My response to an email from the Polish community of Aberdeen:
I lived in Germany with my family for six years, in an area where there were no other British families and my English-speaking children went to the local German school. I therefore have direct experience of being a migrant within the European Union and can appreciate many of the issues which have to be faced.
For several years I worked with the Migrant Support Group in the Mearns, which offered help to people from Europe who were living in the rural area.
When I was a teacher, I also led several school visits to Poland, including an exchange to Gliwice, where Aberdeenshire students stayed in the homes of Polish families. I myself stayed in the home of the Polish teacher and she stayed in my home when she brought her students to Scotland. That was a really great learning experience for everyone.
I therefore feel that I have the empathy needed to be an effective representative of the Polish community.
I am currently an Equalities Champion within Aberdeenshire Council and so am already working to ensure that the terms of the equalities legislation are fully implemented.
We do need to do more to help the process of integration – I think that comes from greater understanding of different cultural traditions and a greater willingness to share the key events of each community. We need to break down the barriers which discourage participation and open communication.
We need to ensure that local information is available to everyone, and not allow language to be another barrier.
We also need to put more emphasis on the teaching of English to children and families with English as a second language, while also helping the children maintain their mother tongue. I know that there is a lot of evidence that children do better at school if they are able to process complex matters in their mother tongue. Ie – if we promote Polish language in our schools we should see Polish speaking children attaining more and hence able to contribute more to our society in the longer term.
I would therefore support the introduction of Polish language into our schools, as part of the Modern Language initiative.