By Paul Gooding, Head of Wellbeing and Geography Teacher

I had the pleasure of taking a group of year 10 students to St Helen and St Katharine School, just down the road from Abingdon School, for an “Empathy Action event”. Their chapel had been very effectively designed as a makeshift shanty town complete with various actors (NGO workers, shop owners, racketeers and the like) wandering around powerfully engaging with the students. Our boys were thrown in at the deep end and for nearly two hours had a taste of what it must be like for millions of people in the world.

Living the curriculum in this way was so powerful. Boys had to earn their rent, food and water by making paper bags to then sell to shop owners in the face of stiff competition from rival groups. Conditions were harsh: it was noisy, (police car sirens were going off on the speakers, babies were crying) stressful and chaotic. The leader guided them through several “scenario weeks” and it became clear that as some families struggled to pay their debts they had to move into worse conditions and various outbreaks of infectious disease spread through the communities. It served as a powerful reminder of how many millions of people live each day and of the importance of giving back both to our society and the wider world. I had the privilege, at the end, of sharing a few ways in which Abingdonians can and do do this.

We reminded boys about the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, where a significant section of the award is based on a service activity. This might be volunteering at an old peoples’ home or in the community. Boys were also reminded about helping at a local food bank or joining with charity ventures that take place here in school, such as the Abingdon Sleeps Rough event. A fantastic opportunity each year is the Moldova trip where boys are able to help and make a difference in one of the poorest countries in Europe. But the message goes beyond trips and experiences good though these are; it is about encouraging Abingdonians to live their lives with an ongoing posture that is outward facing, far removed from the “selfie” culture that we often see on Instagram.

This message coincided wonderfully with a recent chapel talk from Mr Crisp in which he took up the theme of humility. In short, he concluded: “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. In my 13th year at Abingdon this is a wonderful characteristic of our boys. I think back to a former Head of School who now offers free legal advice to the poor in Africa, to another OA who walked from Land’s End to John O Groats sleeping rough all the way – raising awareness of the problem of homelessness.

In this fast-paced digital age where amazing Instagram pictures can, sometimes, generate a sense of dissatisfaction it was a timely reminder that we have so much to be thankful for and that we have a responsibility to encourage our boys to use their gifts, talents and passions to make a difference in their lives and careers beyond school. To not underestimate those daily acts of kindness and to reflect on those powerful words that I once walked past on the memorials of Washington D.C, attributed to Gandhi: “the measure of the strength of a society is how it treats its weakest members.”

If we can encourage Abingdonians to develop this ongoing posture in their lives, I believe we will, as educators and parents, have given them a great gift.

Back to all Blogs

More Blogs