Friday, 16 May 2014

The selfless Edith Cavell

After watching 12 years a slave I reflected upon the injustice and resolved that if I had been there, I would have done something...but what would I have done? How far would I have been prepared to go to express my feelings about what was happening to black people. What privilege would I have been prepared to sacrifice? What danger would I have been prepared to expose my family to? These thoughts led me to consider the injustice in my local community. For a long time I have been puzzled about the UK's attitude to immigration and asylum seekers. Having listened to many people's stories of abuse and neglect I have always considered that those seeking asylum in this country must feel devastated when they reach a country they thought would offer them refuge only to find they are rejected and treated like criminals. I am not so naive to think some people will enter the UK illegally or with ill intention however I am also aware that proving you have been abused or at risk of persecution is different to talk about to a stranger let alone prove it.

I live relatively close to Yarl's Wood Detention Centre. I have always been troubled by the idea of locking people up who have not committed a crime. Initially children were kept in the centre. An incident involving harmful sexual behaviour between two children led to a serious case review which you can read here SCR Fortunately children are no longer held there. Women are detained for an indefinite period in the centre for various reasons relating to their right to remain in the UK. I have worked in prisons and by all accounts the Centre is a prison. Many of the women detained will be granted leave to remain in the UK. The media have reported allegations of abuse by staff. Recently a woman died in their care. The circumstances of her death are being investigated. You can read more about rumours she was 'prescribed' paracetamol after complaining of chest pain before she died of cardiac arrest in this independent article. After reading in this article in the  guardian which outlines Rashida Manjoo, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women being refused entry to the centre I felt I wanted to do something. I heard about Yarl's Wood Befrienders on BBC three counties radio so I contacted them and have recently started visiting. I'll be offering hope, respect and empathy. It feels like so little but I guess it's something.

Im always looking for inspiration from women for myself and my unborn, not yet conceived daughter. The fact that we only have one woman on a banknote is just one of the reasons I think it's important to do this. I heard this morning that there is a campaign for  World War One Nurse, Edith Cavell to appear on £2 coin. You can sign the petition here. Edith is best known for facilitating the escape of 200 allied troops from German occupied Belgium. For her actions she was shot by firing squad at the age of 41 in 1915. I find such acts of heroism truly humbling and a reminder that we could all do more to help others even if only to show kindness. Thank you Edith for your inspiration and tremendous courage.  

Monday, 24 February 2014

Inspirational parent; Mrs Bishop

In my future one of things I look forward to in life most is becoming a parent. Many of my friends have children, I have the privilege of four god children and my job gives me lots of opportunities to help families and children. When I see parents and children who are not happy I feel sad for the lost opportuntiy as those early moments will never occur again. 

Parenting has many challenges for the modern woman. Feminism has afforded us many opportunties however I have noticed that many mothers are burdened with pressure to be all things to all people and, worst of all, criticised by other women. Despite the fact many of my friends are the primary wage earner they are also expected to be the primary parent and housekeeper too. While my fiance takes an equal share in the keeping of our home I am constantly told how 'lucky' I am for him.

For me, feminism is about choice, women should be able to choose how to give birth, being a full time mother, being a working mother, choosing how to parent, exercising or not, whether you want to breast feed or not, after all our bodies are our own. Some of you might have seen the Katie Hopkins and Peaches Geldof  <iframe width="420" height="315" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> 'debate' about attachment parenting. I'm very much drawn to many elements of 'attachment parenting' but I also think it's dangerous for any method of parenting to be seen as the absolute truth.

On a slightly different note, recently I was lucky enough to be photographed by  the talented Katie Julia and a group of photographers attending her workshop including who took this photograph...
One of the comments about the photograph was that the dress was "modelled by a real woman". I'm quite sure that this was intended as a compliment however it got to me thinking about how women treat each other. What is a 'real woman'? What is a real mother?

My friend, Mrs Bishop is one of the happiest parents I know. Her blog always makes me smile, you can find it here In no way does she claim to have all the answers about what works in parenting but how much she enjoys being a mother shines through. I have seen her kindness, creativity and love beam onto her son Bert and out through his massive smile and ever arching eyebrow.

