Can you do something for me? I just need five minutes.
Today I’m off to London Town to speak at Save the Children’s second Blogging Conference. As well as joining with a whole host of other well-known and influential bloggers and You-Tubers to chat about blogging and video blogging, the conference aims to introduce some of the amazing work done by health workers around the world and highlight the massive gap in providing the right training, resources and support to people able to fill this vital role ahead of the UN Summit in New York this weekend.
It’s been just over a year since I travelled with Save the Children to visit their work in Bangladesh and blog and share my experiences via social media and news networks. It was a huge privilege to get to see first hand the sort of the thing we’ll be talking about today – how such simple things like vaccination programmes, health education, regular monitoring and check-ups to allow prevention and cure of easily treatable diseases such as upset tummies and pneumonia, and allowing malnutrition to be caught early, make SUCH a difference to communities living in extreme poverty. I got to meet some of the amazing women supporting communities in this way, walking on foot to help hundreds of families and have them introduce me to the beautiful children their work had saved, children like my Kai.
Writing Workshop: One Year – On me, Cybermummy and Blogging
This is the bracelet I wore to Cybermummy this weekend. In case you don’t recognise the symbol, it’s a Save the Children one, and on the back is engraved “Every Child Born To Shine”.
I lay in my hotel room the following morning, ribs aching from laughing, heart aching from unexpected feeling, and head a little numb from thinking, and rubbed the red token with my thumb in the sunshine coming through the blind. And I thought back on the last year.
Thinking about last year’s Cybermummy I suddenly realised how much I’d changed, and how much those changes have affected the way I approach and experience things. Not just things like Cybermummy, everything really, but comparing myself at the two events really hit home.
Last year’s saw me full of self-doubt, feeling like I had something to prove, feeling like I needed to convince everyone that I had something to say that was worth listening – brands as well as people. In a room full of mostly strangers I felt small. Standing up to deliver my talk about blogging and authenticity and voice as part of the main panel session, something I had anxiously worried over long before-hand, I felt like a fraud, like I didn’t deserve to be there and I worried that everyone else thought it, too. This meant I tried a bit too hard, I think. It certainly meant I worried more, a bundle of self-concious nerves with a slightly forced face of confidence and a ‘I belong here’ attitude to try and convince myself.
But by the end of the weekend I wasn’t in a room full of strangers any more, and my voice had reached people that I never would have expected, prompting an email a couple of weeks later from Save the Children and the beginning of that amazing journey and all the changes that followed.
A #PassitOn News Update!
It’s been nearly two weeks since Save the Children’s Pass it On campaign launched and, blow me down with an industrial-strength rotary fan, you lot have been AMAZING!
Via tweets alone using the #passiton hashtag, the campaign is calculated to have had a reach of (updated!) five and half million people already, and we’re only just getting started.
For those of you yet to hear about it, on Monday Save the Children are flying three bloggers out to Mozambique. There they will follow the journey of a life-saving vaccine from cold-storage all the way to the front line, to learn what a profound difference it can make to children in a developing country, and how vital it is that world leaders pledge to increase funding for vaccinations when they meet in the UK in June – a four hour meeting during which they hold the power to make a decision that could save millions of children’s lives.
Pass it On! A world-changing meme
I’m delighted this morning to be helping to launch a new meme on behalf of Save the Children, along with the fabulous Red Ted Art Blog, combining a healthy dollop of potentially world-changing charity action with a bit of a challenge and crafty fun.
As you’ll know, art plays a big part in mine and Kai’s lives and is a huge part of how we both express ourselves. Encouraging Kai to paint and draw as a way of compensating for some of his communication difficulties has been really rewarding.
