There is a great freedom to be had by not feeding the negative thought-forms and nurturing the positive instead. I’m not naïve about the pitfalls and oversights of positive psychology – not if it buries things that need expressing or expects individuals to put on a brave face when they genuinely need the support of a fellow human. Yet if we approached our mental health like our physical health, we’d maybe be more conscious of what we put into our minds (and the minds of others) and the control we actually have – and enjoy the freedom that is found through regaining that control.

So while we should feel free to be open-hearted when things are difficult we should also endeavour to reclaim our power from negative emotions – it is so liberating to realise that changing how you feel is often just about changing the way you think about something.

This is about all the big emotions, whether we label them good or bad. Don’t be afraid to show that you’re hurting. But also don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them, that they light up your life, that your day has been made thanks to their very presence. True emotional freedom does not fear rejection because it is all about the expression, not the outcome.

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Freedom is cultural

Do not think you understand the full concept of freedom coming solely from your own cultural perspective. This point is well-illustrated by the somewhat simplistic but thought-provoking image of a bikini-clad woman and a woman in Islamic hijab, both pitying the other for what patriarchy has done to them.

Both they and every opinion in between come from different cultural perspectives. Certainly some people will be wearing what they do because they are expected to, whilst others have made a conscious decision through their own free-will (or think they have; the concepts of free will and subjectivity have less to do with personal autonomy than we tend to assume). Deciding that one style of dress is about freedom and another about oppression is not helpful in unravelling what’s at play – looking at the bigger picture, you’d start questioning uniforms of any kind.

Depending on the inherent values in your culture of upbringing, you will have different notions of what freedom entails and whether it is more or less important in the grand scheme of things.

As an educated woman, I often find myself feeling conflicted by the imperialistic push to grant a Western-style education to underprivileged women in developing countries. We should only go into such endeavours with a full understanding of the impact it has on the societies as a whole – an easy oversight to make if you go into it believing your own cultural background is the ‘right’ one.

This is where the individual and the collective comes into play. How much should we put individual self-actualisation on hold for the good of the collective? When are we actually just sacrificing traditions that bind communities on the altar of the West’s latest social paradigm? When is what we think is good (education) actually bad (indoctrinisation)? As usual, balance should be the operative word here.

I write this considering the impact of state education in Morocco on the country’s indigenous heritage – as soon as you encourage the indigenous Imazighen women to become Arabised by the state education system, you encourage them to leave behind their culture. And with that comes the death of indigenous languages and a further move towards cultural hegemony – and I tend to feel that reduced diversity in a country ultimately leads to reduced freedom of expression, one of those freedoms we are so quick to defend.

These women may not have financial or academic capital, but they have huge cultural capital – as with most women’s issues, where their power lies is also what society will try to undermine and distort. To truly honour and emancipate them would be to enable them to gain literacy in their own language first and foremost.

We can see in our own society how the ’emancipation’ of women is turning in on itself, leading to less freedom of choice – honouring those who try to be everything (wife, mother, career woman, fun-loving friend, and preferably on the PTA too) and undermining those who believe that their 24/7 role as a mother, homemaker, and wife is quite enough (and not just enough, but exactly where they feel their purpose lies). If emancipation means freedom, it should always be about the freedom to choose. This also goes for bikinis, burqas, and anything in between.

Also, I have learnt that when your Muslim partner wants to accompany you on all your outings, it is not because of a lack of trust in you or with the intention of limiting your freedom – it is a matter of honour, of being seen as a protector and provider, to be there for you if anything goes wrong or anyone tries to hassle you. Forgive me for using an analogy of a child in this case (quite enough infantilising of women occurs), but I shall relate it to being the relaxed parent in a park full of helicopter parents – as soon as your child falls off something because you were 3 metres away letting them get on with it rather than right under them waiting for them to fall, you’re going to be seen as the one in the wrong. Likewise, a shame-based culture, such as those in the Middle East and Asia, will try to limit problems by not letting them happen in the first place. I’m not saying I like this (although it was often reassuring) or think it’s right (I am that relaxed parent) but so could someone question a guilt-based culture, which places a higher value on autonomy yet in which it is increasingly difficult to feel a sense of shared social values.