For a lot of women family will not be close by and I think that makes it all the more important that we support each other. I may not have children yet but I have listened intently to the stories of parents. I have listened to the two week honeymoon when both parents are off and the troubles adapting when one parent returns. I have seen the impact on relationships, the shame and pride women can experience when their bodies change. I have seen women fear going back to work then thrive when they do. I have seen women think they're career is defines their identity and then the focus completely change.

I have ideas about the kind of parent I want to be but I have no idea what challenges we may face along the way. One thing I know is that I would always feel able to turn to Mrs Bishop for some friendly and empowering advice.    

Monday, 29 April 2013

The formidable Dr Maya Angelou


Also while in Thailand I read ‘Letter to my daughter’ by the formidable Maya Angelou bought for me by my own mother. Maya is a civil rights activist, historian, novelist, poet and film maker. While Maya never had a daughter (she has one son) she celebrates the thousands of daughters she has and gives her “offering” in this beautiful book.  Maya writes about her experiences including her experience having a child and raising him alone. She also shares her experience of domestic abuse in a way that does not allow the reader to define her by them. I was struck by the way Maya survived the experience in calm but determined way.  


Despite Maya’s magnificent achievements, she remains humble and empowering.  I love that she does not present herself as a finished product and speaks openly about how she is still learning. Maya offers her experience and wise words with no expectation that you will follow her way. Maya encourages her daughters to find their own path while embedding the assumption that her daughters are wise, creative, resourceful and intelligent.  It reminded me of how lucky I am to have a mother whose confidence in my ability to deal with whatever life throws at me is unshakable. Life can be so much easier when there is a positive expectation of you. The way Maya writes is accessible, inspiring and quite magical. For me, she is a story teller for grown-ups, her voice is so soothing.  You can hear her for yourself via this link

When reading or listening to Maya’s work I feel like I want to etch every word onto my brain but three quotes from her that stuck out are:
“Life loves the liver of it, I have dared to try many things, sometimes trembling but daring still”

I love this quote, it reminds that while some things are scary it is so important to experience them even if they don’t work out the way you hope there is still learning to do.

“Be certain not to die without doing something wonderful for humanity"

This quote made me think about how much I love for job and how I hope to make a difference if only in a small way but also made me think about how much more we could all do.

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud”

Every day there is chance to make someone’s day a bit better. Thank you Maya Angelou for inspiring me and generations gone by and to come.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The truly inspirational Kim Phuc

While travelling in Thailand I reached the High Life Bungalow in Haad Yao and happened upon ‘The girl in the picture’ which some kind soul I will never have the chance to thank had left for other travellers to read. Most people will recognise the image of Kim Phuc as nine year old child running naked screaming with her flesh on fire after a napalm attack on her village on the 8th June 1972 . Her story is truly inspirational.


I have a keen interest in photography and often pondered how a war photographer can witness such horror and not help. The book helped me reflect about the power of this photograph and the impact it had on subsequent events and, indeed, how people understand the Vietnam war. The author of the photograph, Nick Ut did take Kim to a local hospital where she had to endure horrendous pain when her wounds were dressed and cleaned. Healthcare professionals were certain she would die but remained committed to her care. Kim’s father remained by her side, sometimes hiding under the hospital bed so he could remain near to her.


The book collected not only Kim’s account but also those around her at the time. Without exception people remarked upon Kim’s happiness and warmth to others. Kim endured endless interviews; being used for propaganda purposes which prevented her from studying. Kim chose who she trusted wisely to enable her to lead the life she has today. She reported the strength she gained from others in recognising herself as beautiful. She is now happy and safe with a family of her own.


I was moved to tears in reading her commitment to peace and forgiveness.  There was no sense of anger or vengeance from Kim in anything I’ve read about her or written by her.  It reminded of me of the importance of the healing power of love. Reading her story and the work she does now to help victims is truly humbling. Thank you, Kim Phuc, for being such an inspiration to me, and countless others.