WOW-ed at the Southbank Centre

Mulberry attended across four days of the festival: the Southbank Schools Day on Wednesday 8th March; and the WOW Weekend from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th March. 65 girls attended in total, representing years 8-13. During the Southbank Schools Day, students attended workshops on fitness and self-empowerment, and on challenging gender stereotypes. Across the WOW weekend, Mulberry students attended talks, debates, panel discussions and workshops. They listened to world-class speakers on subjects including racism, socio-economic inequality, politics, activism, inspiring women throughout history, women’s health and science.

For the seventh year in a row, we had a fantastic range of student speakers taking part in various panel events across the weekend. Ayesha Begum and Abida Sultana in Year 12 hosted a ‘WOWBite’ session, in which four speakers led 15 minute talks on their own area of expertise; Ayesha later spoke on a ‘WOWDen’ panel, helping to judge a range of ideas to improve the lives of women and girls, submitted by members of the public. Mahreen Chaiwalla and Nisha Akhtar in Year 10 also hosted a range of WOWBite talks; and our fantastic Year 9 Magic Me group gave a performance of Decorum to an audience of hundreds at the Riverside Terrace.

We would like to thank the Southbank Centre for making us a part of this important festival, and giving our girls a platform from which to raise their voices for change.

Magic Me

Magic Me are one of Mulberry’s longest-standing creative partners: we are proud to have worked with this fantastic charity for more than a decade. Magic Me bring together older and younger people from communities across London, and get them working together on creative projects. These projects help to break down stereotypes about what older people are like, or what younger people are like; and help to bring communities together. Mulberry carries out a project with Magic Me every year, in the course of which 10 Year 9 students meet every week with 10 older women from Tower Hamlets and Hackney, lead artist Sue Mayo, and other artists, to write and perform a piece of creative art.

This year, the group worked with Sue Mayo and choreographer Ellie Sikorski to put together a performance called ‘Decorum’. The performance explored the rules of behaviour, looking in particular at where these rules come from, whether they have changed over the years, and whether there are differences in rules of behaviour between religious, ethnic, cultural, gender and age groups. Decorum combined song, dance, movement, stand up comedy, elements of spoken word, creative writing, collage art, and lots and lots of laughing. Through working together, the group found that their experiences vary quite a lot, but that they all share common experiences of being told how to behave, not knowing how to behave, and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time!

The group performed Decorum at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World (WOW) Festival on 12th March at the Riverside Terrace, and again at Mulberry’s International Women’s Day celebration on 15th March.

Thank you to Magic Me for another fantastic year of creative collaboration! Huge congratulations to our Year 9 performers: Sahra Said, Samia Chowdhury, Sonya Rahman, Naima Atia, Maryam Uddin, Janna Begum, Samanta Ahmed, Umaiyah Alam and Ishitha Islam.

Annual Education Lecture

During the day on 16th February, Mulberry students put together a tour of the East End designed to give Tina a flavour of local history and culture. Promee Reza, Ayesha Begum, Elizabeth Todd and Samilah Naira led the tour. We began with a walk from Liverpool Street to Spitalfields market, followed by a visit to Commercial Street and then Brick Lane. On the journey between locations, students told Ms Tchen about the rich history of the area, from the history of Spitalfields market originating in the thirteenth century alongside St Mary’s Hospital and Priory, to the immigrant communities who have made Brick Lane their home since the 1600s – from French Huguenots, to European Jewish communities, to Bangladeshi families, many of whom are the ancestors of current Mulberry students. 

Our tour of Brick Lane included a salt beef beigel from the famous Brick Lane beigel shop, Beigal Bake, and a tour of the Jamme Masjid mosque, formerly the Great Synagogue (and before that, a church). We also stopped off at Rough Trade, where we gifted Tina a book about the rich history of East London, and squeezed into the photo booth together to capture the moment.

Later that evening, Tina joined us at the Royal Society of Arts, where she delivered our second annual education lecture. The annual education lecture, inaugurated by Jude Kelly in 2016, provides an opportunity for our school community, our partners and our supporters to come together to discuss the current global context of education for girls and young women. The lecture is delivered each year by an expert speaker. 

