Principal's assembly 8th December 2020
This has probably been the most difficult year since 2001. On September the 11th of that year, after the Twin Towers had been destroyed by a terrorist attack, the world waited nervously to see how proportionate America’s response would be. The world felt on a knife edge.
2020 has brought a very different kind of anxiety to our everyday lives. 9/11 really did change the world in many ways, but our everyday lives continued fairly normally. In fact, refusing to be afraid and carrying on as normal became one way of us all being able to fight the concept of terrorism which exists as a means of disruption through spreading fear.
Nobody had to miss school, everyone could still see and hug their friends and family, and no-one had to wear a mask or wash their hands every few minutes for fear of infecting others through a virus that is often asymptomatic.
Not everything about 2020 has been bad. In fact, developing an effective vaccine less than 9 months after Covid-19 forced the lockdown of the UK might well go down in history as one of science’s most extraordinary moments. Necessity really has been the mother of invention.
That said, I am sure that not many of us will be sorry to say goodbye to 2020. I would like to use this last assembly of the year to put these challenging times into some kind of perspective.
"Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow."
Originally recorded in 1984, many of you will know the reasons behind the release of the song. The single featured many of the biggest names of that era of British and Irish pop music, from Spandau Ballet to Genesis, from Duran Duran to Bono. The brains behind the idea of putting a superband together to raise money for the Ethiopian famine belonged to the then lesser known Bob Geldof and his late wife Paula Yates.
The story goes that Yates found Geldof in tears watching the BBC’s first reports in October 1984 from Ethiopia, famous coverage from highly respected journalist Michael Buerk that you will find easily on the internet.
Buerk described the famine as being of “biblical” proportion. Whenever I hear the song you’ve just listened to, the haunting images of starving children fill my mind. Thousands of people were dying every week. As the lyrics go,
“There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear”
Geldof resolved to use his fame and connections to raise awareness and money, and within weeks aid started to arrive in Ethiopia. As you’ll be aware, Geldof and Yates’ ideas led to the Live Aid concerts of 1985, raising $150m across the UK and US for Ethiopia.
More than a million people died in the famine, but it might have been even worse had it not been for Buerk, the BBC and Geldof.
Of course, it couldn’t happen here, could it? In the world’s fifth largest economy and one with a long-established welfare state, children don’t go hungry here, do they?
That’s a town just an hour down the road. But it’s a picture that will be repeated in many other northern towns and cities, some very close to home.
The perspective that I want to give you today is not to downplay the impact of Covid-19 nor is it to make you feel guilty about the joys we will experience over Christmas.
What I am trying to say – a call to arms if you like – is that we can do something to help. We can “Be Useful”.
If you want to help people on their own this Christmas, talk to Harvey in the Lower Sixth. Harvey has sent the first set of letters to The Grove and Airedale care homes, and he plans to send more – get involved.
Miss Humphries has again organised an extremely successful Christmas hamper appeal. The deadline is tomorrow so there’s still time to donate for the people served by Richmond Hill Elderly Action group. In our Junior School, Ms Blanchard has organised a similar shoebox appeal for Leeds Women’s Aid.
One of my favourite sayings is “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We might never be Bob Geldof or even Pastor Mick, but together we can do something to help this Christmas time.