Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Bishop of Llandaff High School wins the Wales Schools Debating Championships 2012

Luis Corvini reports

When you think what a teenager could be doing in a common Monday evening, you may cogitate anything but talking politics. Wrong. That was what four students were doing last Monday in a high-level debate at the Schools National Debating Championship final.

The challenge, which happened at the Temple of Peace, in Cardiff, was established over one topic - coalition politics and if they were good or bad for Britain. For 45 minutes, the students expressed their reasons from being favourable or opposed to the idea of the cooperation process between different political parties.
At the face-off, the proposition team said the formation of a coalition government could make the country less democratic. The opposition declared that the organisation of a coalition-alliance helped Britain over difficult times, such as during World War II.
A board of five experienced adjudicators, including Wales Assembly Member Julie Morgan, analysed their performances. They were impressed by the high-standard discussion and the way the teenagers presented their arguments.
At the end, Cardiff’s Bishop of Llandaff High School students won the competition. Being part of the victorious team for the second time in a row, 16-year old Rhys Steele revealed his tactic: “Confidence is the main tip. You don’t have to know everything 100 percent, as long that you stay confident, a lot of people will believe it”, he says.

14-year old Ed Philips, Mr. Steele’s colleague in the competition, played a little joke about his debating experience: “I am one of four brothers, so in the house I have always to get your case”. He then said that he was very happy to have joined the debate group at his school.

The runners up Sam Costa, 15, and Amy Jones, 16, both students from Ysgol Ardudwy, from Harlech, North Wales, debated superbly and can proudly say that they reached the Grand Final having surpassed 53 other schools from around Wales.
For Martin Polland, chief executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), which organised the event, debates like these help teenagers to learn important skills for their future: “They are developing not only the ability to speak, but also to listen actively, understanding and engaging with somebody else with a different opinion. They also develop knowledge about important political and social issues”, says Mr Polland.

Bill Burson, representing the British Council Wales, says that discussions like these promote ideals and make young people understand that there is always two sides of opinions in democratic processes and arguments.
The Wales Schools Debating Championships has existed since 1990. Earlier this year, Wales finished second in the World Schools Debating Championship in Cape Town, South Africa after beating England in the semi finals.
The 2013 World Championship is scheduled to happen in January and February, in Turkey and four young debaters have been selected to represent Wales.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Desmond Tutu brings Southern-African philosophy Ubuntu to Cardiff

Luis Corvini

It took less than an hour for the presence of Nobel Peace Prize winner archbishop Desmond Tutu, 81, to become an unforgettable moment for hundreds of people who have assembled at the Temple of Peace, in Cardiff, to talk about the Southern-African philosophy Ubuntu, on the 25th of October at an event organised by the WCIA and Life for African Mothers.

Mr. Tutu, a loyal propagator of the Ubuntu philosophy, demonstrated some of the basic principles of this way of living by the time he stepped out of the car.

First by opening a big smile to kids holding Wales and South Africa’s flags for his welcome, and after that when keeping his kindness during his meeting with the event participants.

“I am, because you are. (…) How I behave impacts not only on me, but also others around me because we all belong together.” Tutu’s words, found in his foundations’ website, could fit easily in this day.

A philosophy that held a country together

According to Tutu’s foundation, Ubuntu teaches to look beyond a person’s individuality. The Southern African philosophy emphasizes how to create better ways for people to get connected, to increase interdependence with each other and become better human beings.

Ubuntu held an important role during the post-apartheid period in South Africa, by holding together the country’s nation in the period of intense social turbulence.

“It is intangible, but visible”

Former nurse and charity-organization Life for Mother African Mothers founder Angela Gorman was the one chosen to explain Ubuntu philosophy at the group-discussion in Cardiff. She started her speech by giving her own example of life.

Ms Gorman discovered Ubuntu after watching a BBC Panorama program called ‘Dead Mums Don’t Cry’. The documentary showed the situation of women who were dying in Chad, Western Africa, by not having essential drugs to help them during their pregnancy period.

“If you stood and watched a woman dying, like I have, because she didn’t have fifty pence for medicines [in contrast of] we have so much here, it has to change you”, Ms Gorman said. That was the moment when she decided to create the non-governmental organization and raise funds for Chad’s pregnant women.

For participant Ephson Ngadya, 39, director of a Zimbabwean theatre company that was touring the UK, who knows the concept of Ubuntu almost by heart, the “create good-do good” idea is not a something to simply be transformed into a project, but is a brotherhood principle to be shared with everyone.

“[Ubuntu] is a lifestyle. It has all to do with our values, our beliefs. What is important for me is to mainstream Ubuntu in everything that we do. We are here to promote it amongst our children, amongst our community.

Good examples came from different parts of Wales. 16-year old students, David Silk and Rhiannon Phillips, came from Brecon to Cardiff not only to meet Tutu, but also to talk about their initiatives started in their town.

“[Ubuntu] is about communities coming together. If tomorrow these people go out and smile to someone at the street, if they talk to someone at the checkout queue, and if it makes difference to one person, it was worth it. We’re going to whatever we can insure to that this [Tutu’s] visit has a legacy”, said Ms Gorman.

