Teaching in London, in an environment where shared values created a space where I felt comfortable, enabling me for the first time to truly develop my potential. I introduced after school clubs; teaching and developing children’s skills in football, cricket, netball, basketball and tag rugby, along with other interested local schools we set up Friendly Leagues, competitive sports not only inspired children to focus and work hard in training sessions they also improved co-operative and communication skill. I also introduced specific Asian sports and games such as Kabbadi and Carrom Board. The local secondary school had a fully equipped gymnasium and as part of the Y6’s transition to Y7 they would visit the school once a week after school working closely with secondary school staff and pupils. Our primary school was desperately in need of good sporting facilities and at this time I worked closely with the school’s governing body, Sport England and the Local Authority to build a community sports hall, it was the only purpose built sports hall in the area at the time.
At the turn of the Millennium a new world order was about to burst upon all of us after the destruction of the Twin Towers in America, bombings in London and Madrid and the subsequent rise of Islamic fundamentalism. I felt uncomfortable. In the media my surname ‘Mohamed’ became associated with ‘terrorism’. I did not belong to any particular group in which I could confide my feelings. I began to think irrationally. I was neither Christian nor Muslim I was neither Black or White I had an ‘English’ and ‘Pakistani’ family. I felt emotionally threatened. Old feelings of insecurity and isolation came flooding back.
‘Which side are you supporting’ I was asked on more than one occasion?
I was reminded again that somehow I was different and did not belong.
School continued to be a haven for me. I could retreat inside the building and still not be judged or asked which group I support. I took part in staffroom discussions on the ‘terror threats’ and I acted on my political position by joining ‘Stop the War Coalition’ demonstrations.
In 2002 I became a Schools Sports Co-ordinator for Islington my role was to implement and develop the programmes, I had established at my school, across the Authority. In addition I obtained funding for interested parents to gain qualifications in coaching. A variety of sporting organization had set up programmes where people could learn coaching skills, they would then bring these skills into schools and teach the children. The Department for Education and School had part funded along with local authorities and Arsenal Football Club, an Education Programme at Arsenal Football Club to engage children who were struggling academically and/or had behavioural difficulties to develop their IT and Literacy Skills. My links with the Taskforce and my role as Sports Co-ordinator gave me the opportunity to make these facilities available to schools in Islington. Throughout the country there are more clubs nowadays using the experience of Arsenal Football Club to devise their own model to engage and encourage children’s learning.
In 2006 the West invaded Afghanistan, this was the same year I returned to my home city Sheffield. Sheffield was promoting itself as a Multi-cultural City and I wanted to know if the city of steel had, over the past twenty years, cast a new identity for itself. Walking around the city centre I saw black, brown and white couples, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends strolling along with dual heritage children. Sitting in the Millennium Gardens I would watch families from the four corners of the globe picnicking, their children playing together and splashing in the fountains. Remembering how isolated and confused I felt as a child I felt pangs of jealousy.
Working as a supply teacher in South Yorkshire I have realized that this diverse multi-cultural city is less harmonious than at first experienced. I have been called a ‘terrorist’, ‘Paki’ and on many occasions I have heard the word ‘half-caste’ spoken in staffrooms, and have been called ‘half-caste’ by both white and Asian parents as well as by students. This lack of racial awareness was shocking I had never been called ‘half caste’ in London. Before I began teaching in Islington, London education authorities had been proactively anti-racist, as part of our employment contract, once a year we would attended Race Equality courses for teaching and for non-teaching staff. The comfort I felt working in London schools was due to the common anti-racist language we shared, plus the curriculum fostered an explicit multi-cultural approach. An inclusive ethos permeated the school environment; multilingual, multi-faith displays reflected this approach in a meaningful way.
In Sheffield I had come full circle. The city centre, a melting pot of multiculturalism, failed to communicate that diversity and energy into neighbourhoods and schools. I visited areas of Sheffield where ‘white-flight’ is evident. Communities that looked as if they were becoming more multicultural in the 1980’s have now sunk into mono-cultural ghettos creating their own visible form of apartheid.
Disillusioned and saddened by my experiences of racism in Sheffield schools and the constant negativity and lack of engagement of what was happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan I felt a huge need to connect to my Asian heritage. Daily news reports showed how the conflict in Afghanistan was spreading into neighbouring Pakistan. On my first trip to Pakistan I was told that my father’s parents had initially lived in Afghanistan before crossing the tribal lands into NWFP. I wanted to explore their journey from Afghanistan and into Pakistan.