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Letters / The cruellest cut of all

Dear Members of the Shetland Islands Council:

I am writing to you today all the way from Nebraska in the U.S. to plead with you to keep Urafirth Primary School and other rural schools throughout Shetland open.

I first came to Shetland back in 2011 and was left in awe at what a culturally rich, vibrant community the rural areas provided.

I am a professional photographer back home, so when I returned to Shetland for a holiday this summer, I came back with the mission to document, in photos, the people who are keeping the traditions of Shetland alive.

My photo series led me all across the Islands and up into Unst. I talked in depth with people all over the island on teaching younger generations the importance of local traditions.

Inevitably, the proposed school closures came up in every conversation. And every single person I talked to was adamantly opposed to the school closures.

And after spending time listening to these stories and working with the teachers and students at the Urafirth Primary School, I wholeheartedly agree.

While I was there, I had the wonderful opportunity of working with the children at the Grow Wild garden in Hillswick.

I am a beekeeper here at home and, over the course of three weeks, I helped them build a bee hotel to provide shelter to solitary bees, protecting them from the wind and storms.

I was in awe of this incredibly progressive little rural school.

As a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council, I was incredibly impressed with the level of sustainable concepts used at the school…from the rain barrels, polytunnel, natural lighting, as well as their own wind generator.

This school must provide the lowest amount of actual energy cost of any school I have ever seen. It was also very clear to me just how personalized the teaching of these students were and how central to the community their school is.

Back in the states–particularly in the Midwest, where small towns have turned into ghost towns as large corporations whittle away at small businesses and people are forced to move closer to the city to find work–the closure of rural schools is devastating.

Many of the kids here have families who run farms and, as a result of local schools closing, the percentage of high school dropouts has risen dramatically as students are choosing to leave school in order to be able to help out on the family farm.

Younger families are leaving rural areas at alarming rates, without job prospects or options for their children’s future.

THIS is how communities die. THIS is how local economy dies.

What you are doing to Urafirth and other communities with your school closures is going to completely devastate rural parts of the islands.

Part of it is going to be an immediate devastation, but the other part of it is going to be the slow, painful, and heartbreaking process of watching everything that kept these communities so vibrant slowly fade into a distant memory. And that is the cruellest cut of all.

You have the power to not destroy these peoples’ lives. You have the power to not destroy their children’s lives.

You can choose to not destroy these wonderful small communities.

You have the power to actually listen to the local people and the local children and take their thoughts and concerns into account. I urge you to do so.

Please be on the right side of history. Please be on the side of the children and put their education and home life ahead of all other agendas.


Sara Sawatzki


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General Election - 12 December 2019