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Community Champion – Syma Ahmed

This month our CEO Mariam has nominated a community champion who she believes has tirelessly worked hand in hand with the community to make people feel represented and engaged with the arts – Syma Ahmed.
Syma is best known for her longstanding work with Glasgow Women’s Library. This month will be marking 10 years since the publication of “She settles in the Shields – untold stories of migrant women in Pollokshields”, Syma’s seminal project. The book highlights the stories of 1st generation migrant women in Pollokshields. The book will be available to view/purchase on the commemoration day on 24th October and we will be launching Part 2 of She Settles in the Shields. These will be short video clips of contributions made by 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant women of Pollokshields which will be showcased during International Women’s Week 2022.
Here is a glimpse of Syma’s work and opportunities with the Glasgow Women’s Library:
She Settles in the Shields – https://womenslibrary.org.uk/…/she-settles-in-the…/ (trailer for film available on 24th Oct tickets on GWL website)

Uighur Muslims in China

Who are the Uyghurs/Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic ethnicity who regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. The majority live in Xinjiang, where they number about 11 million people.
Uighur communities are also found in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, and several thousand live in Australia. They have their own language, also called Uighur, though China is accused of forcing those taken to camps in Xinjiang to learn Mandarin. (BBC)

What’s been going on?

In 2009, tensions fuelled by decades of institutionalized discrimination and marginalization against Uighurs in their own homeland exploded into violence in the streets of Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. Clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese killed some 200 people, who authorities said were mostly Han. China blamed Uighur separatists

The action is part of a larger campaign by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to promote Han nationalism as a unifying force – the Han are China’s ethnic majority – and to suppress any ethnic, cultural or religious identities that might compete for popular loyalty with the Chinese Communist Party. (ICIJ)

The internment of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the XUAR (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) intensified after highly restrictive and discriminatory “Regulations on De-extremification” were adopted in March 2017.

Open or even private displays of religious and cultural affiliation, including growing an “abnormal” beard, wearing a veil or headscarf, regular prayer, fasting or avoidance of alcohol, or possessing books or articles about Islam or Uighur culture can be considered “extremist” under the regulation.

Travel abroad for work or education, particularly to majority Muslim countries, or contact with people outside China are also major reasons for suspicion. Male, female; young, old; urban, rural, all are at risk of being detained.

The ubiquitous security checks that are now a routine part of daily life for all in the XUAR provide ample opportunity to search mobile phones for suspicious content or check people’s identities using facial recognition software. (Amnesty International)

Further human rights violations include:

  • An estimated one million Muslim people are being held in Xinjiang, northwest China
  • The Chinese government denies their existence describing them instead as “transformation-through-education centres” and that people go their voluntarily. In actual fact these are detention camps for torture and brainwashing of anyone suspected of disloyalty.
  • People are sent there by force, and it is up to the authorities to decide when a detainee is transformed or has “graduated”.
  • Those that do put up resistance are punished – ranging from verbal abuse, food deprivation, solitary confinement and beatings. There have even been reports of deaths inside the facilities including suicides.
  • China organises “have a look” propaganda tours for foreigners – one of which Mesut Ozil has been invited to – while independent UN experts have been prevented from accessing the region  (Amnesty International)

What’s happening now?

The Xinjiang region produces more than 20% of the world’s cotton and 84% of China’s, but according to a new report released on Tuesday by the Center for Global Policy there is significant evidence that it is “tainted” by human rights abuses, including suspected forced labour of Uighur and other Turkic Muslim minority people.

The revelations came as the international criminal court (ICC) said it did not have the jurisdiction to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang.

What can we do?

It is important to ensure that this issue does not not go unnoticed. Stay informed on this issue (see sources below). On instagram, @uyghurprojectig provides updates and calls-to-action you can take to promote human rights and democracy for Uyghurs.