Talk about culture clash. However, it has helped me to understand how stressful mixed-heritage relationships are upon people, quite apart from the usual pressures of relationships. And that whilst we may have the freedom to travel and to pursue a relationship with someone living in another continent, that very freedom brings the sharp contrast of shortcomings in social capital to the partner who has a less privileged passport.

Conscious freedom

Our freedom should be used to understand and enhance the lives of those around us rather than be solely about personal autonomy. Rob Greenfield is an example of someone who possibly lives the ultimate freedom lifestyle, using his lack of attachment to money, property, and possessions to serve people and the planet.

Though I warned against our attempts to ‘fix’ developing nations and am also sceptical of certain forms of voluntourism, there are always ways in which we can use our freedoms to benefit others – whether our financial freedom allows us to help those less well-off, our emotional freedom allows us to support those going through dark days, or our physical freedom allows us to assist those who are dependent on others to care for them.

Whilst we can be conscious of our privilege in ‘free’ nations (I use that term tentatively in regards to the lack of psychologically freedom of those bound by consumerism and the false narratives of mainstream media), are we conscious of how our background influences the way we think about freedom? And what do we miss out on if we put freedom on a pedestal above other aspects of a well-rounded life, such as community and security?

Our pick ‘n’ mix personal freedom replaces solid communities with disparate networks – it does not make meaningful human contact impossible, but it makes it more difficult. Networks facilitate connections – but it is community that supports those connections.

Over recent weeks I’ve been given a reminder of how selfish Western individualism is. And how isolating. And how my “Woohoo, freedom lifestyle!” smile hides the reality of suffering from strong, independent woman syndrome. I found myself nodding in recognition upon reading an article about how individualism results in social isolation and another about how mothers suffer with the lack of genuine community.

Yet herein is the dichotomy and a reminder that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. Spiritually and emotionally we may be as free as our thoughts allow, yet physically we are bound by more than we care to admit, always subject to the laws, traditions, and social code of wherever we find ourselves – and always somewhat drawn to conform and fit in. But that very desire to fit in and create shared values is what binds us to others and fosters the solidarity of community.

Conscious freedom not only means recognising our place amongst others in the world as a whole but also recognising if we are remaining centred in ourselves in a mindful way that seeks connection with other people or in an egoic way that ends up isolating us from other people.

Freedom is planning

In my new-found security of sticking to my plans and projects, I’ve been starkly aware of times when I’ve let go just before achieving a goal, or dishonoured myself by refusing to make a commitment. The freedom to change is responsible for many an incomplete project, meaning I have few finished products to be proud of despite being a self-confessed ‘idea machine‘.

The freedom of not planning too much too far in advance becomes a ball and chain when we notice that the years have gone by and there is so much we could have achieved if we had our eye on the long-term goal rather than pursuing the freedom of total spontaneity. That pursuit can cost your dreams, which you shall receive a rude reminder of when the ultimate freedom of death comes knocking.

To achieve our true potential we must sometimes shelter what we have sown when the winds of change blow rather than taking to our wings and abandoning our seedlings to the storm. The grass can never be greener if we do not stay to watch it grow.

So, I resolve to integrate these lessons – to move into tomorrow appreciating how much choice and variety my freedom affords me whilst being mindful of the decisions I then make. To know that the privilege of freedom should not be taken for granted and squandered, but used to promise ourselves to the greater good. To focus on choosing commitment when it is called for and choosing love in all situations.

This has just skimmed the surface of the various layers of freedom and how it can be conceptualised – do let me know in the comments below what resonated for you, and which aspects you may like to explore more.

 

A Story of Hope: Palestine in a Picture Book?

A poignant yet optimistic look at how conflict affects children comes in the shape of A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope, an Amnesty International-endorsed picture book by Michael Foreman.

A Child's Garden

Today seems an appropriate day to feature this book, as it marks the first anniversary of the commencement of Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Israeli offensive against Gaza – and the anniversary of my realisation of how ignorant I was to the history and politics of the Palestinian campaign.

