Home' Teacher : August 2011 Contents curriculum & ass essm ent 37
What’s The big issue?
The Big Issue is a social enterprise – a self-
sustaining business that reinvests into activ-
ities to fulfill its social mission of breaking
down stereotypes surrounding homeless-
ne ss and marginalisation. Perhaps best-
known for its street magazine enterprise,
which supports homeless people to become
vendors selling The Big Issue magazine, the
organisation also runs a range of initiatives,
including The Big Issue Classroom.
Following the success of the street mag-
azine model, and after many requests for
speakers , The Big Issue Classroom was
established in 2009.
The program works with schools, cor -
porate audiences and commu nity groups to
educate people about homelessness a nd dis-
advantage. All speakers a re paid and receive
support for their cont ribution .
The Big Issue Classroom offers a ra nge
of workshops for pri mary and second-
ary school students, giving them a unique
opportunity to develop a fresh perspective
on social justice issues that they won’t nec-
essarily get from a text book.
Secondary workshops provide an intro-
duction to homelessness through a one-hour
session conducted by a specialist facilita-
tor. In secondary workshops, students and
teachers also have the opportunity to hear
from someone, like Andrew, who has per-
sonally experienced homelessness. Guest
speakers share their story, focusing on
the challenges they’ve faced and what has
helped them overcome these to get where
they are today.
Pri ma ry workshops provide an i nt ro -
duction to homelessness for Years 5 and 6
students through a one -hour session with a
specialist facilitator who delivers challeng-
ing material in a mea ningful and engaging
way. The facilitator uses activities, games
and discussions to explore disadvantage
and what it means to be marginalised in
Australia. Both workshops provide teacher
and student resource kits to take away.
In addition to raising awareness for mar-
ginalisation in Australia, schools participat-
ing in The Big Issue Classroom are provid-
ing a positive exa mple to their students by
cont ributing to the employment and ongo-
ing mentorship for the guest speakers.
According to the program’s National
Program Coordinator Danya Sterling,
‘What’s unique about the program is that
it is a self-sustaining social enterprise. The
Big Issue Classroom provides employment
to disadvantaged Australians , with all fees
being reinvested back into the progra m a nd
the commu nity.’
learning to care more
Guest speaker Tom has found the program
has given him a renewed sense of purpose
and sense of pride in sharing his story. Tom
grew up with an unstable home life due in
part to his mother’s depression. Lacking
a support network, Tom turned to drugs,
a habit that grew after he had moved to
Melbourne at 18.
When two of his friends overdosed, Tom
decided to stop dealing drugs, which for
several years had been his only source of
income. The impact of this decision left Tom
living in abandoned buildings for several
years , homeless and unemployed. I n need
of a flexible job, Tom turned up at The Big
Issue. Four years later, he credits selling
magazine with providing some stability in
his life, and helping him stay clean.
According to Tom , telling his story to
students at The Big Issue Classroom is a step
in the right direction. ‘I hope students walk
away from my talk caring more about each
other,’ he says.
The Big Issue Classroom is committed
to providing opportunities for marginalised
Australians, just like Tom, to enable them
to be integrated back into the community.
Indeed, and in addition to the impact on
individuals, homelessness a nd ma rginalisa-
tion ca n cause adverse economic and social
impacts on the wider society, with sufferers
putting g reater strain on public resou rces
such as hospitals and the justice system.
Aside from having regular employment,
Tom genuinely enjoys sharing his story with
secondary school students and is passionate
about helping at-risk students.
‘I hope that students come away from our
workshops feeling empowered and inspired
to look at other people with greater com-
passion. I also hope that those who have
experienced disadvantage, or have family
who experience it, feel less alone,’ Tom says.
Indeed, for many young people, home -
lessness or disadvantage can be closer
to home than most think, according to
‘Many high school students show a real
interest in the problem of homelessness; it
is quite remarkable, however, that many
students hold incor rect stereotypes about
disadvantage,’ Sterling explains.
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