Useful Sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-22278037

https://www.icij.org/investigations/china-cables/china-cables-who-are-the-uighurs-and-why-mass-detention/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/09/china-up-to-one-million-detained/

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/chinas-uighur-muslims-truth-behind-headlines

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/15/xinjiang-china-more-than-half-a-million-forced-to-pick-cotton-report-finds

https://www.globaldata.com/boycotting-xinjiang-cotton-will-no-easy-feat/

Accessibility in Focus: Amina’s Story

Addition support needs (ASN) schooling during COVID

As an ASN teacher who has experience of working across primary and secondary there has been a great deal of focus on supporting the health and well-being of our pupils on their return to face to face education. With smaller class sizes in ASN than in mainstream schools and ASNA classroom support it is possible to give pupils more attention and to be more responsive to individual needs.
I noticed many of our young people returned to school at the start of the new term very anxious about the COVID-19 situation. Pupils want to discuss their fears about the virus. They worry about themselves or family members becoming ill or having been ill. Daily check-ins with pupils allow them an opportunity to talk about their feelings and concerns.

By the middle of the first term most young people have settled down into a good routine at school and they are adjusting well. In some cases, our children need more time to adjust than others in the same school setting as they may find the ‘new normal’ a huge disruption to previously familiar routines. Fortunately, I have seen the majority of our children, including very young children, adapting well to mask wearing and hand sanitising and understand the need for it.

Despite efforts to discourage them, some pupils continue to share items such as stationary, personal belongings or food, and are unable to maintain social distance from each other or staff. Teachers are constantly trying to manage and limit the possible transfer of the virus and this requires repeated reminders.
It can be hard to communicate clearly through a mask but hand signals/ gestures or using Makaton – a language programme that uses symbols, signs, and speech to support non-verbal communication – certainly help in overcoming this to some degree.

Covid-19 hygiene restrictions have limited the use of certain resources and the range of learning experiences that are normally offered. For example, group activities such as assemblies, singing, dancing, swimming, sand, and water play cannot take place. PE and music are offered in a far limited way than before the Covid-19 restrictions. Ideally, children would experience some of these activities at home, but this is not always possible and depends heavily on their home environments. Quarantining pupil’s work, classroom equipment and resources are a necessary but very time consuming ways to adhere to Covid-19 guidelines.

What has worked well has been incorporating a greater degree of outdoor learning and outdoor play opportunities. This has supported Health and Wellbeing (HWB) goals as well as learning in many other curricular areas. The recent good weather has certainly helped although it will hopefully continue through more inclement weather too. The children are also able to take part in their daily mile activities which is a valuable HWB aspect to their day. Supporting pupils to express their creativity through all aspects of their daily learning has shown positive results and it builds their confidence and self-esteem.

Accessibility in Focus: Ustadha’s Story

My Neurodivergence

I knew from a young age I was slightly different from other kids. The way I processed things was different and how I understood things was vastly different from other kids. School was never stimulating enough but the subjects I loved I literally devoured till I knew the ins and outs of them, and the subjects I had no interest in? Well, it was like they never existed. It was not until later that I found out that I was indeed neurodiverse and that is when it all started to make sense. I was no longer just the weird and unusual kid anymore but here is the catch – as a neurodiverse female you can go your whole life not knowing that you are in fact autistic. Some woman don’t find out until they are in their fifties for the simple reason that the tests for neurodivergence are based on male traits and neurodivergence in males and females can look very different.

When you mention autism to someone, the first thing they think of is the stereotype of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. The type of autism where someone has an extremely high IQ but lack emotional intelligence and social skills while usually accompanied with seemingly odd ticks and habits. Or they think of perhaps a child that could be non-verbal, sometimes with behavioural issues who are completely dependent on a care giver. While both do exist, we must keep in mind that the opposite can also be true. Neurodivergence in females can often look quite different and harder to detect because neurodiverse females tend to mask their autistic traits to try and fit it with neurotypical society. This is extremely exhausting and often leads to anxiety and depression so, because of this, neurodiverse women often get misdiagnosed as suffering with depression or bi-polar disorder. Some of the traits in neurodiverse woman tend to be that they are particularly good at communicating, are hyper socially intelligent, hyper empathic, hyper intuitive, very emotionally intelligent and tend to pick up a lot on nonverbal cues/ body language. But of course neurodivergence in males and females is not exclusive to what I have mentioned here, there is a reason why its called a spectrum and not a scale, and that spectrum is huge. My point of mentioning this is because we can no longer continue to pigeonhole autism because the reality is that autism comes in many forms and those who identify as autistic look very different no two people are the same.

