"It was very hard and you felt bored, sad, scared and fed up. We all had to wear masks. We were sitting in bubbles at school and couldn’t see our friends. It was worse as we couldn’t fly to England to see our family."
This heartfelt narrative is an extract from a letter written by six-year-old Kaspar, student of Aspen Heights, to his future self.
In another open letter, Cheryl D’Sousa had the following advice for her son Zacharia who goes to Nibras International School: "We would like you to know that you have faced one of the most difficult times in the world and have been able to adjust yourself. The right attitude and willingness to learn and adapt to any situation is a life lesson you should keep and hopefully, you will be able to pass it to your children as well."
These honest discourses are part of a campaign called Writing Letters for Tomorrow, launched by the International Schools Partnership (ISP) across its four schools in the UAE – The Aquila School and Nibras International School in Dubai, and Aspen Heights British School and Reach British School in Abu Dhabi.
Through the campaign, parents were asked to write letters to their children, sharing lessons that are important for them to remember when they are older. In some instances, they told them a story about what happened during this time, in a perspective that only they could. Students wrote to their future selves, reminding them of how they coped with schools switching to distance learning and not being able to see their friends and teachers at school. The teachers also participated by sharing their experience and about the resilience they have shown during the lockdown.
"We know that writing can be a powerful tool that helps us to reflect and raise our self-awareness, we are asking our community to write about their own resilience," explains Bharat Mansukhani, regional managing director of ISP. "By sharing the letters, the community is able to come together and celebrate each other’s strength and courage. We hope the activity is not only rewarding to the reader who will get the letters in the future, but it provides the authors with the opportunity to express themselves and look back at their own growth."
The campaign was launched with a video featuring Emirati actor, Saoud Al Kaabi. The letters will be given to the students when the normal school routine resumes.
Reflections during the lockdown
The adults who participated unanimously vouched that the letter writing exercise helped them to realise their inner feelings during the lockdown and even count their blessings.
For mother-of-three Tifanny, it gave her the opportunity to learn that even when things are beyond control, you shouldn’t lose your perspective. "It is important to choose hope over despair and love over fear," she advised her three kids Saeed, Asiya and Abdulla, in her letter.
Meghan Manica, nursery teacher at Aspen Heights, chose to focus on the positive things. "Calling friends all over the world to catch up was amazing, as I usually I don’t have time for that. I enjoyed sorting out my apartment and being more creative with the space I live in. I did lots of educational courses too and attended virtual conferences. Having more time to call people and have zoom fun events like quizzes and bingo was awesome," she wrote to her students.
"I think that my letter will help children to realise that even when a situation may seem negative, and they may struggle with it, they can still find hope knowing they are loved and cared for. I hope that it inspires them to be positive, as well as find a way to be kind, happy and look forward to each day," she says.
Kylie Cleworth, head of primary at Aquila School, chose to tell her children about what she learnt about herself during the lockdown, especially since she had a baby in that period. "It really taught me just how much our children can adapt, how resilient they are and how they will always continue to surprise us! I also realised just how much we rely on technology in our lives – both at home and in school – and I believe, like everyone, my own skills have increased hugely during this time," her letter read.
"Hopefully it will show Aquila children just how proud I am of them – their successes, their resilience and their progress with their learning," she says.
Lest we forget
The campaign received hundreds of entries and invoked strong emotions in many people. Parents especially got the chance to impart words of wisdom and lessons for the future that they wouldn’t have told otherwise.
"It was an opportunity for all parties involved to reflect on things they learned this year, while they are still fresh in their minds. Covid-19 has taught us all something, but in a few years we might forget. These letters will be a good reminder. Also, I think there are some things many people haven’t been able to say out loud or perhaps they cannot express because they need to put on a brave face. This has given them the opportunity to express themselves without judgement," says Bharat.