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Student activists – How you can inspire your pupils to make a real difference

Forget media negativity – these young people are working for a better future, and your students could be, too...

  • Student activists – How you can inspire your pupils to make a real difference

Teens don’t always get the best press – but a new book, You can Change the World! includes interviews with more than 50 young people who have found ways to use their time creatively, transforming their own lives and the world around them.

As author Margaret Rooke says, many of them needed “just a bit of encouragement to find what they felt strongly about”; why not share their stories with your students, and see if they’re inspired to make positive changes of their own?

Tolmeia (Tolly Dolly Posh), 18, Gloucestershire

“Previous generations had messed things up”

“At 14 I watched a documentary called The True Cost which looked at who pays the true price for the cheap clothing we buy. It was made after a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers. This opened my mind.

I had been writing a fashion blog for fun. I decided ethics were more important than anything else in fashion, so I turned it into an ethical fashion blog.

I used to be someone who would order the cheapest stuff because there was a thrill that came with it. Now I shop alternatively. There is a stigma around charity shops, but I find them just as much fun.

There’s a lot of pressure on teenagers to look a certain way. Clothing is so important for us, but it also affects the rest of the world. You have to balance the two.

Most young people feel they need to fit in with everyone else but once you are past that barrier you can play around with what you wear and use it to express yourself.

I realised that previous generations had messed things up and my generation needed to deal with the mess. It feels so powerful to build up a following on social media and stand up and say, ‘I’m going to do something about this.’”

Cameron, 17, Harrogate

“I wanted to give something back”

“I love football but because I have cerebral palsy, I was stuck on the bench at my local football club and left out of matches.

I could hear the coach and the players pointing out that I wasn’t very good. It wasn’t a very nice environment. It was a waste of my time and my parents’ time.

I decided to stop playing football and concentrate on martial arts.

Then, when I was 15, a great thing happened. Someone who came to my school told me about cerebral palsy football.

I was buzzing at the thought that I could play for a team, not just in my back garden and contacted the Yorkshire Squad. I’m now in the England Under 21s.

When I was 16, I followed my dream of becoming a football coach. I set up my own team, Adversity United. We accept everyone who has a disability who may not have access to mainstream football.

It’s about having fun and encouraging others. I wanted to give something back that wasn’t there for me.

I’ve had to address lots of meetings with possible sponsors which was well outside my comfort zone, but it’s given me confidence. You have to believe in yourself. Being positive is key.

Zainab, 17, Lancashire

“Regret is the worst pain”

“I was always gobby in class, always a rebel. I was hanging around with the wrong crowd and taking the wrong path.

Then a youth worker at school said to me, ‘You yell at the teachers. You are the Queen Bee. Why don’t you use your loud voice and aggression for something good?’

He said he saw good in me and I should do something with that. I listened to him. I stopped being the idiot. I turned into the girl people could go to for help.

I became part of the youth committee. Whenever anyone had problems, they would speak to us and we addressed our concerns to the teachers.

One younger girl at school said I inspired her the other day. She said, ‘I heard from teachers how bad you used to be. You had the confidence to change.’ It made me cry to think that what I’d done had made a difference.

Regret is the worst pain. You may be entertaining your friends in class but at the end of the day your friends will walk away with GCSEs and you’ll be left the true clown.

I want to influence all young people who think they have no say. I come into school now as a youth worker to help kids get on the right track. I can get through to them because I’ve come from that place myself.”

Lucy, 17, Sheffield

“Conservation is so important”

“At 14 I worded a petition about banning eggs from caged hens at Tesco and collected 280,000 signatures. To see this huge reaction was incredible.

I started my campaign when I was 12. At a farm I had become attached to an injured hen, carrying her around a lot, hoping she would recover.

Purely out of interest I started looking at how hens are treated commercially and was appalled. I started writing letters to supermarkets and politicians and these terribly cramped conditions.

No one took any notice. My pile of paperwork grew but very little was changing.

When I did the online petition, I would have been happy to get 100 signatures. When I saw the numbers, it was terrifying – but good terrifying.

Tesco agreed to meet me to discuss the campaign. My mum came with me because I was only 14 but I would have gone on my own. I was excited more than anything. I told them ‘I’m not pulling back. I will keep going.’

We had a Radio 4 reporter waiting outside. Then a few weeks later Tesco put out a press release talking about ending the sale of eggs from caged hens. I was shocked and completely elated and other supermarkets followed them.

Now I am completely honoured to have joined International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals as an ambassador. Conservation is so important, and I truly believe if we don’t act now we may be facing a future with very little left to protect.”

For more inspirational stories, see You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, £12.99.

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