Yes, I’d often observed the ‘Free Palestine’ posters over the years and the issues spoken of in the mainstream media were at the periphery of my awareness. Yet, really, I was uninformed and uninterested for a long time – it’s a sad fact that the amount of causes to campaign for and injustices out there mean we cannot lend our attention and time to everything that may deserve our recognition. And, in truth, certain issues tend to resonate with us more than others.

Yet last year, largely due to following independent press such as Scriptonite Daily via social media, I suddenly became aware of the slow genocide of the Palestinian people. Watching a live stream of a journalist reporting from within Gaza as air strikes took place and she conveyed the horror of hearing children screaming in the streets below, it became more than ‘just another news story’.

Then I picked up A Child’s Garden during a browse of the children’s picture books in our local library. Although no specific conflict was explicitly mentioned in the blurb, it seemed to me that the inspiration was the issue of Israel-Palestine. The illustrations appeared to allude to Palestine for many reasons: one group of people clearly in a position of superiority over another; white-washed high-rise blocks looming beyond wire fencing; families living amidst rubble in a situation of oppression and segregation; people dreaming of their return to hills dotted with date palms.

It was very evident that the issue at stake was the repatriation of land.

I found this book both disturbing yet hopeful. For, indeed, what have the Palestinian people got at the moment without hope? The alternative is too sickening to contemplate, and especially at the hands of a group of people who were themselves persecuted by a regime bent on ethnic cleansing (whilst not all Israelis are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists, et cetera, let’s not forget that the State of Israel was officially created after millions of Jewish people were killed or displaced by the Nazis – and that the topic of this post renders me immune to Godwin’s Law!).

The book reminded me of the character and fortitude of El-Phil, a vibrant Palestinian villager in Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s documentary, 5 Broken Cameras. Amidst the chaos, uncertainty and tragedy, there was still something or someone who could raise the energy and raise a smile, a child-like need to play in spite of the pain. There is also more than a hint of defiance – and the awareness that the alternative to hope is utter despair.

Illustrated to drive these points home, the symbols of peace and hope sit vibrantly in colour against a background of grey; the green and seeking tendrils of creeping plants teasing the fences, the rainbow wings of birds knowing the freedom of the skies. Through children and nature, differences are diminished and our true birth-rights brought forth.

A Child’s Garden was a thought-provoking yet gentle means by which to continue a conversation with FreeToBeP about war and oppressive regimes. The book works on many levels without introducing issues or images that are too harsh to present to a child, allowing parent and child to set their own tone for discussion. There is no bloodshed and no death, yet there are walls, sadness and segregation. The hardships of families living in war-torn countries may be softened but the emotiveness is not lost  – personal loss is conveyed through the brutal removal of a lovingly-tended plant rather than the heart-breaking bereavement of beloved kin.

Call me naïve but the very fact that this issue can be so carefully and appropriately portrayed in a ‘mere’ picture book speaks volumes about the nature of war and peace.

The answer is simple if only we value other members of the human race. Is that really so hard to do?

Peace and freedom are natural states craved by the scarred yet innocent children in this book. There is a simplicity many of us would do well to emulate: the children do not wish to engage in complex politics about Zionism or Hamas or the IDF, they wish to engage with the land of their forebears.

Likewise, I won’t pretend to know all the politics but what I do know is that something which, technically, holds millions of people hostage whilst systematically stealing their land and slowly killing them off is not a situation a fellow human being should tolerate.

We know the big players are generally corrupt and do not necessarily stand for the wishes of the civilians. We know our own government pays lip service to peace-keeping as they simultaneously trade weapons or engage in wars that result in untold amounts of ‘collateral damage’ (talk about dehumanising – in layman’s terms, that’s the murder of innocent civilians).

Whatever Hamas or the IDF do, it is not a simple narrative of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Even as Israeli MPs demonise unborn Palestinian children, there are Israeli human rights activists fighting for the interests of people living in Gaza and the West Bank. As pro-Palestine campaigners are accused of anti-Semitism (in secular countries no less!), alongside them exist Jews against Zionism. For as many people who believe in the two-state solution there are probably just as many who don’t; those who will never recognise a Palestine and those who will never recognise an Israel.

