By Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Kate Grant
In this blog, Kate Grant interviews Albanian born Persona Doll Avdi. She asks how practitioners can work with EMTAS Persona Dolls to engage young learners with topics such as diversity, culture and stereotypes.
The Persona Dolls approach affords children an engaging, enjoyable and interactive safe space where they can address challenging issues, share their lived experiences and have their voices heard and valued. It helps our youngest learners to develop their emotional literacy and empowers children to use their voice. The approach is designed to facilitate dialogue around bias and stereotypes which so many of our youngest learners will have already encountered.
If you have used EMTAS Persona Dolls previously you will have noticed that they have been taking a well-deserved rest. After all, it’s not easy visiting lots of schools and making friends all over the county - just ask Avdi! Whilst the dolls have been relaxing, Kate has been working behind the scenes on making the use of EMTAS Persona Dolls in school more accessible, relevant and most of all fun. So without further ado please welcome Avdi to tell us more…
Avdi: Përshëndetje (hello) everyone, my name is Avdi and I am from Albania. Kate has asked me to share with you how working with Persona Dolls can help support your youngest learners in school. This is the perfect topic for me to talk about as I have been a Persona Doll my whole life!
Kate: What do you like about being a Persona Doll?
Avdi: One of the main things I love about being a Persona Doll is that I get to travel around the county, meeting lots of children and learning about different schools. I am always amazed by how warmly the children welcome me into their classroom - they sometimes even give me a school uniform to wear. But most of all, I love hearing the brilliant things children say when I go to visit their school and it often surprises their teachers too as we delve into conversations about issues they might not ordinarily get to discuss such as discrimination and inequality. Big topics for our youngest minds.
Kate: How do you support the children?
Avdi: I find that the children see me as being just like
them. This helps create a safe environment where they are happy to share and
talk about aspects of life they may not normally get to discuss. I think of it as providing children with a
window into someone else’s life, but they often find aspects that mirror their
own too. That’s what life is all about, learning
about yourself and others and embracing the similarities as well as the
Kate: How will teachers find time to use Persona Dolls?
Avdi: We work within the Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1/2 curriculum, so we are not an add-on. In fact we’re a different approach to teaching Personal, Social, Emotional Development, Knowledge and Understanding of The World and Relationships and Sex Education. Kate has linked all the relevant parts of the curriculum with our guidance documents so that teachers can see the objectives they can cover whilst working with us. For example you will see we provide an authentic way to approach the People, Culture and Communities element of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum  and the Respectful Relationships aspect of the Key Stage 1/2 curriculum .
Kate: What happens when you visit schools?
Avdi: I normally visit once a week for a half term. When I first go into a school, I explain that I am feeling a bit nervous about being somewhere new with people I don’t know yet, and the children discuss how they could help make me feel more comfortable. It’s lovely to hear how kind the children are and accepting of new people - I wish people were always like this. The next week when I return, I am more confident so I let their teacher share a PowerPoint I have made to tell them a bit more about myself, my home, my language and my interests. The children always want to tell me about themselves too and we find similarities and differences with each other.
By week 3 I am really enjoying being with my new group of friends and I share that something has been worrying me. For example, another child has been unkind to me because my hair is different to theirs. The teacher helps me talk to the children and they respond with so much empathy. A lot of the time, the children tell me they have experienced similar things and we talk about what helped them eg speaking to an adult at school. My new friends always give me good advice, so I go away and try some of their ideas. When I return for my final visit, I feel so much better because they supported me. I explain that I must return to my school again and might not see them, but we will still be friends. I like to surprise them with an e-postcard after my final visit. This shows I am still thinking of them and gives me an opportunity to ask them to write to me about our time together.
Kate: What is different about the way EMTAS Persona Dolls work now?
Avdi: Kate is working on making everything available online because we know how busy teachers are and we want everything to be readily accessible in the moment. Once everything is ready to go, it will all be uploaded to our Moodle where you will find the guidance documents, a list of all our Persona Dolls, suggestions for what to do during each visit and some social stories for teachers.
When I visit your school I will have a lanyard with a QR code so that teachers can find what they need instantly. When teachers share the Persona Doll’s PowerPoint it will contain video links to find out more about the culture and language(s) of the doll’s country of origin together with traditional dances and nursery rhymes in first language.
Kate: Is there anything else you want to tell everyone?
Avdi: Just that I am really excited to get back into schools and to meet lots of new friends. Oh, and if any schools would like to pilot our revamped way of working please email Kate at email@example.com.
