Radafina with the local community who took her to their hearts
Plans for an innovative library to welcome new overseas pupils into Excelsior Academy took teacher Radafina Petleshkova on a “life-changing” adventure to Sri Lanka.
She pitched her idea for a multi-lingual library to hundreds of interested delegates at the British Council’s Active Citizens conference in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo.
Experiencing back-breaking work on tea plantations, teaching in a Sri Lankan school and the gratitude of its people has given her a fresh perspective on life after arriving back from her trip.
Radafina has now won seed funding for her idea from the ‘Reviving the Heart of the West End’ charity which links with the Active Citizens project. Both projects work to regenerate communities by building ties with local people.
Radafina is keen to introduce a dedicated library in Excelsior as soon as possible for pupils beginning school as new arrivals from overseas countries, to smooth their passage into academy life by being able to read books written in their first language.
Radafina drew on her own experience of leaving Bulgaria to start a new life in Newcastle as an Excelsior pupil to drive her idea.
“My idea was to try to create a multi lingual library in school to inspire pupils to read,” she said.
“We have a lot of pupils who don’t want to read books. I do remember from my own personal experience that when I first came here that I didn’t want to read, when I went to the library they had a foreign section but they didn’t have anything in Bulgarian.
“So my idea is to create a library where kids can read in their own language as reading is knowledge after all.”
Working with the ‘Heart of the West End’ team, Radafina successfully applied to go to the conference in Colombo, where she travelled out from to the city of Kandy, home to famous tea plantations.
Radafina and other Active Citizens helped sort through a day’s tea leaf picking, giving the women workers a break and shedding light on just how hard they work to secure the equivalent of up to £4 per day in pay.
“I had to prepare myself with regards to my project, to tell people at the conference what I’m planning to do and the different ideas I have,” said Radafina. “The other reason to go to Sri Lanka was to absorb the different culture and make connections with different people globally.
“We had to introduce ourselves and talk about what we do. I talked about being a teacher and things in my everyday life.
“So many people were interested in what I was doing, with the different education systems, I had so many different questions to answer.
“We were hands on in the community, we went tea picking. Every time I drink tea now I will be thinking about those people. It was really hard work and it was mainly the women that were picking the tea.”
The poverty and lack of possessions had a huge impact on Radafina when they visited communities in the Kandy area.
“We went into a village and I don’t think they had any flowers left in the gardens, all the children were picking flowers and giving them to us,” she said.
“They were blessing us with petals. We saw where people lived and everyone was so welcoming into their homes.
“It made me think that what we have here we sometimes take for granted, we are not appreciative of what we’ve got, but these people, what really blew me away was that they had so little but were so happy. It was life-changing for me.
“I was asked to teach in one of the schools in a village near Kandy. The kids were wearing their white uniforms with blue ties and as soon as they saw us coming they were running to see us.
“A lot of them found out I was teaching in England. The respect I was shown was incredible. You could see them virtually saying ‘feed me with knowledge.’”
Radafina had many expressions of interest in her multi-lingual library from Active Citizens conference delegates who asked to be kept informed of its progress.