Hence, we could go around in circles with the politics, just as the conflicts and ceasefires do. The crux of the matter is that there are thousands of innocent families being forced from their homes with nowhere to go, children forced to grow up in a blockaded war zone without even hope of escaping to the loftier status of asylum-seeker. Children like yours or mine who just happen to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some of those children will, with enough misery and pain to fuel their righteous anger, go on to be the vengeful extremists of the future.

Some of those children will, with enough empathy and passion to fuel their righteous anger, go on to be the peace-makers and peace-keepers of the future.

So, let’s at least stop feeding our own children stories about ‘us’ and ‘them’, about the ‘need’ for armaments and war. The world is already quick to tell them this.

Let’s instead teach them to see the humanity in everyone, irrespective of their nation, religion or culture.

Let’s teach them to seek information beyond what the BBC tells them.

I don’t want my children to grow up in fear and suspicion of the world, but I do pray that they see the people rather than the propaganda, that they think about making the world better rather than making do, that they recognise small ways to help make big differences, and – as per A Child’s Garden – that they give thanks when hope and simple pleasures sustain the dream of freedom.

And, in time, may that dream of freedom come true.

Learn more? Links below:

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

5 Broken Cameras

The Parkour Guide to Gaza

10 Websites for Teaching Global Citizenship

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In the age of globalisation, citizenship has become a hot topic for educators – from national citizenship lessons specific to a child’s country through to the more inclusive realm of global citizenship.

In a country such as the UK, there are many things people take for granted that those in other countries cannot (from material goods to human rights) and it is important to equip the next generation with the critical thinking skills to see the bigger picture beyond our own culture and borders.

The following 10 websites for teaching global citizenship are full of activities and resources about world culture and important global issues:

Kid World Citizen

KidWorldCitizen

I find the KWC site fun, friendly and comprehensive. There is a vast array of hands-on activities in order to learn about different cultures from the comfort of your own home, as well as family travel advice for seeking first-hand experiences in other countries.

Whether there’s a particular country or specific celebration you hope to explore or you wish to browse a general subject such as language or geography, you can find something on here which helps bring cultural studies to life.

Oxfam

Oxfam

Oxfam have a wealth of resources relating to many of the big issues facing the world community.

The Resources page allows you to search by age, topic, curriculum subject, country or activity type.

With topics ranging from climate change to conflict, development to diversity, and refugees to rights, there’s a huge variety of issues to recognise and explore.

Global Dimension

GlobalDimension

This is aimed at teachers yet has a huge array of resources and links – their list of topics is inspirational in itself! Many of these resources are free and cover up to date events, such as the 2014 attacks on Gaza.

Children can learn about global issues through browsing their favourite curriculum subjects or by choosing a specific issue facing the world community.

Education Scotland

EducationScotland

Based in Scotland yet truly global, this has a wealth of ideas, information and resources for approaching global citizenship and international education. Its blog and calendar are up to date, making it a great site for informing yourself about current affairs.

This site is a bit on the ‘dry’ side for looking at with younger children, but there are plenty of conversation starters – even just thinking about their definitions of terms could provide enough material for a learning session:

Education for citizenship encourages taking thoughtful and responsible action, locally and globally. – Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

International education helps to prepare young people for life and active participation in a global multicultural society. – Education Scotland / Foghlam Alba

Oh, and giant panda lovers click here.

My Learning: Citizenship

MyLearning

The Citizenship page of this site features plenty of resources for researching both local and global concerns, particularly for primary school aged children.

When looking at human rights, slavery and discrimination you might want to explore the Global Citizens – Make An Impact! resources. For learning about women’s rights, the From Suffering to Suffrage page may prove useful.

Global Footprints

GlobalFootprints

Yet again aimed at schools, the Global Footprints website by the HEC Global Learning Centre nonetheless looks to be a handy resource for exploring global community, whether in a classroom or at home.

Their classroom page includes a number of activities for getting to grips with global issues via literacy and numeracy lessons, with many key topics being explored alongside the 3Rs.