 Explain some similarities and differences between life in this country and life in other countries
 The importance of respecting others, even when they are very different from them (for example, physically, in character, personality or backgrounds), or make different choices or have different preferences or beliefs.
By Lynne Chinnery
In this three-part autobiographical blog, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Lynne Chinnery takes us on a journey to Libya where she reminisces about the challenges and opportunities of moving to a country so drastically different to her own. In Part 1 and Part 2 we experienced Lynne's culture shock when she first arrived in Libya and read how she eventually found her place. In this final chapter Lynne focusses on her children and the decisions she had to make for the best of her family.
Part 3: Our children
We had made a conscious decision to bring our three children up bilingually from the very beginning as we could see the amazing benefits bilingualism could bring them. And so I mostly spoke to Sami, Leyla and Idris in English and my husband spoke to them in Arabic. As they spent more time with me when they were little, my husband would insist that they spoke to him in Arabic to ensure that they progressed in this language as much as in English. He did this in a playful way, pretending that he didn’t understand them whenever they spoke to him in English and they found this very funny as they knew that his English was really very good. They would use either language when talking to each other, often switching depending on who they were with, but there were some words that, as a family, we always tended to use only in one language or the other because they felt so much better in that language. For example, we’ve always referred to flip-flops or slippers as “shib-shib”, and shout “khalas” when we want someone to stop something. I’ve noticed many bilingual families do the same. Gaining Arabic literacy skills was not a problem, as all their lessons were in Arabic, and it was exciting but a bit daunting for me to see their writing in their school books in a language that I could barely read. I started teaching our children to read and write in English too as there was little of this taught at their schools. It took a lot of time and effort and I can understand why some parents baulk at the task, especially after a long day at work or school.
The Libyan people were warm and welcoming, many of my students became close friends, and I soon found that I regularly bumped into people in the city centre who I knew or who knew me through our school. I also found that the more my Arabic evolved, the happier I was, as I could ask for things in shops, joke with my neighbours and chat to the people in the doctor’s waiting room or on the bus. My children really helped with my Arabic acquisition as I could listen to them speaking Arabic to each other, and they also interpreted for me when I was stuck. I had made some English-speaking friends as well as my Libyan friends and we would meet on the nearby beach every morning during school holidays, which were wonderfully long. Our children would play and swim together while we chatted and shared food and drinks. It was particularly at times like these that our children seemed complete: running across the sand, climbing rocks and jumping into the clear Mediterranean Sea, code-switching from one language to another – half Libyan, half English but now, for these moments, whole.
Over the fourteen years that I lived in Benghazi, life grew easier. Of course there was some racism, as there is in every country. Some people slowed down in their cars to shout insults at me; some people talked about me rather than to me, thinking I couldn’t understand them; and some people were just hostile because I was a foreigner. But these were few compared to the warmth and generosity of the majority of the community; the friendships they offered assuaged the hurt I felt from any racism I experienced.
Our school flourished and we expanded the number of staff and classrooms. We moved from our small flat into a large, family villa with a surrounding garden that I loved to water at night. Gaddafi eased up on his restrictions on private shops and imports and so a much wider choice of groceries and products became available. Satellites arrived and although the government attempted to outlaw them, they were unsuccessful in doing so; the satellite dishes were being raised as fast as they could dismantle them. Eventually, they gave up and we could watch channels from many other countries, mostly Arab countries like Lebanon and Egypt, which had TV programmes and films in both English and Arabic. We were also finally able to watch world news via CNN and Al Jazeera, giving us a less censored version of current events. My husband and our children were happy watching TV in both languages, but I still craved English programmes as a way of switching off and relaxing in an Arabic world.
As time went on, however, it was actually the education in Libya that caused us the most trouble. By the time we had three children of school age, we found ourselves constantly trying to protect them from being beaten in school. We put them into private schools, which at least gave us the right to complain, but the system was still very old-fashioned: the classes were led by strict teachers who stood at their blackboards and dictated what should be copied down or memorised without any discussion. The pupils were sat in formal rows and if they stepped out of line or even answered incorrectly, a short piece of hose pipe or stick was used to hit them on their hands, and in extreme cases on their feet. I can still remember the fear we felt sending our children into such an environment; as well as the dread I felt when my husband was away and I had to go to the school unaccompanied, often to complain to the head about the corporal punishment being used. This would have been a difficult conversation to have in my first language, let alone in one I was still learning. In fact, I found it very stressful to attend any important meetings without someone there with me, even when my Arabic improved.
