BY Alison Bellamy

We should all follow the example of children, who are perhaps, the best example of true cohesion and integration – all done in an innocent and natural fashion. To put it simply… they just get on with it.

They don’t notice any differences individual children may have, such as skin colour, religious beliefs, diet or choice of clothing, but simply carry on playing and learning together.

Acceptance is the key to many things in life, especially when things can be complicated when we become ‘grown up’ and responsible.

But as long as children are fed, comfortable and are busy doing something interesting, for the most part, they are content, in my experience, as a mum of two girls.

If a disagreement arises in the classroom, say over a shared toy or book, they simply sort it out one way or another, hopefully before a teacher has to intervene.

I was recently inspired by my own six year old daughter who said to me:

“Mummy I love my best friend Kadhijah,”

“Why do you love her?” I asked.

“She runs really fast, she is really funny, she is so good at reading out loud and she has beautiful brown skin.

Can she come round for tea?”

“Of course she can,” I said.

At our Catholic primary school there are children of all faiths. Sikh, Muslim, Protestant and others who seem to follow no faith at all. It seems to work well in the main part.

Admittedly, socialising with people we sometimes don’t know can be tricky. It is a two way street and like the saying goes, it certainly takes two to tango. Plus in some cases, people do not want to mingle with others and put themselves out of their familiar comfort zone.

But I rather like meeting people who lead a different life from the one I do. It is interesting. I am not sure if it is because I have travelled a lot when younger and went backpacking. I have always loved exotic places and am genuinely interested in people and their stories.

When I was little my mum was a nurse and had a stream of friends of all nationalities. They were mostly nurses and doctors at the hospital where she worked. It was great to meet so many different kinds of people.

I recall a family from Oman, who delighted us with exotic food we had never even heard of; also a lady from the Caribbean who used to enthral us with her tales of white sandy beaches and fruit growing on trees which she ate for breakfast. She was homesick and missed the sunshine and had the best laugh.

There is a call to ban faith schools altogether. Is that too drastic? I am not sure.

Mixing religion and education is the core point of some faiths and one without the other would seem pointless.

But when it comes to integrating with our neighbours and communities, a school of a true representation of its local community, without the barriers faith can bring, would perhaps be more beneficial in the long term. Maybe faith could be learned out of school, as it already is for many young Muslims in a madrassah.

I know local councils try extremely hard to provide community events to bring people together in parks, cities and as festival events. Perhaps the arts is one way to bring a mixed crowd together and have fun without being segregated.