The Breakthrough Project
Some responses to our challenge

Stan Miller - U3A Evesham, UK
Black Americans
It was 1948 and the first post-war Olympic Games were to be held in Wembley where we lived at the top of the hill which looked down on the Stadium. Rationing and austerity were the order of the day and accommodation was a problem for the many foreign visitors who were expected to arrive. Help was sought from householders in the area and, as a result, we awaited the arrival of some American visitors. When they arrived their appearance produced an obvious reaction in my parents, for these two brothers were black. Neither my parents nor I had had any previous personal contact with coloured people and initially my parents were taken aback by this.

As a 15 year old I was sufficiently aware of their reaction to feel some sense of shame and awkwardness. For my own part, however, I was delighted to welcome them as they had a set of spare tickets for the games which I was able to use, thanks to their generosity!

3. The effects of this were cumulative and gradual but I am sure that in both my professional and personal life I have tended towards an interest in and sympathy for people of different backgrounds. Perhaps that's why I became a teacher and promoter of foreign language learning - for all!

Audrey French
Ian Searle
Jean Thompson
Keith Richards
Peter Sinclair
Stan Miller
Tom Holloway
Jean Thompson - U3A Reading, UK
1. Other countries
2. The 'Manchester Evening News' 1935
3. I was reading the newspaper surreptitiously under the kitchen table, because my mother thought that the Manchester Evening News was unsuitable reading matter for 8-year-old children. I came across a new word I couldn't understand, so I put my head out and asked my parents, 'What does fo-re-ig-ne' mean? My parents were baffled, so I spelt it out- 'foreign' To my great annoyance, my parents laughed heartily but finally explained that it meant other countries.

I was amazed. Other countries existed? The people were different, even different colours? And they all spoke differently? Something called a language, which I could learn and go and see these countries and talk to the people. A revelation.

4. This experience changed my life and gave it a new direction. I started right away to learn languages. As soon as possible, I was off to live in other countries, notably Cyprus, Ireland, the USA and Brazil. I took every opportunity to learn another language.

I was eager to join U3A when I learnt that it was an international organisation and have worked on the international aspects ever since. The latest outcome is my work on worldu3a. (And I try to set up 'breakthroughs' for other members with my Summer School courses on China and Russia.)

Tom Holloway - U3A Hyderabad, India
1. Japan/other cultures
2. Film, 'Rashomon', 1950
3. I had only recently discovered foreign films, having been brought up on a diet of Roy Rogers, Danny Kaye, Errol Flynn and Carmen Miranda. In war films Japanese people were always shown as ridiculous and/or vicious, so that Rashomon was quite an adventurous choice for a cinema to show so soon after the war. I can only describe it as being quite extraordinary - spare, slow, only six characters in total. Most of the action takes place around a ruined temple in a rain-soaked forest; the story-line relates four confused and contradictory versions of a crime. It was as far from Hollywood's glitzy dreams as it was possible to be.

4. The sense of 'otherness' that I got from the film extended itself to India and its culture. I joined the Asian Music Circle, read translations from China, Russia, Japan, India. I joined the Co-operative Party and sought out friends from Ceylon, Pakistan, Malaya, Africa. I wanted to learn as much as I could about 'otherness'.

Keith Richards - U3A North London. UK
2. Growing up in wartime I had assumed that the prevalent propaganda contained a truth in portraying the German language as ugly, gutteral and repellant. In 1953 I was posted to Berlin as part of national service and heard a performance of Schubert's Winterreise by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I recall over the years that the German critics suggested that he was too young...not for me!
3. The experience was life changing and led me to love the language of the texts (then, generally, derided) as much as the music. I still shudder when non-native singers do not give full value to the umlauts.

4. Talking to Berliners, especially one friend who had fled Warsaw in horror and dis-belief during the brutal suppression of the ghetto uprising, led to new perspectives and involvement in pacifist politics. That may seem another story but, somehow, I date it all from hearing the Schubert that night, relishing the language and falling in love with a singer who reached the age of eighty a few weeks ago.

Peter Sinclair - U3A Harrow, UK
1. Who?
People with disabilities
2. The Event? I came out of a coma to find myself in University College Hospital (UCH) in London, England, in 1947, then aged 26.
3. I was taken to UCH when I was virtually completely paralysed from head to toe.. I clearly remember that one of my first thoughts, when I realised the inability to move my limbs, were of President Roosevelt, himself afflicted by polio since childhood. A little later, when the very long road to (partial) recovery began, I remember looking out from my hospital bed through a glass panelled balcony door to the street below. People, young and old, were walking to and fro. I realised that we take many things in life for absolutely granted, such as being able to see, hear, speak, eat, walk etc. and it is only when we have been deprived of what seems to be a 'normal' activity, that we can really begin to understand the meaning of being disabled.

The Result? My experience has taught me two things: a daily appreciation of being alive and of having a wonderful family, as well as of a much better understanding of the problems affecting people with disabilities.


Ian Searle - U3A Carrick, UK
The Solomon Islands

2.. In 1970 I helped carry out the first full census of the Solomon Islands by walking 50 miles along a bush and coastal track at the eastern end of Guadalcanal. I slept out in local villages. I did not speak the local language, nor did the villagers speak English, but the women of the village brought me gifts of food, unasked for but appreciated. I woke up one Sunday morning and from a distance watched the villagers, dressed in clean shirts and shorts and colourful cotton dresses make their way to the palm-thatch church beyond the houses. After a while I heard them singing hymns, the same hymns as I knew from my own childhood in a Sussex village. Ten thousand miles from my birthplace I realised fully for the first time that these Melanesian village people were exactly like my neighbours of old. Strangely, I felt a sense of comfort, as though I was at home.

3.. The experience opened my eyes to the truly universal experience of what it is to be human. From then on I would never judge anyone solely on his background or his culture. We are all brothers under the skin, as someone once wrote.

Audrey French - U3A Lytham St Annes, UK
German Friends.
2. 1948, aged 21, whilst catering in an Adult Education College in Buckinghamshire, I was given the opportunity to go to Germany to help to run an orphanage in the Black Forest. Footloose and fancy free I agreed to go for three months. I spoke no German but that didn't worry me -- although my future employer spoke no English!

I arrived to discover that this was 'home' to 170 war orphaned children, aged from babies to sixteen years old. Many were badly traumatised by experiences they had had and actions they had seen committed by people of varying nationalities. Very little English was spoken -- none by the children, so I walked around with a dictionary in my hand and learned fast!

This was only three years after WW2 had ended and, having lived through publicity and propaganda during that time about the atrocities committed by the German people, I could have been slightly nervous. It took me only a few weeks however, to know that these people, with whom I now lived and worked, were nothing like that. They were kind, considerate, very loving towards the children, extremely hard working, and I was welcomed and taken straight into their midst with no trace of antagonism or resentment. Where were these monsters that we had heard about? These were ordinary folk just like me, full of life and laughter. I, as an erstwhile 'enemy' could have been ostracised, but there was no sign of that at all, ever. In fact, I became so much one of them that I stayed not for three months, but for three years, loving every moment of the experience, learning not only a very expressive language, but also discovering a beautiful and fascinating

3. From this experience I have learnt never to judge an entire group of people by the actions of a certain few. This is not always easy to do as it is often much simpler just to join in and condemn, but I realised then that bad actions always receive publicity, good ones tend to be just accepted without fanfare. With an open mind, life is so much more enjoyable and satisfying. I try to follow this philosophy.