Since coming back from Bangladesh last year I have been so aware of how lucky Kai is to have been born where he was. Kai can sit with me and draw a picture of himself while I imagine a future for him and I know that there is every chance that he will get one, the chance to shine in whatever it is that he chooses. Here he has easy access to excellent healthcare and readily-available life-saving immunisations, but for many of the children and mothers I met when out visiting Save the Children’s work, that promising future was far from certain, with children often facing seemingly insurmountable barriers of poverty and disease. What’s most frustrating is that many of these barriers ARE preventable, with vaccines costing pence and just a few trained health workers within a community able to make an extraordinary difference. (more…)
Mothers for Mother’s Day
I am sat here with a wiggly boy on my lap, busy two year old hands ‘writing’ in his notebook, he says, just like mama. This morning he proudly gave me a card with a picture of me on, that he had drawn himself (with three legs, granted, but perfect none the less). It is Mother’s Day, and I don’t think I have ever been more grateful for him as I am today. He is my whole world.
I feel so lucky, lucky that he is healthy and with a bright future full of opportunities ahead of him. And the huge privilege that I live in a country that gives him that has never been more stark since my trip to Bangladesh last year.
My friends at Save the Children launch a new report today as part of their ‘No Child Born to Die’ campaign revealing the reality of a global shortage of midwives resulting in almost 48 million women – one in three women globally – giving birth around the world every year without expert help – two million deliver their babies completely alone, and often with devastating consequences.
Just today, on a day when the rest of us celebrate motherhood, 1,000 women and 2,000 babies will die from birth complications which could be easily prevented – prevented by training for health workers and kits to help deliver babies safely that could save thousands and thousands of lives. I had the honour of meeting such health workers last year, watching them perform simple checks on pregnant mothers, armed with the training needed to help ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery for women and their babies. I got to see the confidence, faith and excitement on the face of one pregnant woman, her shy toddler with her face in her lap, as she sat in the health clinic anticipating the birth of her new baby, confident in the knowledge she was in safe hands. I want all mothers to have the opportunity to feel like that, and not to sit alone, and full of fear.
So, as you eat your inexpertly buttered toast, and try and pick glitter off your face from overly enthusiastically decorated cards, I ask that you take five minutes to watch this video – it’s not full of awful images, just a sad reality, a message of hope, full of the united identity we share as mothers, and a real chance for change.
Watch the video and then pledge your support - we want to send a message to global leaders ahead of the United Nations summit in September that we believe committing funds to train and deliver health workers should be made central to their plans.
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day, mums, we rock x
De-stigmatising self-harm and a new website resource for young people
I’m proud today to be promoting the official launch of a project coordinated and directed by a good friend of mine:
www.selfharm.co.uk is a lottery-funded resource for young people and their families affected by self-harm and self-injury providing comprehensive information, support and a safe space to express feelings and stories surrounding self-harm issues. The project takes a firm pro-recovery approach while still allowing young people to be honest about the realities of their experiences of self-harm.
We’re talking about a HUGE number of young people here, with as many as 25% of girl and 12% of boys in the UK said to self-harm before the age of 14 – considered the highest recorded rates in Europe. As parents this makes knowing about self-harm seriously important. And yet, despite the high prevalence, self-harm remains something that many people find difficult to talk about, shrouded in stigma and secrecy.
Self-harm is classed as causing deliberate harm to your body, including cutting, which is what most people think of when they think of self-harm, but also burning, deliberately bruising, hair pulling, as well as over/under eating, binge drinking and drug use. Often it can stem from feelings of anger, depression or anxiety, or from feelings of low self-esteem as a form of self-punishment – an inner, overwhelming feeling that manifests as a physical need to hurt to yourself and that may provide a temporary release from those feelings. You may not even know why you do it. It’s not about attention, in fact the vast majority of people that self-harm do so in absolute secrecy, and although sometimes associated with mental health problems, on its own is not necessarily an indication of mental illness, but one of emotional distress.
For some self-harmers, this may be a relatively short episode that passes, but the danger is, that without proper support, that behaviours like this can spiral into a destructive and pervasive part of somebody’s life that may continue well into adulthood.
It’s an issue very close to my heart, not because I myself have self-harmed, but because SO many of the people closest to me HAVE. I can relate to those feelings of low self-worth, of not being good enough, or feeling like I was failing in some way, that many people who self-harm talk about – I’m sure many, many of us can relate in that sense.
