On the 10th October, we had a chance to listen to representatives of Solution Not Sides organisation, whose main aim is to promote unbiased attitude to Israel-Palestine conflict. Our school was visited by Israel and Palestinian peace activists, who gave us an introduction into this important problem, as well as talked about their personal experience. We could learn not only about the background and history of the conflict, but also hear about the everyday lives of people living on the both sides. Wasim and Shay, who were the Palestinian and Israeli speakers, shared with us how they are trying to overcome that problem in their home countries, as well as presented their opinion about possible solutions to the issue. After the presentation, all Williams Project listeners could participate in the discussion and take part in questions and answers session. At the end, speakers encouraged us to think about our ideas for the possible solution to the problem, which won’t favour any side of the conflict. The presentation was a great possibility to hear about the conflict directly from people that it concerns. After this edition of Williams Project, all participants surely changed their attitude to the conflict, trying to find an effective solution, rather than opt for any of the sides.
On Tuesday 20th June, the Williams Project was graced with the presence of Mr. Pepper, Chigwell’s Head of Government and Politics, who led a discussion on the disappointingly niche and restrictive topic of ‘the state of the world’. A handful of the topics discussed included issues surrounding overpopulation, and the ensuing ‘New Great Game’ between Central Asian countries in their battle for water and other resources; the problem of climate change, and whether the brief electoral cycles mandated by most Western democracies have led to our leaders neglecting long-term environmental strategy in favour of a short-term view; and, cynical as we are, the questionable motivations of politicians – especially in the United States – who engage in “pork barrel” tactics, securing government funding for local projects and corporate donors perhaps at the expense of the broader national interest. We are very grateful to Mr. Pepper for teaching us such engaging conversation starters as “ecoconservatism” and for bringing his customarily broad and insightful political knowledge to what was a very interesting talk.
A team of philosophers from the University of Reading (Geraldine Ng, Joe Donnolly and Rhianwen Daniel) descended on Chigwell for a double-bill of philosophy, centred around our responsibility (or lack of it) for global warming. Why shouldn’t I drive my gas-guzzling 4×4? What difference would not driving actually make to the temperature of the planet and the sea-level around the Maldives? Through carefully structured questioning, the team from Reading teased out thoughtful responses from our students, and made us look again at what might have seemed simple ethical questions.
On the 1st July, the Williams Project saw a talk by our very own Mr Lawrence. He talked about Cyprus, a vivid place of his childhood, and of the military problems found there.
He spoke of how the northern part of Cyprus had been invaded by Turks, wanting their land back, and how Greek Cypriots had fled. Places like Famagusta became full of civilian deaths that had come from both the Turk Cypriot side and the Greek Cypriot side. Something interesting I learned was that the invaded city of Varoosha became fenced off and, to this day, remains a ghost town with the memories of civilian life still intact as they were 40 years ago.
This talk was intellectually put together by Mr Lawrence from both a subjective and objective view and was a very good subject to end the official Williams Project year.
Mrs Pewsey gave the Williams Project a really interesting account of how her home town, Lockport in New York State, was the scene of an engineering project which opened up vast tracts of the country’s interior to trade and development. By building an amazing staircase of five locks up the steep side of the Niagara escarpment, barges could now take goods and people from the Atlantic coast to the Great Lakes. She illustrated her words with original postcards taken from the book on the subject which she wrote herself.
She also spoke about some of the town’s characters, including a Mr Sutherland, who ‘monetised’ the ground-length hair of his seven daughters by marketing a hair tonic.
A Williams-Project first was her leading the audience in a rendition of a folk song about the Erie Canal (we were treated to the Bruce Springsteen verse beforehand so knew how to sing it).
A great afternoon: Mrs Pewsey managed to convey in her inimitably warm and human way a real flavour of the place, its history and its people.
For the first WP meeting of 2013, Toby Houlton, an Old Chigwellian studying for a doctorate at the University of Dundee, told us about shrunken heads – tsantsa: who produced them, how and why. We learnt about the tribes in Peru and Ecuador where these customs arose, and the religious beliefs behind the custom. Most cultures preserve their own dead and try and erase the memory of their enemies; these SAAWK tribes did the opposite, as they believed that new members of a tribe could only be born if their dead were completely forgotten. Thus they erased all memory of their own ancestors, but preserved the heads of their enemies. They also believed that the enemy’s spirit could come out of his mouth to haunt them, hence the stitching up of this orifice. Toby explained how the heads were shrunk – basically by taking off the skin and chemically hardening it – and made to look stupid by pushing back the nostrils and pulling out the lips. We passed round a pig’s head which Toby, to prove that he understood the method, had shrunk himself.
He then told us about how colonialism had distorted the system: because Europeans were keen to possess tsantsa, the tribes actually went out hunting enemies just to fuel this export market. Europeans also made versions themselves, sometimes to sell as ‘the real thing’. It’s now been banned, so the practice has stopped.
A brilliantly delivered and fascinating account of something everyone has heard about but knows little of.