Tutu’s words can summarize what gatherings like this one, means to society. “If this world is going to become a better place, is not going to happen because someone falls down from heaven, it’s going to happen because of [common] people, who want to make this a more gentle, more caring and more sharing world.”

Friday, 10 August 2012

Time to accept that GM crops have their place

by Martin Pollard
Chief Executive, WCIA

Of all the articles of faith drawn up by environmentalists – many of which I share – it is surely their passionate opposition to genetically modified food that has achieved the most success in recent times.

That is the case in the European Union, anyway, where regulations on labelling, traceability and control are tighter than anywhere else in the world. Approvals for new GM products are rare, with a lack of support among member states meaning that “MON 810” maize is the only GM food cultivated commercially in the EU. GM food remains verboten under organic farming standards. Wherever scientists dare to conduct trials of new modified crops –however well controlled – the activists gather.

I am under no illusion that producing GM foods is completely safe, easy or free of negative consequences. Clearly, tight regulation is needed – as in any developing scientific field – to ensure that research is not open to over-eagerness or, worse, damaging exploitation by commercial concerns. But it is the inflexibility of many environmentalists’ approach that worries me. The clear overtone of “No GM, no matter what” is anti-scientific and anti-progressive. Instead, I am arguing that our attitude towards GM should be a cautious “yes”: yes to honest, hard-working science; yes to GM making its contribution to food security and climate change adaptation; and, of course, yes to all of the controls and regulations that are needed to make this process rigorous and effective. (The recent ban on GM trials in India reminds us of the importance of a tight regulatory system.)

It is not as if we Europeans can easily shield ourselves from GM products in any case. Meat-eaters, take note: it is estimated that 85% of the animal feed used in Europe contains unlabelled GM material. In a globalised food chain, only the most self-sufficient eaters will ever know exactly what they are eating.

But I also find it hard to understand why we are so insistent on shielding ourselves in the first place. The United States, India, China and others plant GM crops as a matter of course. One recent Chinese study showed that GM cotton crops benefit the environment, with reduced use of pesticides leading to a recovery in biodiversity in fields. And the use of GM technology in this way now appears to be supported by the British public, undermining the regularly claimed obstacle that “no-one wants GM here”.

In other areas of the world, particularly in drought-affected developing economies, GM may provide an important part of the solution to food insecurity. This is not to say that it is the only answer, or the most important one. But as the Kenyan Harvard professor Calestous Juma points out, we need all the solutions we can lay our hands on: “It doesn’t make sense to reduce the size of the toolbox when the challenges are expanding.” Another Kenyan, Felix M’mboyi, notes that European criticism of GM comes “with the luxury of a full stomach”.

Oxfam draws our attention to a number of key challenges in global food security, including the trade system, women’s participation, climate change and sustainable agriculture. GM food is not the solution to many of these issues, but it is one potential solution to some of them. At present, there is little opportunity to access GM crops for the small-scale farmers whose livelihoods are most threatened by the current challenges. Managed carefully by the international community, and with effective controls on markets, this could change.

Campaigners cite the ‘precautionary principle’ when fighting GM science, claiming that researchers should prove that GM crops are not harmful before they are allowed to proceed. But what happens when that principle comes up against the hard reality that our food resources are under greater demographic, economic and environmental pressure than ever before? When do we accept that while there might be some negative consequences of this technology – no matter how hard we strive to forestall them – the positive consequences might be greater?

There have certainly been failures, both scientific and ethical, in the GM trials and commercial arrangements conducted so far. But the history of scientific endeavour shows us that it is sensible to try harder to make things work, rather than to stop trying altogether.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Human trafficking in Wales: The hidden story

by Jenny Sims

A report on the WCIA's recent event at the Novotel, Cardiff. Jenny is a freelance journalist, editor and media consultant. Her blog is at

It’s on our doorsteps, in our streets, local shops, restaurants, factories, nail bars and saunas. It’s not just in big towns and cities but quiet villages and remote rural areas.

The “slave trade” of trafficked and abused children and adults for work and sex is everywhere.  But don’t think “Mr Nasty” is always the perpetrator of the crime, it’s often Mr or Mrs “Normal” selling and enslaving victims for profit, according to the experts.

So accept it. “Wake up” and “speak up”. Tell someone if you suspect a child is being abused, a woman is being forced to into sex work against her will, or a man into slave labour. The signs are often there but we ignore them.

Share your suspicions and tell someone in authority, the police, health services, teachers or charities. It’s the first step in helping victims escape, and enabling authorities bring the traffickers to justice.

These were the key messages from leading campaigners at a meeting organised by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs. Such was the interest from charities, social services and other organisations that the organisers had to switch venues – to a bigger Cardiff hotel!

On the night nearly 200 people packed a Novotel conference room to hear from leading figures in the field. The statistics are shocking: trafficking is a £32billion industry worldwide – and growing rapidly.

Pioneering policies inWales puts it “second only toLondon” in the way it’s helping victims and prosecuting traffickers, according to Robert Toobey, Anti Human Trafficking Co-ordinator for Wales, employed by Gwent Police.