Eventually, as the political situation was not improving much and because of our growing concern about our children’s education, we decided that we would move back to the UK and put our children in English schools. The plan was that I would move first with the children and that we would visit Benghazi regularly, while my husband stayed on in Libya until he could get a job with a European airline. I had longed for this moment when I had first started living in Libya, but for a long time since, I had become accustomed to my life there: to our school, our home, our family and friends, my students (many of whom had become friends), and so I had stopped wishing that we could move to England. Now, although a part of me felt excited at the thought of moving back to the UK, another part of me felt that I had been away too long.
On my last trip to England, after a period of nearly four years without visiting, I had felt like a foreigner in the UK. It was a terrible realisation when it happened. I had thought that I still didn’t truly belong in Libya, but then upon visiting the UK, I realised to my horror that I didn’t belong there either. So much had happened while I was away, and this took me by surprise because in my head everything had stayed the same. Of course it would change, everything changes, but we don’t think of this when we are away, just as we don’t think about a child growing up and then we are surprised when we see that they are taller and older than before. But it wasn’t only this - I had changed. And so I suddenly had this awful realisation that I no longer belonged anywhere. I have spoken to other immigrants who have been through the same thing: that longing for home, then finding it so different once there that it no longer felt like home. It is a terrible feeling and one I will never forget. Feeling homeless. It does ease with time, and as I returned to Libya after that visit and continued my life there, I just felt that it was Libya which was becoming home to me more and more and I began to realise that I could see things differently to other people, neither one ‘side’ nor the other, a kind of insight into two worlds that are usually seen as poles apart.
So now, given the opportunity to move back to the UK, possibly for good, the thought of returning to live there was both exciting and frightening. Libya, in comparison, seemed safe – it was what I knew. I thought about it long and hard and decided it was right for us at that time and so we came. My husband visited us several times and we visited Libya too, but eventually he met someone else and we split up. I ensured that our children still kept in regular contact with him and they visited Libya at least once a year in the school holidays throughout their childhood.
Although the break-up of our family was a terrible time for all of us, I have never regretted my move back to the UK, especially in light of the terrible turmoil that has ensued there, just as I have never regretted my decision to move to Libya all those years ago. I learnt so much in Libya: the people taught me to understand other ways of living, of seeing, of understanding the world but they also revealed the similarities we all share: the love of family and friends and the hope for peace and security in our lives. They helped me to truly understand that people are people wherever you go and the majority of them are good.
Many thanks to Lynne Chinnery for sharing her personal story. Resources
for parents can be accessed from our website and on our Moodle.
Parents/carers who speak English as an Additional Language | Hampshire County Council (hants.gov.uk)
By Lynne Chinnery
In this three-part autobiographical blog, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor, Lynne Chinnery, takes us on a journey to Libya where she reminisces about the challenges and opportunities of moving to a country so drastically different to her own. In Part 1 Lynne sets the scene and readers experience the culture shock she felt when she first arrived in Libya. In this second part we find out how she eventually found her place.
Sami, Leyla and Idris all dressed up for Eid
Part 2: Embracing the culture
After a year, I was pregnant with our first child, Sami, and as my husband didn’t want to leave, I felt I had no choice but to stay. I’m so glad I did.
Life soon settled into a fairly comfortable routine, with the main meal at lunchtime and a siesta afterwards if needed. Work and school were usually mornings only, six days a week but many people had two or more jobs to make ends meet. In the evenings, people stayed up late to make the most of the cooler night air. We sometimes went out to the lake for a walk in the gardens or stayed in and watched television. There were just two channels on Gaddafi’s strictly controlled TV in those days: one in Arabic and the other divided between French and English, mainly so that Gaddafi could spread the word of his Green Book and Socialist Jamahiriya theory. Most programmes were centred on his teachings and his take on the news, but there were some South American soap operas dubbed in Arabic that everyone crowded round to watch, as well as some ancient British sitcoms on the French/English channel for me. Tuning in to watch Terry and June whilst sat in a villa in the heart of Benghazi was a surreal experience, and I was surprised to find myself looking forward to each episode as there was little else I could understand, apart from rented videos and the BBC World Service on the radio.
Politically, Libya was a dictatorship under the complete control of Gaddafi, who was abhorred by the majority of its citizens (or at least that’s how I perceived it in Benghazi, where the resistance to the regime was strongest). But he had been in power so long and his rule was so harsh, that the majority of the population had learnt to live in a state of reluctant acceptance. For many, this was all they had known. Even my husband had been a child of just seven years when Gaddafi first took power from King Idris in a coup in 1969.
