Last week, two fantastic primary schools welcomed me as a speaker representing the charity, Changing Faces. Coinciding with Anti Bullying Week (13th – 17th November), I was asked to speak during their weekly school assemblies about my experiences as someone living with a visible skin difference.
Given my own school days are long behind me, being back at school gave me an overwhelming nostalgic feeling. Walking down the corridor, glancing over the school walls plastered with children’s drawings made me instantly smile. As did the hopscotch on the floor as I walked across the playground and the polished floor that looked as though it had shined over the weekend, ready for another school week. There was even the distinctive school smell…..a heady blend of musty schoolbooks, mixed with the wooden smell of the bookcases that lined the corridors. It was so nice to be back…..
The night before, I had been repetitively reminding myself that there was no need to be nervous, after all, two days prior I’d presented at The Vitiligo Society Annual Open Day (separate post!) and in a way, presenting to a group of cute school kids in years, 3, 4 and 5, shouldn’t have been two daunting. I was fine as I waited in reception for the head teacher….still fine when I was greeted by the PE teacher in the assembly hall where I was due to present. But, as I guessed, my nerves started to fail me as the kids started to trickle in, class by class, filling the room like it was a conference that had reached full house!
By 10am all the kids were sitting quietly, cross-legged, on the floor looking a little intrigued by my presence. After the Deputy Head introduced me, I was handed the mic to start. The children were incredibly enthusiastic within minutes. Before I gave them an overview of who I was, I briefly explained who Changing Faces were and their role as a charity who supports people with indifferences. Before I began with my own story as someone with Vitiligo, I asked how many of them had heard of the condition. I was very surprised when more than half raised their hands. Good start!
As I spoke about my journey and how having a skin condition affected me when I was around there age, they were keen to ask questions and share how it might feel to be different. Keen to interact, I asked their views on how it feels to have a visible mark, to which they gave impressive answers such as; it can make you feel unique and beautiful, makes you feel different and on the flip side how it can make you feel sad when people stare and ask intrusive questions.
After presenting, I gave the children an opportunity to ask questions….and of course my slight fear was that they’d be silence! But it was great to see their hands shoot up! I was asked questions such as ‘Did I have treatment’? ‘Was I born with Vitiligo’?, and ‘Is is the same as a birthmark?’…..all of which were very common questions.
Later that week, I made my way to a second school for a mid afternoon assembly. Fresh from lunch, I presented to a slightly smaller group of year 6 children which was a completely different experience. I gave exactly the same presentation however, this time I was conscious that one of the kids actually had Vitiligo. When I asked if they’d heard of the condition less hands went up, which I was surprised by especially as they were older. They listened intently and shared their views about what it was like to be different, but their responses were interestingly different. They highlighted that you would likely feel isolated, sad, embarrassed, uncomfortable and cautious of potential bullying and staring. All of which are very true, but they didn’t suggest that you may feel unique, beautiful with an embracement for being different, like the previous school.
After presenting in two very different schools, I reflected on how the children in each of the schools responded. I personally felt as though children in higher primary school years are more conscious of there peers….less likely to put their hands up to share their ideas in fear of giving the wrong answer or possibly a negative reaction from others. Whilst in the younger years, their enthusiasm, interest and ability to share their own personal experiences, was refreshing. They were open to answering questions and quietly discussing some of the other themes that arose throughout.
For me, aside from it being an ordinary working week, it was a fantastic and personally educating, new experience! Afterall, they are a future generation in the making and I’d like to think diversity and the acceptance of others regardless of appearance, is fully embraced by the time they reach my age….