Even so, the number of prosecutions is still very small. The number of victims is unknown. And not only members of the public but even some people in local authorities deny it exists in their area.

Mr Toobey, former head of Cardiff CID, whose team took on the first successful human trafficking case inWales, warns: “Anyone who thinks it isn’t happening inWales– think again.”
A wide range of solutions is being offered by organisations such as, Safer Wales, BAWSO and the International Justice Mission.

But the urgent task is to “destroy the climate of disbelief and denial”, says Joyce Watson, AM for Mid & West Wales, whose Cross-Party report on trafficking was published in 2010.*

Someone during the evening suggested that we tell three people about trafficking and ask them to tell three people.  Good idea. I’m passing it on…

*Knowing no boundaries – Local Solutions to an International Crime.

Further information:

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Languages: A passport to the world

Our latest blog post comes from Rebeccah Williams of Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf, currently enjoying her work experience at the WCIA.

Languages. There are 6,912 of them in the world, but they’re not very popular in Britain. To British teenagers, languages are usually associated with school, exams, and a lot of effort, but being able to speak more than one language is actually extremely helpful for our future and can help us in later life. They are very, very useful. 

The countries where the highest proportion of children learn foreign languages in secondary schools are Czech Republic, France, The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. The lowest are Ireland (58%), and the United Kingdom (32%). So why do British people not like learning foreign languages?

The list of possibilities for things to do with languages is endless. It’s commonly thought that if you do languages, the only jobs you could ever do is teaching, or be a translator. Fortunately, that thought is wrong as you could do just about anything! Yes, you could be a teacher, if you wanted to, or you could be a translator, but you could also be a yacht/jet seller, and sell incredible yachts/jets to multi billionaires from all over the world. If you love video games, you could be a video game tester, making sure that companies have translated words and sentences properly from one language to another. You could also be a tour organiser if you love travelling. This enables you to travel and use your languages. There are many, many more ‘less known’ jobs that you could get with languages! 

If you wanted to work in business, there is a good chance that your work would lead you out of the UK, or you would have to deal with people from foreign countries. Being in business probably means that these people will speak English anyway, but speaking their native language, will make the whole affair more comfortable and easy. It will also give the colleague a good first impression, as you are making an effort to speak his/her language.

Also, if you decide to move countries, it helps if you can speak your chosen country’s language already. It helps the move become easier and less of a struggle. Especially if you are moving to work in that country, and have to go straight into the busy life with people speaking to you and expecting you to know what they are saying. It’s exactly the same if you are thinking of studying abroad. 

Unfortunately, the number of pupils that took French and German for GCSE in the UK dropped dramatically from 479,413 pupils in 1995 to 215,108 in 2010. The number of pupils that took foreign languages for A level almost halved between 1996 and 2010. Wales, study shows, is the worst country in the UK at the moment for students in high school taking foreign languages. In 1995 the numbers studying a foreign language for GCSE were 55% but those numbers declined to 29.6% in 2008. 

The director of Wales’ National Center of Languages (Cilt Cymru), Ceri James, said: "A lack of interest in subjects such as French and German is holding the nation back in an increasingly competitive European jobs market."

The British are terribly bad at learning foreign languages, and the situation is getting worse. A decade ago, around 80% of high school children studied a foreign language; now, only 48%. A clear reason for this is because English has become a universal language and is spoke well in most countries, therefore the British can travel around the world without having too much of a problem with communicating. Also, British children do not often learn English grammar, and therefore when they come across foreign language grammar, they find it quite difficult. Instead of choosing to study a hard and confusing subject, they turn to subjects that are more interesting to them and that they can do.

Welsh people are also lacking in language enthusiasts. This is odd because in Wales, children are used to having to cope with learning more than one language on a day-to-day basis, and therefore learning another language might not be that much of a problem. Although you could argue that if Welsh children have to learn another language, then they might not want to study yet another one, and so choose not to carry on with foreign languages, and stick to their native languages. It all lies with the personality of the student. 

Languages help you, and although sometimes they can be a lot of effort, they pay off in the long run. Even if you don’t want to mainly focus on languages and have other interests that you wish to start a career in, you could always try and get that job in that area of expertise abroad - thanks to the language(s) you can speak. 

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, UK unemployment rose in the months building up to Christmas and the New Year by 28,000, making the total unemployment figure 2.67 million. If you have a language under your belt, precious job vacancies will be easier for you to find and different and new opportunities will present themselves to you, whilst others desperately hunt for jobs. 

Audrey Hepburn (Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, English), Johnny Depp (English, French), Morgan Freeman (English, French), Roger Federer (English, German, French), Sandra Bullock (English, German), and my role model, J.K.Rowling (English, German, French, Spanish) all speak more than one language, and they have all been highly successful in their work. If you want to be an actor, then being able to speak another language is also useful, because it might enable you to do some acting abroad or in different languages.

In conclusion, languages are a basic skill and everyone needs to be able to speak at least one. Some enjoy learning them, and therefore learn as many as they can. Others prefer to just stick with the language they’re comfortable with and enjoy other subjects. Languages aren’t for all of us, and for many, they can be extremely difficult, but they really do benefit you in life, and they give you more confidence to do what you want to do.