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Astor College take on anti-smoking initiative

A child from SOS School Lilongwe, Malawi
A child from SOS School Lilongwe, Malawi

The message that smoking is bad for us is one that most of us hear so often we are nearly deaf to it. At Astor College in Dover, staff and students are trying a different way to drive the message home.

Despite the clear message about how damaging smoking is, around 200,000 young people in the UK start smoking every year. If we are aware that smoking is bad for us and we still smoke, how about considering that it’s also bad for other people – even people very far away?

Malawi is one of the biggest producers of tobacco in the world, and the country of origin for 140,000 tonnes of tobacco annually. Nearly every cigarette smoked in the world will have at least some tobacco in it which originates from this south-eastern African country. However, the thriving tobacco industry in Malawi is reliant on 78,000 children, some as young as 5 years old, picking the tobacco. Working 12 hour days, the nicotine absorbed through their skin is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. This leads to a condition called green tobacco sickness, or nicotine poisoning, resulting in headaches, vomiting and decreased lung capacity. It is a condition that often is permanently damaging.

Students at Astor College embarked on a peer education project to raise awareness of this situation. As a teacher from the college explains "I wanted to offer them the chance of contributing something positive to help children in Malawi." As part of this project, students research the situation for the children working in the tobacco industry and present their findings to younger students at the college. By highlighting the fact that that smoking has effect not just on their own health, but also on that of children in Malawi, students at Astor College hope to make a real impact on the number of smokers at the school. So far, the initiative seems to be working. As one student representative from the College said "Our tutor group were appalled when we saw the plight of the orphans.  We had no idea about the way tobacco was used."

But the students at Astor College are not just speaking about this – they are acting on it too. After discovering that many children in Malawi end up working in the tobacco fields because they are orphaned or abandoned, or because their families’ situation leaves them with no other choice, they wanted to do something to help.

By raising money (which otherwise would perhaps have been spent on cigarettes) for the work of SOS Children in Malawi, the students are now contributing to giving vulnerable children a loving home for life. In three SOS Children’s Villages across the country, SOS Children currently give 500 children a home, and provides thousands more with medical help, education and support in their local community. These are children who have a bright future ahead of them, thanks to the support from Astor College.

To find out how your school can get involved with SOS Children, click here.