Pupils from the West Midlands took part in a video call with children in Sri Lanka at the official launch of Commonwealth Connections – a partnership between the British Council and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The project links 60 primary, secondary and special schools in the West Midlands with 60 schools across 10 Commonwealth countries.
Through the twinning project young people will explore cultures and beliefs and learn how to communicate with people from different backgrounds and perspectives through a programme of sporting and artistic activities.
Attending the launch at Thorns Collegiate Academy in Dudley were teachers and pupils from six schools in the Dudley area who took part in a live link up with six schools in Sri Lanka.
The pupils from each country took turns to perform demonstrations over a live video link.
The children in Sri Lanka showed off their martials arts skills while pupils in the UK performed a fusion dance.
They were joined by Commonwealth Championships gold medallist Tom Davis and Paralympic gold medallist Liz Johnson – both athlete mentors for the Youth Sport Trust – and Birmingham 2022 mascot Perry the Bull.
The event included team building and leadership development activities.
It was officially launched by UK Commonwealth Envoy Jo Lomas, Kate Ewart-Biggs deputy chief executive of the British Council, and Alton Brown, Head of Youth Programmes and Policy at Birmingham 2022.
The £500k project is co-funded by the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and the British Council.
The British Council is delivering the project in partnership with Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP) and the children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust (YST). BEP has nominated its flagship Birmingham Arts School to lead on delivery of the arts and culture strand of the project.
The project will run until July 2022 and will build excitement among young people and their communities in the build up to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
British Council deputy chief executive Kate Ewart-Biggs said: “It’s important to get children thinking internationally and learning about different cultures around the world. We’re proud to have used our long-established network of schools and education leaders around the world to provide these international connections. The Games are a fantastic opportunity to develop relationships with other Commonwealth countries by bringing people together.”
Birmingham 2022 Head of Youth Programmes & Policy Alton Brown said: “It was fantastic to see the children engaging and sharing experiences with pupils from Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth Connections programme allows schools from across the globe to be inspired by the Games and learn about sport, arts and culture from different parts of the world. As part of our Youth Programme, we are creating opportunities for children and young people and celebrating them as our next generation of changemakers.”
Project Arts Lead, representing BEP and Birmingham Arts School, Julie Ward said: “Arts and cultural activities can provide powerful learning tools that go beyond text books helping to build confidence and important life skills. When applied to international exchange contexts the dialogue that takes place offers new insights for the participants as they share the things they love about where they live and address the challenges facing them. The children of today’s Commonwealth are the creative problem-solvers of tomorrow. This project puts them on the world stage and gives them a head start. We should all be very proud of them.”
Commonwealth Games Paralympic gold medallist and Youth Sport Trust Athlete Mentor, Liz Johnson, said: “Sport has such power to bring people together and break down barriers. I’m so excited to be involved in this programme and to share my experiences with young people across the Commonwealth. They will have the amazing opportunity to connect with others who go to schools elsewhere in the world and live completely different lives to them. On Children’s Mental Health Week, this programme is a timely reminder of the important and powerful role sport can play in young people’s lives, fostering inclusive environments, building connections between schools, and developing empathy and trust among young people.”
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The Commonwealth Games this summer will be so much more than just 11 days of sporting spectacle.
“They will help provide a wonderful rallying moment to inspire the next generation and connect young people from across the Commonwealth with one another. That’s why the Commonwealth Connections programme is so important, as it will encourage pupils to respect & understand different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds. I look forward to seeing the programme in full swing as it brings people together in lots of different & delightful ways.”
Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “One of the many reasons we bid for the Commonwealth Games was the knowledge that the event has the power to bring people together in the city and the region.
“Programmes like this, where the Games are a catalyst, are helping build bridges between school pupils here and their peers in the rest of the world, which can only be a good thing for our future. These really are shaping up to the Games for Everyone.”