When I mentioned I was writing this blog post on Twitter last night, I was amazed how many people got in touch to offer stories, or just to put their hands up in private to say “yes, that’s me. I self-harmed, or did do”. One woman talked very eloquently and matter-of-factly about her self-harm as something that only happens occasionally, deliberately hitting or bruising herself when she’s tired or very stressed, as a way of dealing with a sense of intense self-hate that arises when things go wrong, or as a way of giving herself a moment of release, helping her feel like she can breathe again when the pressure gets too much. She doesn’t view it as a serious problem and talks of it as something within her control, a tool to make herself feel better.
For others, more serious self-harm became something that spiralled into a problem that became far more dangerous – eating disorders and cutting that needed professional involvement. Getting better happened once they were treated with some dignity and their self-harm recognised and respected as part of how they coped – changing those coping mechanisms then became a positive, self-realised process, facilitated by support as opposed to ‘treatment’ that left them feeling judged.
The message of Rachel’s interview, and of the selfharm.co.uk is clear and strong. If you self-harm you are NOT alone, changing behaviours is always possible, and support and advice is available.
If you are or know a young person affected by self-harm, or you are a parent or teacher worried about young people in your care, or an adult for whom self-harm is or has been an issue, then please have a look at the website and share details of it with your networks.
Many thanks, and please feel free to leave comments anonymously if you’ like to share your experiences here.
(images courtesy of www.selfharm.co.uk)
No Child #BornTo Die
If you’ve been following me on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll know that today I, along with my fellow Blogladesh buddies Sian and Eva, had the huge honour of attending the launch of Save The Children’s brand new campaign for 2011.
In the middle of Lincoln Inn Fields in London, surrounded by photographers, journalists and a whole host of inspirational people, the message was simple: no child is born to die.
Every year millions of children under 5 are still dying from easily preventable causes, from treatable childhood illnesses, lack of proper maternity and health care – it works out as one child every four seconds, a figure that still makes my heart hurt every time I hear it.
The key point here is that these deaths are preventable, EASILY. On our trip to Bangladesh last year we saw how simple, affordable solutions like immunisation programmes, (such as the ground breaking new pneumococcal vaccine), and on-the-ground, community-led health care and maternity workers, local people trained to take care of each other, can DRAMATICALLY reduce the child mortality rate in the areas in which these programmes are set up.
But these solutions take commitment. It takes pressure on world leaders to keep to promises they have made to help the world’s poorest children, it takes awareness raising to empower people to get on board and do their part, and it needs financing.
The Born To campaign aims to do all those things by utilising the British public’s own gifts and talents. We all have something we were born to do, and Save the Children are challenging and encouraging us to find ways to use those gifts to help the world’s children. Perhaps through fund-raising, sponsored events, giving up something little, or just helping to spread our message. By using what WE were born to do, in the privileged lives we lead, we have the chance to give children the world over the chance to live and discover their own potential, something we believe all children have the right to.
Today’s launch has had vast media coverage and was endorsed by some amazing celebrities – Helena Bonham Carter has lent her voice to the brand new TV advert, which you will start to see on your televisions from tonight, (but couldn’t make it today due to a fever – *sob!*), and the very beautiful Alexandra Burke, Natasha Kaplinsky, Amanda Mealing and Edith Bowman were all here today to give their own impassioned accounts of their work with Save the Children and the importance of this campaign to them. All have been out to see Save the Children’s work first hand, just like us, and spoke of similar experiences and feelings. Natasha’s moving presentation in which she said that “Reporting news is one thing-looking in a parent’s eyes who child has died is another” is something that especially struck a chord. I know myself how that experience changes you.
We were lucky enough to have a good length of time to sit and have a coffee and a chat (and some jellybabies) both with Holby Star Amanda and afterwards with Natasha (cue one slightly star-struck Josie, but man alive it was fun!)
Both are mothers themselves and spoke movingly of the effect their own trips have had on them. Amanda was really engaging and down to earth and full of passion. You could tell that she is someone who has thrown the full force of her weight behind the message she brings, proud to involve her family in joining with her in cause. Amanda has been to Bangladesh like us, and spoke of the shock of the sharp contrast between the freedom and privileges of her own children and the children she saw there. She joked that she was ‘born to tweet’ ( a sentiment we could get behind!) and about her desire to use her experiences to inspire people to try and make a difference.
