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Swine flu: young people in Mexico City share views with Cumbrian twin school, 28 April

Ulverston Victoria High School in Cumbria

Francisco Villa pupils say the streets are vacant, as if the city is at war.

Ulverston Victoria High School pupils Nathan (16) and Mark (15) have been in touch with friends from their twin school in Mexico City over the weekend to find out how they are coping with the swine flu outbreak.

In line with all schools in Mexico City, Francisco Villa is closed. Nathan and Mark say their friends are at home with their families.

"They say they are not going out at all," says Nathan, " Only very rarely. If they get the flu they could spread it to their families.  Big families are staying in and trying to stay together."

Mark has been in touch with five friends aged between 15 and 17 years. He says that most have taken the news well, and are only leaving their homes to get food. Some are worried and want more information about what's happening.

"They feel very insecure," says Nathan, who has been in touch with seventeen year olds Alejandro and Pilar. Nathan became friends with the pupils from Francisco Villa School in Mexico City when they visited Ulverston Victoria High School four years ago.

Nathan says that his friends are worried that if they contract the flu, it could spread to their families, and that people will not want to come near them. He says they are concerned they would be very isolated.

Mark visited Francisco Villa in Mexico City in October 2007.

"It's an amazing place," he says. "Very crowded.  Ulverston is just a small town; Mexico City is immense.  It's a bad place for this flu to exist.  It's so densely populated, it could be devastating." 

Mark said his friends in class in Ulverston were also discussing the virus and are worried about swine flu.  But he feels Britain is well prepared, even if the virus is diagnosed. 

None of their contacts at Francisco Villa reported knowing a swine flu victim directly, although they say they know friends who have friends who have been directly affected.  

None of the young people contacted is talking about leaving Mexico City to escape the virus.  

Mexican pupils say they are concerned about the impact on their education. They have been told to continue their study but say it is difficult without teacher guidance.

"Education is important in Mexico," explains Nathan, "If you don't get a good education you don't get a good job.  And because of the economic crisis money in Mexico is short.  People won't have as much money for hospital treatment.  There's no NHS there."

Teachers Silvia Palacios from Mexico City and Pat Hannam from Cumbria

Teaching together - Silvia Palacios from Mexico City and Pat Hannam from Ulverston

Teacher Pat Hannam, co-ordinates the partnership for Ulverston Victoria. She has also been in touch with colleagues in Mexico City over the weekend.

Pat points out that Francisco Villa is in Iztapalapa, a poor area of Mexico City. As one of the government's Secundaria Tecnica schools, it provides a route out of poverty for Iztapalapa's young people.

"Many of the children’s families will be working ‘hand to mouth’ as the economy is by and large a cash economy," says Pat, "If you do not work there is no income. So we are worried about how it is after 10 days of no work."

UVHS and Francisco Villa have put philosophy at the heart of their work. "It gives us an agenda to talk about important things," says Pat.

A group of students in Cumbria have been preparing for an online telephone meeting tomorrow evening with a group teachers from Francisco Villa.

As well as finding out more about the situation is Iztapalapa, pupils in Cumbria would like to ask whether it is right to cut off one group of people in order to protect the rest of the world.

pupils explore moral dimension

1 May update

Read how the schools have been keeping in touch, as well as 'philosophical enquiry' at Ulverston Victoria High School.

How did they do that?

Ulverston Victoria High School's partnership with 'Secundaria Tecnica 44 - Francisco Villa' in Mexico City started in January 2001 as part of a British Council Mexico project on Human Rights and Interactive Citizenship.

In the early days, UVHS developed the linking project through their Philosophy Club.  There have been several visits by staff and pupils from both schools to one another's schools as well as joint participation in events including the First International Youth Congress (2006).   Pupils from Cumbria plan to visit Mexico in October 2009.

As well as extensive fund raising activities in the community in Ulverston, the school partnership has attracted two major grants, a Reciprocal Teacher Award (2002), and Curriculum Development Award (2004) through DFID Global School Partnerships.   

In January UVHS became UNESCO Associated School, and they working for their International School Award.

Read more about their partnership on their mexicolink website.

Read more about the swine flu outbreak from BBC News.

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