Round Square Conference, India 2019 – our students’ reflections

As the term drew to a close, the Sixth Formers who attended the recent Round Square International Conference at Emerald Heights in India led an assembly to share their experiences and life lessons they gained with the school.

J Jay (Year 12) opened the assembly by explaining, “You often hear the phrase ‘life changing’ in the same sentence as ‘round square conference’, and you might think this is an exaggeration, and so did we, until we went to India. We can now wholeheartedly tell you it is true”.

Olivia continued, I think now, only after having this time to reflect on my time in that crazy country, can I step back and fully comprehend everything as at the time it was a whirl of madness, noise and colour. We visited sights of great cultural importance such as the Taj Mahal and walked through the crowded streets of Old Delhi.  One of the keynote speakers said that whatever you could say about India, the opposite was probably true. I saw it with my own eyes: I went from Old Delhi an area in which poverty seemed to be collapsing in on itself with families sleeping on the streets being a familiar sight to a school that contained some of the most privileged students in India set in rural Indore. India seemed to be a country of such dire poverty, exemplified to me every day, and also a place of insurmountable wealth, unfortunately in the hands of the few and not the many.

It taught us that we are privileged, not just compared to our equivalents in India, but those in our own postcode. Madame Gandhi, another of the keynote speakers, urged us not to feel guilty of our privilege and instead turn it into a driving force to enact change. This is something that should resonate with all of us; yes, we should acknowledge our privilege and turn negativity into positivity to drive us to address it, otherwise: who will?”

The group explained how they were fortunate enough to hear some other amazing speakers. J Jay summarised a speech that left a great impression on him, “Major DP Singh spoke to us about “Being the Boss of your own life” – in other words, you may not be able to determine what exactly happens to you, but you have complete control as to how you choose to react to it or how it may affect you. He was a shining example of this resilience. He was seriously injured on 15 July 1999 while fighting for India during the Kargil War. He said “This was God’s own given path for me. When he received the news that his leg was infected with gangrene, he said he could have chosen the path to give up. But instead he saw it as a challenge. A challenge that would have many hurdles to overcome, a challenge that would test his inner strength and resilience to make the best of his life.

Before giving his keynote, he led all of the students on a 3km run finishing at the Indore Cancer Hospital with a tree planting ceremony”.

Oliver then told the story of another speaker, Kailash Satyarthi is a human rights activist from India who has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitation since 1980. Kailash showed a passion for equality from a young age – on the first day of school, he was disturbed at the idea that a poor cobbler’s son of the same age was shining shoes instead of going to school, while he was dressed in a brand-new set of clothes and shoes. He wanted to know why some people had such privilege whereas others had none, through no fault of their own. When he asked teachers about such things, he was scolded for not paying attention in lessons – however, this thirst for fairness carried on as he grew, and eventually resulted in his humanitarian efforts he pursues today. He was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2014”.

Shannon gave a flavour of the varied activities that the group were involved in, “There were so many different activities that took place on the conference, such as going to the local orphanage, the cancer unit, school for the blind and helping out in whatever way we could. We discussed topics that affected us all, we all listened to each other and tried to understand different viewpoints that everyone had. In reality, the conference was so much better than what I thought it would be.

Because I met so many different people from all over the World, it helped me realise that I am actually so privileged to live in a country, where some of the issues we saw on a day to day basis don’t happen. I also feel so privileged to firstly be able to have an education, to be able to attend our school, and yes the realisation that being educated at our school like ours is something to be very thankful of”.

Abe continued, “I realised that the conference was an international community, each student with their own background and lifestyle that we all got to learn about.  It was beyond my expectations. When we arrived, people were so open to meeting you and getting to know you that it was so easy to become friends with them and by the end of the first day it had felt like we had been friends for years”.  

Olivia explained, “The conference taught me the power that our generation holds within us and as a collective the strength we can find. The energy, the joy and the love that I encountered be it through the multicultural evenings, where every school performed, or simply talking to someone while brushing my teeth is something that I will remember forever”.

J Jay concluded, Because of the trip, I have more courage and I’m more confident in myself with my ability to communicate with people I’ve never met before, or people that may not have English as their first language; everyone at the conference was extremely friendly and appreciative of each other cultures, the willingness to communicate and create friendships, was something that was shared between all delegates, never before had I seen better examples of teamwork and internationalism on display”.

He was echoed by Oliver, Before I attended the conference, I really had no idea what it would be like and whether I would enjoy and take something from the experience. Within our Barraza groups we were all mixed, so no-one was with anybody from their school, yet somehow I found myself with like-minded individuals, despite being from the other side of the world. We have wanted to give you all a flavour of what we experienced and hope that it has inspired you to see the World in a different way”.

Miss De closed the assembly by explaining that whilst not everyone can attend the conferences, the group wanted to share their experiences, so others could learn from them too and hopefully take some of the key lessons away with them. She also gave an overview of the conferences, projects, the Round Square website and explained that Year 8 will gain a taste of a Round Square International Conference when they attend the UK one in Colchester at the end of the academic year.

Round Square International Service Projects:

Big Build Laos – 11th – 24th July 2020 – Open to Current Year 12s 

Environmental Project in Madagascar – 11th – 24th July 2020 – Open to Current Year 12s 

Big Build Malaysia – December 2020 – Open to Current Year 11s

Big Build in Vietnam – April 2021 – Open to Current Year 11s

Big Build Malaysia – July 2021 – Open to Current Year 11s

Environmental Project in Malaysia – July 2021 – Open to Current Year 11s