One of the most surreal experiences of my life was to have Natasha Kaplinsky come walking to into our interview room with the words “Oh I’ve heard so much about you!”. Natasha has just come back from a trip to India with Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth, who champions us as his “mum army” and took the ground from beneath my feet today by telling us that it was our Blogladesh trip that directly inspired and launched this campaign. A huge, huge honour. I could barely speak for pride.
It was nice to get Natasha away from the cameras for a bit – she is the consummate professional and her news-reader persona incredible powerful, but it was lovely to get to know her more as a person and a mother. She talked of coming home from her trip and seeing with new eyes the things we so easily take for granted – being able to run her children a clean bath, knowing that healthcare would be just minutes or hours away if needed. I remember the same feelings coming home to Kai.
Today was so exciting. The videos we watched, the people we heard speak… it has left me with a renewed fire in my belly. It brought back a lot of emotion too, and the train journey home was filled with vivid recollections of my time in Bangladesh and my desperate desire to continue the path I began there.
I believe I was born to write and to tell stories, and it is that gift I am planning on giving over to Save the Children this year to help them with their campaign, in every way I can. As part of that, I am so, so excited to be a part of an amazing opportunity for other bloggers, who, like me, love writing, with a best-selling author getting involved too. Details will be launched tomorrow, with news here on the blog too in the next couple of days so WATCH THIS SPACE!
Please, please, spend ten minutes here. Pledge your involvement on the Save the Children website, share the news of this campaign using my share buttons, and watch the fabulous video below which we saw premier today.
Leave me a comment and tell me, what do you think YOU were born to do?
Writing Workshop in association with ActionAid: Giving
I can’t give you much money.
I wish I could.
While rich businesses sit on unpaid taxes,
while fat cats grow fatter on bonuses obscene
in their self-serving blind greed
I have to find another way.
But anger sits underneath my giving,
like a renewable, news-ignited fuel cell,
pushing me to act, moving limbs and heart and head.
It’s the eyes I remember. Dark eyes, staring under heavy, tired lids.
Tired by life, and by grief, and by that palpable confusion
of why me? Why not you?
It’s to you I speak, to you I give.
I give you my hands.
I give you all they can do.
I give you the pictures I take of you, the stories they tell,
the unsquashable joy that flares from your playing children
like a bright aluminium burn.
Their smiles. Your tears.
I give you my voice, grown louder lately,
not yet that sure of what to say, but finding ground
in which to plant seeds that might grow,
if only little ones, little sprouts,
the colour of rice paddies and blue skies.
The colour of rubbish piles and thick, dark mud.
The colour of justice, and solutions so simple you could scream,
and deep, hard graft.
I give you my dreams.
Nights of vivid, haunting recollection.
I give you my feet that wander again
the halls of crowded, filth-ridden hospitals
as I wonder which child here will die first.
And I give you my hope.
My heart swelling joy at watching
Watching rebuilding, healing, awe-inspiring
My pride, my excitement, my passion caught
like a killer-disease that turns out to be preventable
with just pennies,
pennies that make my pockets feel not quite that empty after all
or quite so ineffective.
I give you my eyes, my inspired, open eyes,
meeting yours as we stand face to face,
wet with shared grief and pain
but with new vision, new inspiration.
I give you it all.
I give you my words.
This post was written for this week’s Writing Workshop. Our theme was GIVING, helping to promote and raise awareness for ActionAid‘s latest campaign and you can read more about the prompts and how to take part in the Workshop here.
And don’t forget that you’re all invited to ActionAid’s Happy Bubble event in London on Monday!
Now it’s your turn. Have you got a post to share about Giving and how it makes you feel?
Leave your name and the URL to your post in the MckLinky below (the URL should be to your post not just to your blog) If you have the time it would be great if you could try and show your support to other participants by reading and commenting on at least two other entries.
If you haven’t had chance to respond yet, then you’ve got another whole week to take part and enter your link so there’s plenty of time. Our next workshop will be in two week’s time, so I hope to see you back soon.
Many thanks, from me and from ActionAid, for taking part.