Traidcraft

Traidcraft

The Traidcraft website provides a number of activities for looking at the issue of fair trade with children and young people. From group assemblies to competitions, there are a variety of ways to get kids engaged with the topic of fair trade.

Including many seasonal activities, the most relevant as I post this is their Easter page, featuring an Easter egg hunt with a difference!

Picture My World

PictureMyWorld

This site is the face of CAFOD for children (CAFOD being the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development); whilst I automatically link such organisations to missionaries and conversion efforts, I believe this can be a talking point in itself, leading onto topics such as secular society, and the links between religion, race and culture.

On this site, children are invited to learn about life in other areas of the world through looking at photo diaries of other children. It also draws attention to issues such as world hunger and the need for clean water.

Global Kids Connect

GlobalKidsConnect

A US site aimed at school classes, this site nonetheless has useful information about what it means to be a global citizen, with ideas on how to encourage cultural exchange and philanthropy.

With an emphasis on the lives and culture of children in other parts of the world, this gets kids thinking about what it means to be a child in a different country – or even someone in your own community with a different background.

British Red Cross

RedCross

The Red Cross provides a broad range of issues to explore which can be browsed by topic or school subject. Featuring current news headlines such as ebola and migration, it also looks at citizenship issues closer to home – from day-to-day kindness through to emergency situations.

Browsing the activities on this site, the practical and emotional concerns of people during crises are clearly evident – the shared experiences of all humanity brought to the fore.

 

I hope this list gets you off to a flying start with your family discussions about the human family!

Do let me know what you think of the sites listed and whether you successfully make use of any of the resources they lead you to.

Book lovers – if your children’s appetite for global citizenship education has been whetted, the following titles may be of interest (FYI, these are Amazon affiliate links):

GrowingUpGlobal

iftheworldwereavillage

weareallbornfreewhoeveryouaredreamsoffreedomihaveadream

Raif Badawi: A Lesson in Human Rights

free raif

Yesterday evening we attended a touching tribute to Raif Badawi, the liberal Saudi blogger who is in the midst of a sentence of floggings and imprisonment for daring to speak his mind.

Having found out about the candlelit vigil late in the afternoon, the children were given little warning of our unusual evening outing to Weymouth Pavilion. Yet they approached the small crowd beside the theatre in good spirits and were cautiously intrigued by the flickering flames. One attentive lady soon assigned FreeToBeP the task of keeping the candles alight as a gentle sea breeze ensured the steady snuffing out of the many tealights.

My children may not have understood why we were there, but their presence seemed poignant. It was one of those moments where I can understand (if not agree with) people who don’t wish to have children due to the sort of world that they would be being brought into.

FreeToBeP and FreeToBeZ both adopted a natural reverence – whilst they may not have fully appreciated the occasion intellectually, they certainly seemed to intuitively.

Initially, it appeared difficult to know how much to disclose about such a case as Badawi’s to a child – I don’t want to wrap my kids in cotton wool, yet equally don’t want them fearing that the world is a cruel place. But, really, the explanations came naturally and in a language that FreeToBeP would understand.

I gently explained that in some countries, people can be punished for doing exactly what I do: expressing opinions publicly by way of an online blog and encouraging people to share information, think outside the box and question life, the universe and everything.

I gently explained that this man has children who know their daddy is being hurt, and that it’s important to try to free him so that he can be reunited with his family.

I gently explained that we were attending to show that we care about other human beings and don’t agree with people being treated cruelly, that when we know someone is being mistreated we must speak out against it.

Somewhat black and white explanations maybe, but more than sufficient for a six year old who is at liberty to ask further questions if my initial words don’t suffice.

I hope that by attending such events, I’m not merely focusing on the negative happenings of the world but showing my children how much compassion and hope there is between people despite the brutality of others; that through solidarity with our fellow humans – even a stranger in another country – we can affect change and our children will grow up to live that change.

The simple message was Yes, bad things happen, but good people rally together to make things better.

The children were a huge credit to me, FreeToBeP conscientiously being the flame-keeper and FreeToBeZ the observant bystander: both of them calm and contained and careful in both speech and action. I have no doubt that they, on some level, perceived the energy of the event and responded accordingly.