Tina Tchen spoke eloquently about the background and context of Michelle Obama’s visit to Mulberry for the UK launch of the Let Girls Learn campaign in June 2015. She told us about how the campaign was first created, and the work it has done thus far to ensure every girl around the world can go to school. Her talk placed great emphasis upon the value of educating girls – not just because an educated girl improves the overall health, wealth and wellbeing of her family, community and wider society, but because girls are valuable human beings who deserve every opportunity to develop their full potential. Ms Tchen also gave us some insights into life under the Obama administration, speaking movingly about the wit, warmth and passion of Barack and Michelle Obama, and the work both the President and the First Lady did to reach out to, support and empower marginalised communities – from girls around the world, to LGBTQ people, to children growing up in poverty. 

After the lecture, Tina joined us for networking and canapes, spending time talking to our students and students from our partner schools.

We cannot thank Tina Tchen enough for her continued support of Mulberry. In every interaction with our students and our wider community, she is fully present, engaging and inspiring. Her commitment to public service and empowering women and girls is deeply encouraging at a time of great global uncertainty, and continues to inspire our students to take action on behalf of girls’ education.



Model United Nations

Safe, Sustainable Seas

On 13th and 14th December, Mulberry hosted London state schools and international schools for the first of our two annual Model United Nations conferences. This year’s winter conference focused on the theme of safe, sustainable seas, includingtopics such as maritime piracy, marine litter and climate change. Within the MUN programme, students are able to learn about the structure and functions of the United Nations through assuming the roles of UN council members. Students are allocated to countries in advance, and are expected to spend considerable time researching their country’s stance on the conference topic. Students also undertake training on the processes and procedures of UN committees. On the day of the conference, students are required to engage in fast-paced, often intense debates with council members representing other countries. They must represent the opinions of their allocated country, even if these opinions do not align with their personal attitude towards the conference topic. MUN provides a stimulating atmosphere in which students are challenged to hone their research, debate and presentation skills, and to thoroughly understand crucial aspects of international politics and diplomacy.

Mulberry Talks

The Rights of the Child

Our MulberryTalks programme was relaunched for this academic year on Wednesday November 30th, led by guest speaker Ruth-Anne Lenga, Head of Academic Programmes at the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education.

MulberryTalks are interactive seminars designed to bring our school community together in lively intellectual debate. Speakers give a presentation on a topic of their choice, followed by a Q&A session in which students and staff alike are encouraged to participate as actively as possible.

Ruth-Anne Lenga gave a fascinatingpresentation of the life of Dr JanuszKorczak. Korczak is widely recognised asa pioneer of children’s rights. He ran anorphanage in Poland in the early twentiethcentury where his charges were treatedwith the utmost respect and kindness:Korczak placed the rights of the child at the forefront of his practice, drawing up a set of principles which recognised a child’s right to dignity, respect, love and fairness. He instituted a children’s court run by children at his orphanage, where their peers and the adults entrusted with their care could be brought to trial in the event of an injustice. He had a visionary perspective on children who misbehaved or engaged in antisocial or delinquent behaviour, insisting that no child should be branded a lost cause on the basis of his actions. In particular, he recognised a child’s right to be treated with respect, and said that children ‘are not people of tomorrow, but people of today’: a child is valuable, important, and worthy of respect and dignity at all times, not just when they reach adulthood. When the Nazis invaded Poland during the Second World War, and the orphanage was relocated to the Jewish ghetto, Korczak worked against appalling conditions to ensure that the children in his care had their basic needs provided for as far as was possible, and continued to be treated with love and kindness. Despite efforts by his supporters to rescue him from transportation to the Nazi death camps, Korczak refused to leave his children, and was eventually taken to his death in the gas chambers with 250 orphans. Ruth-Anne Lenga traced the legacy of Korczak’s vision to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is underpinned by many of the principles Korczak first articulated. She also showed how Korczak’s principles have influenced the most progressive modern thinking on teaching and caring for children, relating this directly to the kind of teaching and learning we practise at Mulberry. As our Citizenship students begin learning about human rights, and our MUN delegates prepare to debate the treatment of refugee children at the Safe, Sustainable Seas conference, this year’s inaugural MulberryTalk was a rich resource indeed. We would like to thank Ruth-Anne Lenga and the Holocaust Education Centre at UCL for a wonderful start to this year’s MulberryTalks programme.