Circling back to myself, I identify as a neurodiverse female and I am also a madrassa teacher. You are probably reading this wondering how does someone with autistic traits become a madrassa teacher? It partly comes down to the concept of “specialist subjects” as most who identify as neurodiverse have what are called specialist subjects which could be one or a collection of subjects that someone with neurodivergence becomes almost or completely obsessed with. It can be stuff like medicine, engineering etc because it’s like seeing how the world works and making sense of the world. For me its Islamic sciences and some of the sciences became my obsession more than others. I love it because learning about Allah (God) and his religion helps me make sense of the world and the universe at large. I have very particular methods in which I learn which results in me taking all the information and breaking it down which is, funnily enough, also how I teach. I take big subjects and I break them down. But in terms of support I have never had any and that’s simply because I learned to mask my traits so much. When it comes to asking for help, those in a position to help have deemed me as being neurotypical because I have never let my ticks and habits come to the surface and generally only those with a deep insight into neurodivergence can pick up on it or, quite simply, there has being nothing in place with which to help/support me. I have never let it stop me, it just sometimes becomes harder and the occasional meltdown can happen but it can become much easier when you yourself understand that your brain is just wired a bit differently. While others are looking at the world through a plain glass window, you are looking at it through a stain glassed window. When the light shines in it reflects all the different colours.

So, how does neurodivergence affect my teaching? Well, for me personally it helps it because I take the big subjects and break them down into bite size pieces. I am also one of those neurodiverse females who communicate well and am hyper empathetic, hyper intuitive, socially and emotionally intelligent and have sensitive hearing. This means that I can pick up a lot on non-verbal cues and body language. So, even though I may have twenty-plus students, I seem to pick up on them all and I can tell what like their mood is or when something bothering them. It’s like I feel what they are feeling, and this helps me to try and support them the best way I can emotionally. It also helps me pick up on their learning style so I can figure out who needs more help in what areas without making it obvious.

Don’t get me wrong though, it does not make me a perfect teacher. I deal with many kids daily who have different needs, different temperaments, come from different backgrounds and family situations, some of whom are even autistic or have learning difficulties. This can be like a billion terabytes of data downloading to your brain every minute and you’re constantly trying to filter it in such away it doesn’t hit you all at one time. For me, it usually hits me when I get home but when that happens the sensory overload is so much you are just exhausted and have to lay down on the floor in a dark room covered in a weighted blanket just to recover again. If the kids are having a bad day just forget about functioning afterwards.

I love teaching though and I love the kids I teach. I can never shout at any of them even when they are pushing so many buttons and boundaries. Sometimes I find parts of myself in them and I always try to make the misunderstood kids understood. In the end, I just want them to love God.

What about being neurodiverse and teaching in Covid? I am not going to lie teaching the Covid age is a bit more difficult. As well as everything else I have mild OCD so not only am I meticulous about my lesson plans and seating plans I am also quite meticulous about my routine. Covid threw that completely out of sync which resulted in a bit of a panic as I quickly had to get into some new idea of normality and again I went through that whole process of masking my stress. In terms of teaching it made it a little but harder to support and connect with the kids the way I would usually because sometimes teaching online they don’t turn on their cameras or speak. There is a total disconnect and most of the kids don’t like online teaching so they mentally check out fifteen or twenty minutes in. That means the workload becomes doubled because you’re having to do more to make sure they are getting the support they need both emotionally and for learning through an electronic means. It makes it harder to get the full picture sometimes but there is also a need for the parents to be supported as they are really going through the uncertainty as well and that is like an other terabyte of data being downloaded as well. You somehow always manage to get through it though and its only by Allah that I do because, in reality, I have no worldly support. That might be my own fault because there is only maybe five or six people in this whole world that know about my neurodivergence and I mask it well. I don’t tell people because people are not always the kindest and because there are so many misconceptions about what neurodivergence really is across the board but especially in the Muslim community. I wish to spare myself the judgment and passive aggressive undertones and wish to be judged for my work as a teacher and eventually my scholarly achievements. I would much rather someone take their child out of my class because they felt I was not the right fit as a teacher then question my ability because of my neurodivergence. If anything, my neurodivergence as a teacher has giving me a greater capacity to care for these kids, I am always thinking about them and worrying about them because I see them as if they were my own.