The general atmosphere was one of quiet respect – it was sociable, hopeful and yet suitably solemn. We were a fairly small gathering yet not insignificant – for if no one stood up in protest, the world would be a free for all in quite a different way to the one Raif Badawi calls for.

Yes, there are many atrocities taking place the world over – each and every day witnesses the suffering of numerous warzones and injustices against innocent people. But some stories captivate the collective consciousness more than others (or someone tell me this is due to media spin!) and call on us to respond, to take action, to say “enough is enough”.

burning candles

As our candles stood as symbols of hope, so has Raif Badawi’s case become a symbol of the right to free speech.

He is just one of countless scapegoated people, yet in speaking out against the inhumanity shown towards one, we speak out against inhumanity in general.

As my children tended to the tiny flames, so I saw the tiny flames that they are – the next generation who will light the way forward.

In allowing our children to take part in peaceful activism and empowering them to believe that they can change the world, may they be the lights of hope that pave the way to a future where freedom of expression is a birthright the world over.

 

To sign the petition against the punishment of Raif Badawi, please visit Amnesty International here.

To read extracts from the blog that got Raif Badawi into trouble, visit The Guardian’s article here.

A local account of the evening’s vigil can be found at the Dorset Echo website here.

The Price of Cross-Border Love

 

BritCits campaign: What price to fall in love and live with your family?
BritCits campaign: What price to fall in love and live with your family? (http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/)

I compile this post as the festive season draws to an end, a time during which those who have wanted to spend time with their families have most likely had the chance to. Or have they?

Unfortunately, for many UK citizens, all that was wanted for Christmas is the right to live with their spouse and pursue a traditional family life in their own country. Yet for some corners of society this is not a right but a privilege – a privilege which depends on your spouse being of British or European citizenship or your personal income being at least £18,600.

The current family immigration rules, introduced in July 2012, prevent many non-EU family members from joining their loved ones in the UK. I feel sure that most of the families affected by these rules would agree that the propaganda machine repeating the “soft touch” and “open door” mantra when it comes to UK border control is a far cry from their experience.

Is it really ok to tell nearly 50% of British citizens that they are too poor to be able to fall in love and pursue a relationship with whomever in the world they wish to? That is effectively what the current immigration rules do.

The minimum income level of £18,600 doesn’t account for many variables, such as the difference in average pay in different areas of the country, the difference in average pay between women and men, and the reality of life for those who are parents. Anyone who is in a full-time job on the minimum wage would not be allowed to have a non-EU spouse join them in the UK.

From international students who meet and start relationships with British students in the UK, to British people posted abroad for work who find romance with people in far-flung places, to those who meet their future spouses whilst on holiday: there are people from all walks of life affected by these rules.

And don’t be fooled by being a British citizen in a job in another country that satisfies the visa application’s financial requirements: if you are living with your non-EU partner in a non-EU country, you will have to separate in order to be in work in the UK for at least 6 months before you can even apply for them to join you. Even if either or both of you are promised high paid work in the UK, this is not enough to satisfy the rules.

Where the non-EU partner is the main breadwinner – even in a high-earning, professional position – the onus is on the British citizen (and them alone) to fulfil the financial requirement.

BritCits campaign: United by love, divided by the Home Office (http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/flyers)
BritCits campaign: United by love, divided by the Home Office (http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/flyers)

Prior to these new rules introduced in 2012, the British citizen could call on the support of a sponsor to show that there were funds in place to support the immigrant partner and the financial requirement was also much lower. For example, a British student wanting to live with their American spouse could ask a parent to sponsor the visa application and the minimum income level stood below the £6000pa mark, making it very possible for students or single parents to show that they were economically active despite their commitments to study or children.

Add children to the mix and the situation is all the more dire. Some people state that the UK resident should “just do what they need to in order to earn £18,600 per year” or “if you’re that bothered about your family being together, you should just move to your partner’s country”. The naïvety and lack of compassion in these statements is, frankly, unbelievable to me. Without knowing a family’s specific situation, these are potentially harmful things to suggest.