International Day of the Girl

Mulberry is proud to carry forward the work of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn campaign in the UK; and, on Tuesday 11th October, our relationship with the current First Lady of the United States continued as we were the UK host for the first ever global Skype conversation between school girls across the world and the education activists working alongside them, an event organised by Glamour Magazine.

Students from Mulberry and Elizabeth Garret Anderson school gathered in the Mulberry and Bigland Green theatre for this historic event. The programme began with a Q&A with British actress Ruth Wilson, who talked frankly and with great passion about the need for complex female roles, the importance of tackling sexism in the arts and performance industry, and the importance of helping all girls to develop confidence and a strong sense of self – an area in which schools are a particularly important resource for young women.

The Skype call then went live, and we were able to connect with girls in Tanzania, Cambodia, Peru and Washington DC. After a round of introductions, we listened to an interview between Michelle Obama and the actress and activist Yara Shahidi, hosted by Cindi Leive, Editor in Chief of Glamour Magazine. Mrs Obama was typically inspiring, revisiting the themes of the speech she gave at Mulberry when launching her Let Girls Learn campaign in the UK: she reinforced the transformative power of education in a girl’s life and the lives of her family and community; she stressed the importance of girls currently in education using the platforms and opportunities they are given to advocate on behalf of their sisters around the world who are currently denied access to such an education; and she placed great emphasis on the need for women and girls to support one another, saying ‘We can all rise together. We have to be a team of women and girls who love each other’. Yara Shahidi, herself applying for university places in the US, reflected on the difficulty of maintaining self-confidence when the world tells girls to know their place. She stressed to girls listening that they are ‘allowed to take up space’, and that they should resist the patriarchal interpretation of their confidence as unseemly aggression – a message the First Lady enthusiastically seconded.

After this interview, girls around the world were given a voice, placed at the forefront of this essential conversation. One student from each country gave a short speech about the importance of education for herself and her peers and the challenges unique to their situation. It is hard to put into words how it felt to see and hear our sisters around the world, to listen to them as they reflected on the role that school plays in their lives. It was one of the most powerful moments in Mulberry’s long history of pioneering women’s education.

Our own Ayesha Begum, 12GW, spoke on behalf of girls at school in the UK. Ayesha gave a speech that she had written herself, in which she reflected on the challenges that face girls at school in areas like ours, where socio-economic deprivation is a significant barrier to success. Without flinching from the very real obstacles that stand in the way of UK girls from the most disadvantaged communities, Ayesha also celebrated the good fortune enjoyed by UK girls, who have high-quality state-funded education available to them from ages 5-18. Ayesha represented the determination of all of her peers to be a force for good in the world when she said that girls in the UK have a responsibility to fight for their sisters around the world who are denied the chance to go to school. She outlined the work that Mulberry is doing in support of Let Girls Learn, and asked Mrs Obama ‘Is this what you had in mind when you visited our school?’ The Former First Lady’s answer? A resounding ‘Yes!’

We are once again honoured to join Michelle Obama and her team in the fight for girls’ rights across the world, and incredibly proud of the energy and determination of our students as they rise to the challenge of ensuring that every girl has the chance to go to school. The US Presidency is changing hands against a backdrop of global uncertainty – but our students, and the global community of girls at school of whom they form a part, continue to inspire us with hope for the future. Mrs Obama is preparing to hand over her post as First Lady of the United States, but will continue to be an advocate for girls’ education after she has left the White House – and we will continue to support her and this, her crucially important cause, in the UK.