With my usual ability to pick the right time, the West had declared sanctions with Libya shortly after I arrived. Private enterprise had been slashed previously under Gaddafi’s vision of a Socialist state and, apart from a few shops selling cloth, which were still allowed to open in Soog AlJareed (a traditional market in the centre of Benghazi), the majority of shopping was done in the large government department stores or in the government Jamias. The department stores stood mostly empty but with one or two products in abundance, such as rows and rows of washing powder, endless lines of canned ghee, or shelves with just one type of skirt or sandals but very little else. The Jamias were local stores where we could buy necessities such as rice, oil and pasta - very important to a country with Italian heritage (Libya had been occupied by Italy from 1911 to 1943 and had retained some of its dishes, language and buildings). All items were modestly priced in the Jamia but rationed and you had to show your ration book in order to acquire them. Occasionally, we could also purchase some electrical goods such as a TV or a washing machine. If there weren’t enough for everybody, a lottery was held (although you still had to pay for the appliance if you won). Anything else people needed was bought on the black market, mostly from suitcase importers who travelled abroad to bring back what they could to sell. Not surprisingly, prices kept rising and the Libyan Dinar fell even further due to the sanctions, meaning that the cost of travelling abroad was particularly high and so I couldn’t visit home as often as planned.
I had been warned not to speak to anyone I didn’t know well about anything political – you could be locked up or even worse, and never to mention politics on the phone or in my letters home as these were all monitored. But with trusted family, friends and colleagues, we could speak freely and a closeness laced with black humour prevailed.
Sometimes there were flurries of physical resistance and I remember once stopping on the great bridge that spanned the largest of the lakes in central Benghazi, watching mortar bombs being fired into a block of flats. It sounds strange now, but we just stood there watching the whole scenario unfold before us as if we were watching a film. The residents had been evacuated because there were insurgents (the side we wanted to win) hiding within. I don’t think we ever found out what happened to them as such events were never reported in the news.
But on the whole, these were exceptions to our everyday life of family, school and work, interspersed with occasional picnics in the nearby countryside, trips to Jabal Al-Akthar Mountains (The Green Mountains) or days spent at one of the many breathtaking beaches. We now had three children: Sami, Leyla and Idris and so our thoughts were mostly preoccupied with acquiring the things we needed on the black market, getting our children ready for school on time, the successful growth of our language school and, for me, trying with great difficulty, to help my children with their Arabic homework and decipher the letters that came through the door when my husband was away.
There were some cultural aspects that I found more difficult to adjust to than others. For example, I just couldn’t understand why women and men had to sit in separate rooms unless they were family or close friends. This was especially painful at the beginning when I didn’t speak Arabic because if I was separated from my husband, I had no one to interpret for me. I also had to learn how short was too short for a skirt or dress, that trousers could only be worn with something long over the top, and that sleeveless tops were shameful. Libya had a real mix of orthodoxy at that time. Although the hijab was rarely worn, you could see women completely covered in a long-sleeved dress down to their ankles and a headscarf hiding their hair or, at the other extreme, you might see a young girl dressed in Western clothes driving by in her sportscar, her hair flying in the wind. Luckily for me, my husband’s family were somewhere in the middle, they were Muslim and believed in modest dress but were not insistent that anyone should wear a scarf, feeling that this was a personal choice.
The longer I stayed in Libya, the more ordinary the customs became to me. As my Arabic grew, I looked forward to the women’s get-togethers, known as ‘lemmas’, as a time to catch up with each other’s news and above all to laugh. I began to feel shy wearing my swimming costume on the beach and started wearing shorts over it as some of the Libyan women did and I wore a long shirt over my trousers when I went out. At home, I often wore a jalabiya: a long shift that was much cooler than jeans and a T-shirt. And I found that sitting on the floor to eat from shared bowls on a low table or tray was actually very sociable and relaxing, plus it certainly saved on the washing up! And all the time I was adjusting, my spoken Arabic was improving as I absorbed it from those around me. My literacy skills were also slowly coming along as I continued to teach myself from a book I had brought with me, and practised reading my children’s school books, frantically trying to keep up with them, but failing.
How did Lynne's family adjust to living in two languages? Come back next week to read the third and final part of her autobiographical blog.