I have heard of some British citizens struggling to get their Syrian family members over here. Would you suggest the British citizen take their children to a war zone rather than allow the non-EU spouse both asylum and their family in the UK?

There are mothers with children from previous relationships who are unable to emigrate due to the fathers of the older children (understandably) not wishing to see their children relocate to another country. All the while, married couples remain separated and any younger half-siblings in these families are unable to maintain a close relationship with the non-EU parent. Other situations involve children with specific needs who it would not be wise to move away from the support and healthcare we have in the UK. Should any British child to a British parent – wherever the other parent is from – effectively be forced into exile and potentially have to make do with lesser standards of living just because the Home Office decided to impose a high financial requirement on their parents sharing a life together?

The financial requirement is increased for any families whose children have been born outside the UK and are not classed as EEA citizens. These children potentially have the same proportion of British ancestry as my own mixed-race British daughters do, yet for the purpose of this visa, they would not be classed as British as they do not have British citizenship. For a British mother wishing to return to her home country with her family, this makes her wish close to impossible to achieve unless she not only leaves her spouse behind but also her children in order to focus on earning in excess of £22,000 within the UK (the figure rises depending on how many children are involved), the likelihood of the latter depending immensely on the mother’s qualifications and career history.

The argument about saving state benefits by curbing immigration is, for this visa category, a false and misleading one. For one, non-EU citizens entering the UK via this route are not even entitled to claim any benefits until they have been living and working (i.e. paying into the tax system) in the UK for 5 years.

Add to this the fact that these rules split up the traditional family unit and create many single parent families, and I fail to see the logic. My own personal circumstance falls into this category: I live in the UK as a single mother on a low income, entitling me to a number of state benefits. Yet if my daughters’ father were allowed to be in this country to be with us and support us, we would be much more likely – as a united family – to be able to lift ourselves out of benefits and function as an economically active unit. Even if he couldn’t find work, he would have no recourse to public funds.

As for the argument that the British citizen should ‘just’ gain the required income, this may be difficult for individuals without children, let alone parents who may have been out of the job market for a number of years whilst raising children. Looking at my local full-time job opportunities based on the work experience I can claim, there are very few jobs that exceed the £18,600 requirement – and those that do would no doubt be highly sought after by people who may be more attractive to employers than I (for all the talk about flexible working for parents, I’m cynical about the reality of it).

Encouraging single parents into full-time work is known to be psychologically detrimental to their children, particularly where an alternative close and affectionate caregiver doesn’t provide the majority of their care. In a situation where one parent is already separated from the child due to visa rules, it strikes me as particularly cruel that the resident parent should also be encouraged to spend a significant portion of time away from the child.

Instead of the parents’ desired situation of family unity, quite the opposite happens. And even once the British citizen has acquired 6 months’ worth of payslips showing that they earn the requisite amount, as well as the couple acquiring the substantial fee required for the visa application itself, there is still no guarantee of when the visa will be granted, if it is granted at all.

BritCits campaign: Not earning £18,600?
BritCits campaign: Not earning £18,600? (http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/)

But not to worry if you’re not earning anything – there is another way: savings. Provided you have at least £62,500 cash sat in a bank account somewhere, your non-EU spouse may join you.

Oh, not forgetting another requirement first: submission of a certificate from the correct accredited English language test to prove that the non-EU spouse has intermediate level English.

This language requirement is also a controversy. I strongly support the notion that people should speak the language of the country they reside in – indeed, I find it acutely embarrassing just travelling through other countries with only English at my disposal (and my conversational Moroccan Arabic is only really useful in one country!).

However, both my own personal experience and research by language experts tell us that the best way to learn a language is by immersion in a native-speaking environment.

This requirement also assumes the skill of being able to perform speaking and listening tasks in a controlled, academic exam. Cultural imperialism is very apparent here.

My daughters’ father is multilingual, with English being the latest addition to the list of languages he can speak. I’m thoroughly impressed by the way he picks up language, and amused when he tells me to put my language dictionaries down and just use my brain. He has never sat a formal academic exam in his life. When attempting to take formal English classes at a language school in Marrakech, he felt his learning stalled; his mind went blank in class, yet only an hour later on the phone to me he’d be perplexed at how well his English flowed when engaged in natural conversation.