One thing I can say in closing is this: I am not ashamed of my neurodivergence. If anything, I thank Allah for making me this way and I thank him for taking me down this route of teaching/studying. Even though I have my struggles I feel its made me a better teacher, a better Muslim, and it allows me to see the world in a very unique way. Knowing this helps me manage my neurodivergence. I would not have it any other way.
Jazak’Allah khairan {May God grant you goodness}

Accessibility in Focus: Elisa’s Story

Accessibility.

It’s such a packed term, isn’t it? To the average person, ‘accessibility’ evokes images of physical constraint, and for many it rightly is. But for some, it refers to the lack of access to much needed resources, as well as the acknowledgment of difficulties.

Having two children with additional support needs (ASN) has completely redefined this term for me. Life seems to be a constant battle of proving your child is ‘disabled enough’ to access support. This can start as early on as obtaining a diagnosis, but is sadly echoed through attempting to access benefits, social work and education. The Sisyphean task of filling in invasive and patronising paperwork has to be the worst of it. You just need to read a DLA form to understand how disabled people’s experiences are dismissed and discredited.

And to be honest, education isn’t any better. Although I am in a very fortunate position that my children are in schools which address their needs (after an arduous process, I note!), the presumption of mainstream is every ASN parent’s nightmare. Of course, I get the principle of inclusion at the heart of this policy, but in practice it can present an exclusionary, and ultimately, stressful experience for parents and children alike.

In my opinion the presumption of mainstream causes difficulty, stress and anxiety for already apprehensive parents. Not only are parents like me worried about how our children will learn in an environment that is not suited to their needs, we are anxious of putting them in a place which was not built for their neuro-diversion. Learning styles differentiate for all children, but this is even more diversified in a child who presents with additional support needs. This issue is also materialised in the curriculum, if the presumption of mainstream continues to claim inclusivity this needs to be addressed.

Delivery of inclusive education for ASN children requires access to resources, specialist staff and training. The schools that have the access to these assets seem only to be available through assessment of your child’s ‘needs’- in most cases, two 30-minute Educational Psychology observations of your child within their current setting- problematic, right? The whispers that travel through the ears of parents who have children with additional support needs all seem to suggest that budgeting pressures are the reason why our children are not offered a chance to attend school in an environment which is supportive of their learning styles and considerate of their needs.

I suppose I’m one of the ‘lucky ones’ in this respect as my son attended a mainstream nursery and was on one-to-one provision with an amazing member of staff who themselves had a child with additional support needs. Having someone there for him who really understood my worries and concerns really provided me with ease. But what if they weren’t there? Of course basic training is provided for staff surrounding children with additional support needs, but as a parent, I feel this is not enough. If a truly inclusive experience is the goal, spaces and specialist equiptment are foundational commodities which promote inclusion on a larger scale. This even includes access to changing spaces for people with continence needs- something which affects disabled adults as well as children.

In the search for appropriate schooling, my son was required to have an assessment with Educational Psychology for the transition to school or an ‘assessment of needs’. I came armed with a plethora of paperwork, including my own investigations of local ASN schools I found to be appropriate for him. I had visited nearly every ASN school in my area and beyond to find the perfect fit. I presented my argument based on his physical and emotional needs, learning style and locality of the school. I was not content on sending my son to the other side of Glasgow with an escort, when there was a wonderful school just over a mile away. In the end, the outcome was agreed in my favour. However, without pushing for it, I feel the outcome may have been different.

So what does the future of education look like for a child with additional support needs? From a parental perspective, I want parents to be heard. We understand the core of our child’s learning needs, and we understand their strengths and difficulties in a way teachers and practitioners do not. We are already so anxious about the future for our children, having them in environments which are nurturing, stimulating and supportive of their needs benefits both children and parents alike. We also need funding assurances. Training and specialist equiptment comes at a cost and is required to provide an inclusive educational experience. Perhaps even a wider academic reform to include ASL education in its own right rather than just a module. If we cannot provide a valuable learning experience to disabled children, then we are simply setting them up for a life of constant struggle to access the support they need.

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