By Lynne Chinnery
In this three-part autobiographical blog, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor, Lynne Chinnery, takes us on a journey to Libya where she reminisces about the challenges and opportunities of moving to a country so drastically different to her own. Readers will reflect and empathise with the experiences of parents of international EAL arrivals settling in the UK.
View across the central lake of Benghazi, prior to the 2011 civil war
Part 1: The Culture Shock
Learning to live in a new country is never easy. The greater the differences that exist between the new language and culture and your own, the tougher it is. I only truly learnt this when I experienced it myself - by moving to Libya.
I had met my husband in Athens and we’d been together as much as possible for three years, during which time I was living in Greece, Turkey and London before moving to his home country of Libya. He was an airline pilot and I had trained as a primary school teacher, but most of my actual working experience had been in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). After moving to Libya, I taught privately for a while before we jointly opened a language school on the northern coast of Libya, in his birthplace and our home, Benghazi.
When I first went to Libya, the dramatic change in culture, language, religious views, work, leisure, everything in fact, took me completely by surprise. Of course, I had known it would be different as I had lived abroad before, and it was the difference itself which I usually found so exciting and that inspired me to travel. But this was unlike anything I had ever experienced before; I had so much to learn that I felt bewildered and almost childlike. Part of the problem was my lack of Arabic and the fact that English was far less prevalent than in other countries I had visited; in fact, it had been banned in Libyan schools for some years.
With no understanding of Arabic, apart from a smattering of phrases I had taught myself prior to the move, I was still unable to do little more than greet people and say thank you and goodbye. I had learnt part of the alphabet, which meant I could pick out some letters on the otherwise unintelligible street signs, although even that was difficult as the fonts varied enormously and did not seem to look at all like the letters in my book. I fully understood for the first time how people who do not use the Latin script feel when they first travel to the UK: there was nothing familiar to hold onto.
As I descended from the air-conditioned plane, I was met with that blast of hot air which heat-seeking holiday makers are familiar with, and looking around me, everything was dry and flat, with only distant palm trees breaking up the landscape. As we drove from the airport to the city of Benghazi, however, following the sprawl of the city to its source, the dusty roads were gradually replaced with tarmac and I saw tall apartment blocks with splashes of colour from balconies full of potted plants, hanging rugs and washing. These in turn were soon replaced with villas, their lush gardens overflowing with palms, jasmine and bougainvillaea.
Benghazi had that chaotic mix of many towns and cities, where buildings have sprung up without any plan, a few even adopting part of the street as an extension of their garden. Small, modest houses, some in need of repair, shared the street with gigantic, newly-built villas, most sitting on untarmacked dusty roads that led away from the wide tarmacked road we were driving along. We passed parks with beautiful trees full of red blossoms and cherished, thick grass; interspersed with neglected areas of wasteland that had been left barren, with only dusty palms surviving in the ruddy, sandy soil. As we neared the city centre, modern municipal buildings interrupted more traditional houses and the streets were in the old Italian-style, dotted with shady plazas. At the heart of the city, a beautiful cathedral filled the skyline and the huge central lake of Benghazi stretched out before us. It really was stunning.
Of course, everybody had thought I was crazy to move to Libya, but I was in love with my husband and he talked about Libya in a way that was so different to its portrayal in the media that I had already begun to see it through his eyes. The reality was a shock for me: this time rather than working as an English teacher and living with English-speaking colleagues, I was immersed completely in the new culture. I had to deal with life in a shared house with my new mother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law, neither of whom spoke English and I found this particularly stressful when my husband was away. Luckily, my other sister-in-law was a doctor and so was fluent in English. When you can’t express yourself in your first language, the relief you feel when someone comes into a room and chats with you in your mother tongue is incredible.
We lived in a beautiful old villa that had been left empty for some time, situated in an area close to the city centre. It belonged to a relative of my husband who had kindly loaned it to our family to use until our apartment was ready. Wide and spacious, with large airy rooms and a garden and veranda encircling it, the charm of our temporary home helped to make up for the fact that all washing water needed to be collected from the garden and drinking water drawn from a well on the outskirts of the city.
differences I needed to get used to were not having a job to occupy me, the
shortage of available goods, a new and very different language to learn and on
top of all this, a multitude of baffling customs to contend with. I felt
overwhelmed, with nothing tangible or familiar to help me. I did think of
leaving; I nearly did leave. But I knew enough to realise that I was suffering
from culture shock more than anything else and agreed to try it for a year.
What will Lynne decide after spending a year in Libya? Come back next week to read Part 2.