Whole-school assembly delivered on Friday, 18th May at Streatham & Clapham High School
Remember that snowy weekend a month or so ago. That was when our Cambodia team was due to have their training weekend for their summer expedition. There wasn’t a flake of snow in the sky on Friday evening as the team set off and soon they arrived at the campsite and put up their tents. After cooking a meal of pasta, everyone crept into their sleeping bags. On Saturday, the team awoke after a cold night and found a few beads of ice on their tents where the dew had frozen. However, it wasn’t snowing and the team set out to complete their first day of training and went up onto the South Downs. As the day wore on, the skies became greyer, the wind arose and the first flakes began to fall. Eventually, it became a blizzard and we decided to head back down to the campsite and the warmth of the nearby church hall.
As we descended, we came across a flock of sheep blocking our path. They had obviously escaped from a field and were now filling the path between two high hedgerows of briars and brambles. There was no way past these sheep, which were huddling together in the cold. There was nothing else to do but to march into the flock, single-file, and see if we could push our way past.
However, as we walked forward, the sheep ran further down the path, we moved forward again, and then they moved forward. This kept happening until the sheep reached a gate and could go nowhere else and so they just stood there bleating helplessly.
There was nothing for it. We walked straight into the flock to reach the gate. However, instead of running back up the path. This large flock of sheep pushed its way into the dense thicket on our left. I was surprised how so many sheep could fit into such a small space. Anyway, success! We went through the gate and knew we would soon be back at the campsite and once we had closed the gate, the sheep came out from their hiding place and ran back up the path and away.
As I was locking the gate, I heard a weak, ‘baaaa’. I listened more carefully. ‘baaaaa’ There it was again. ‘baaaa’ then again. I walked around the fence on the other side of the hedgerow and there it was. One poor sheep had got itself caught in amongst the thorns. The branches had plaited themselves together into a thick rope that were wrapped around the poor creature’s neck and legs and causing it to bleed. There was no way for it to escape and no way to join the rest of the flock.
We could have just left it there. We could have carried on walking. But we couldn’t just abandon it.
Mrs Ridley came to the rescue; she pulled out a small pen-knife, while I put on my thick leather gloves to hold back the thorny thicket. Mrs Ridley began to saw at the branches which were wrapped around its neck. The blade was small and the branches were thick so it was slow going and initially the sheep squirmed to try to get away. Gradually as the sheep realised that we were trying to help it, it became calm as Mrs Ridley keep cutting. On and on she cut until she was through the first branch, which whipped up and hit me on the nose, cutting the tip and causing blood to start to drip from the end. But I didn’t flinch and kept holding back the thorns as Mrs Ridley kept cutting. Soon, we were down to the last few woody fibres, then, hooray!, the sheep was freed and ran back to join its ovine friends.
Why did we help? This sheep, in reality, was not our concern, not our problem. Like a Greek chorus, we could have stayed back watching the tragedy without intervening. We could have moved on, complaining and blaming the person who had let the sheep out of their field in the first place. But we didn’t, we did what we could.
So often, though, we sit back and don’t intervene and don’t do anything. We might bemoan the injustices of the world, the threats to our planet and the problems in society. But how often do we actually do anything about them. ‘How can I do anything about it?’ ‘I don’t have money, I’m not in a position of power, I have no influence’. These are lies we tell ourselves to give us the license to complain, but not to do anything about it. There is always something that we can do. You may think it is small, but it is something. It takes a drop of water to begin to fill an ocean, a grain of sand to start to form a beach, a snowflake to begin an avalanche. Don’t ever think that you are too insignificant or too small to make a positive difference.
Just as Mrs Ridley and I worked together to free the sheep, change always comes about when people collaborate. Look around, there are 500 people in this room who want a better world just like you. If only we would stop thinking that creating change in our world is someone else’s job and realised it is something that we can do ourselves.
I know that so many of you are already taking the risk to look out beyond the school gates to see what you yourselves can do make a positive impact on the world: whether it is volunteering in a charity shop as part of Bronze Duke of Edinburgh, inviting our neighbours into school for IT lessons and a cup of tea as part of Community Kinza or going to Cambodia to build gardens for the locals so that they can feed themselves and their families better.
We want to be an outward-facing school. We don’t want to be a person or school that only focuses on our own issues, our own problems and our own complaints. It is only through looking outwards and reaching out that we can grow as people and as a school. Focusing too much on ourselves, can make our hearts small, weak and shrivelled up, but if we open our hearts to the world, then we not only benefit the community but also ourselves. Love is not finite, we don’t have a limited supply of love, which runs down as we give it out. What we find is that, the more love we give, the more we seem to have and the more love we receive in return.
For too long our school has not been as outward facing towards our community and to the needs of our world as it could be. This has been symbolised by our main entrance and reception, hidden away around the side of our building, making it difficult for people to come in. However, now we have a beautiful new reception facing out proudly onto Abbotswood Road. It curves round as if it is two arms reaching out and embracing our local community or curving round as if in a smile to everyone who walks past, welcoming them in.
So, let’s be inspired by our new building. When we see an opportunity to help, let’s not remain on the side-lines looking for others to take action, but let’s do whatever we can to make a positive difference. Let’s be outward-facing, let’s embrace our world and let’s give a smile to everyone we meet.