Often, family histories, along with the stories that coloured the lives of many generations can be distorted, forgotten or lost all together. The experience of family migration can sometimes enhance this risk. How can the important stories that have been central to families' narratives be preserved such that they might be of beneficial learning and appreciation for current generations as well as for generations to come? Years 8 and 9 engage with some of these questions as part of their language studies. Teacher of Languages, Sadia Shafquat, presents extracts from the work which came out of students' research and compositions.
This project, which spans over several weeks, begins with a class discussion on the desire or need for knowing and understanding family histories. Pupils consider what they would wish to explore or preserve of their family’s stories before beginning the first stage of their research project: foraying around for a part of their family’s history that grabs their attention. They conduct lengthy interviews with parents, grandparents or other relatives to find a story they may not have already heard or didn’t know in detail and feel might be worth preserving. Some look through old photo albums or through collected family keepsakes. From their initial research scouting for stories, they go on to choose one particular event, incident or aspect of their family’s history from which to compose a narrative. They conduct any further research needed to build a careful picture and thereafter structure and composed their narratives, presenting carefully-constructed pieces of work alongside with relevant illustrations, maps and titles.
From these weeks of hard work, there emerges a collection of moving, powerful stories of migration, loss, survival, resilience, hard work, generational-change and the practice of faith, from the perspective of our 12-13 year old pupils reflecting on their families’ histories. Their narratives span the last century - the earliest of stories beginning with the rise and the decline of the British Empire through the 20th Century - and collectively cross Uganda, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia to arrive at present-day Reading.
The project allows students to develop their skills of structuring and composing narratives from original research within a context that is very personal to them - and it thus seems to be thoroughly engaging. In the first year that this project was done, some students began to initiate conversations within their families that they had never had, sharing the news excitedly: ‘I’ve never spoken to my grandad for this long!’ They were continually reflective and aware, throughout the process and in the writing they produced, of the extent to which their lives were markedly different as a result of the decisions or life-happenings of their great-grandparents, grandparents or other ancestors. They were particularly struck by what they had not previously known and now took great pride in sharing. One student - who had been reluctant to embark on the research project insisting that ‘there is nothing interesting in my family’ - wrote in his final work: ‘My family will never forget the sacrifices these people made. The moral here is that you should never take for granted the sacrifices your family makes for you. I had no idea about any of this until my grandfather told me about it [for this project]. I feel very privileged to be part of a family that travelled more than a thousand miles to survive and change the lives of their future generations.’
The practice of research and composition skills in the very personal space of exploring family identities and roots as second and third generation British children, make the stories that came out of this project captivating, heart-warming and at times very poignant reads. The following are some selected extracts from students’ work:
“Mand Bibi tearfully spoke to her sister before she died and cried, “we will be united again in the next life.” Raj Begum and her family were obviously grief-stricken but they had to leave. They buried Mand Bibi and left the city travelling on foot from Amritsar to Atari where they crossed the border to the new country. Once they crossed, the family made their way through Pakistan by travelling across Kamoke, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Lala Musa, Karian, Jhelum and finally settled in Mirpur.” - From “War Zone”
“Our story begins in 1962 when Abdul Manan was around 11 years old and he went against something his teacher had said. His father was usually angry and he now responded with even more anger. As a consequence, Manan’s father told him that he was no longer to attend school and he had to start working. It was extremely difficult for him to work at such a young age. What would he do?” - From “Abdul Manan: A Man of Many Trades”
“As his family travelled on, they eventually reached the Wagah border in Lahore. As soon as they arrived, Ghulam Muhammad informed the family that the small army truck had to go back for some reason. The family took their first steps into Pakistan, distraught, as they had nowhere to go. My grandfather told me himself: ‘we were going wherever God would take us'.” - From “The Life-Changing Journey”
"Droughts have had a massive impact on farmers and their lands as well as on the mass populations throughout the ages. The impact of a drought may shudder throughout a country; droughts would impact crops, lands, cattle and shelters. A drought could be caused by a lack of rain and the burning sun, or a flood. This was the problem in Fazl’s story. Due to the desperate need for produce among the population and the sparse growth of crops, Fazl and other farmers were told by the local Sikh ruler to hand over their wheat and other produce. Fazl followed orders and gave his produce to the local governor acting on behalf of the ruler. This system was in place so that the farmer could not distribute the produce to the people unfairly. But what system could stop the governor himself being unfair, given that the ruler would not find out, or most likely did not care?" - From “The Story of Fazl”
Mass migration caused by political instability has changed many people’s and families’ lives. One such instance is when Pakistan was founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But this particular story takes us to a different continent first. In fact it spans several continents leading us all the way back to present-day Europe. This story goes back to the time when a leader named Idi Amin expelled all the Asians who had been British subjects from Uganda. It concerns the impact of this expulsion on my great-grandfather, Juna Khan, and his family. Unfortunately, Juna Khan. and his wife are not in this world today but five of their children are still alive, living in England, because of Juna Khan’s struggles. …[text missing] If the political instability hadn’t taken place, my life and that of my family would have been so different - I could have been African! But here I am - a 12 year old, British-Pakistani Muslim boy, hopefully growing up and starting my own family life here in Britain. - From “The Life-Changing Migrations
"In the 20th Century, Reading was a thriving town growing in its industries along with its population, and was known for its great location alongside the 3Bs: biscuits, bulbs and breweries. Because of the opportunities for employment available in the town, Reading attracted a lot of migrants from within the country and in the later 20th Century also from overseas. Among them was Muhammad Latif who settled in the town in the 1960s and whose story ties in with the town’s famous Huntley & Palmers Biscuit factory as well as the growth of the South Asian and Muslim community in Reading. [text missing] … In this way, M.L. was important in the early Reading Muslim community and also through his work at Huntley & Palmers he was an important part of the general history of Reading’s changing picture from the 1960s and 70s to today. As his grandson in Reading’s community of 2022, I reflect on his life- his migration with others like him all the way from Mirpur, Pakistan, to Reading, his work in the factories and his daily life making such an effort for daily prayers at the first mosque in Reading." - From “Biscuit Making and Prayer”
"Migration has had an impact on most South Asian families across the world; changing and reshaping the life of the migrant, and his or her family. [text missing]… From migrating as an infant to Pakistan, then growing up, educating himself, finding work and moving to a new culture and society, then working and starting his own business, C.M.Y, now semi-retired, has had an interesting life filled with hardships and also many successes. If his hardships were not ‘executed’, I wouldn’t be writing this as his grandson. Many South Asians, after the world wards, migrated to England and built strong communities. My grandfather found others who had also taken the journey to England and they became close family friends, many of whom I’ve met over the years. As a child from a mixed cultural background, there’s one thing that defines me well – my history; it is the same for everyone else in the world. The experiences of my ancestors have led me to where I am today. With gratitude to the past, I look to the future and to this ever evolving life on Earth…" - From “The Life and Times of C.M.Y”