The reason for this is simple: put a person in a pressured and stressful situation, and their ability to think clearly will shut down. It quickly became apparent that the requirement to pass a formal exam may be an even more difficult requirement for him to fulfil than the financial requirement expected of me.

This leaves a particularly sour taste now I know another Moroccan national who recently came to the UK without any knowledge of the English language. Yet that family, her spouse with EU citizenship, took advantage of EU free movement rules in order to live in the UK.

The positive news is that British citizens can also take advantage of EU free movement rights, assuming they are free and willing to emigrate to another EU country in order to reside with their partner. Yes, just move across the Channel and your non-EU spouse automatically has the right to reside with you! And as long as the Brit moves their centre of life to another EU country and lives and works there for a number of months, they can later return to the UK with their family as an ‘EU citizen’ with the right to a family life that this citizenship of the Union upholds. As the partner or child (whatever their nationality) of an EU citizen (in this case the British national), this right entitles the whole family to the same freedom of movement into the UK as any other EU national exercising their EU treaty rights.

Yet be a British person trying to tick all the boxes from within the UK according to the government’s guidance for spousal visas, and you are up against a much more brutal system that puts economic status before a family’s needs. For many people, moving to Europe to be with their loved ones is the sensible option – and some have even suggested that, once there, they may even be happier in another EU country than in the UK. Having technically been exiled from their home country in order to pursue a life alongside their spouse, life may indeed feel much greener on the other side.

I do not believe in curbing EU migration and feel the current national feeling against such free movement is the result of a paranoid island mentality stirred up by the media to support the establishment’s use of the ‘divide and rule’ theory. A glance at the figures for British citizens who have themselves emigrated to other EU countries shows that millions of UK nationals take advantage of their right to live and work wherever in the EU that they wish to – the right to be an expat is not a one-way street. However, I do believe that British citizens should be afforded the same right to a family life in our home nation as we would be afforded if we chose to live in France, Germany, the Republic of Ireland or indeed any other EU country (take your pick!).

Sadly, for those who are not able to emigrate from the UK – however short-term – this light at the end of the tunnel is not visible.

The issues aren’t limited to the expensive and intensive spousal visa application. Many families (my own included) who have attempted to secure a mere visitor visa for a parent to visit their child in the UK have been refused on grounds of financial status and presumptions about an intent to overstay. So, despite the fact that it would be cheaper and easier for me to sponsor a visit to the UK than it is for me to travel with three young children to Morocco, the only way my daughters can see their father is through my commitment to doing the latter.

Whilst I’m quite a revolutionary thinker when it comes to global community and am open to entertaining ideas such as the No Borders movement, I know that many people affected by these rules would agree that certain limits on immigration are desirable. Yet none can fathom why it has to be families that suffer – if the government genuinely believe in marriage and family life as they say they do, there are many more visa categories that could be limited to affect migration figures whilst retaining children’s and families’ human rights to secure and maintain a family life together.

In 2013 a court case took place in which the judge branded these rules as “unjustifiable” and gave those affected some hope that these laws could be challenged.

However, for the time being and whilst the anti-immigration rhetoric in UK politics seems ever on the increase, a huge number of British people are left in limbo, wondering if they’ll ever be able to pursue the family life they want in their own home country.

Links to my sources, further information and sources of support can be found below.

Are you affected by these rules? Do you think there is a way for immigration rules to remain stringent without splitting families up? Can anyone support these rules whilst genuinely supporting the notion of a human right to a family life? I would be glad to hear your experiences and thoughts below.

 

Links to reports:

Report On The Impact Of The New 2012 Spouse Visa Rules With Recommendations compiled by British citizens

Family Migration Inquiry Report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration

United by Love, Divided by Law by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Adverse Impact of UK’s Immigration Rules by BritCits

 

Links to support:

BritCits charity supporting international families

I Love My Foreign Spouse Facebook support group

EU Free Movement Facebook support group

 

Take action:

Immigration laws are tearing families apart – change them now (petition on change.org)

Keep Families Together (petition on 38degrees)