Today I’m off to London 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 people to some of the staggering work done by health workers around the world. Ahead of the UN Summit in New York this weekend, we want to highlight the gap in resources that exists that, if filled, would allow the right training, resources and support to be given to more people able to fill this vital role.
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 great privilege to get to see, first-hand, the sort of the thing we’ll be talking about today. I got to see the huge difference that simple things make to communities living in extreme poverty– things like vaccination programmes, health education, regular monitoring, and easy-to-access check-ups to allow prevention and cure of easily treatable diseases such as upset tummies and pneumonia, allowing malnutrition and other problems to be caught early. I got to meet in person some of the amazing women supporting communities in this way, walking on foot to help hundreds of families and I got to be introduced to some of the beautiful children their work had saved – children so similar to my own son, Kai.
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 after the conference, 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.
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. Their journey will illustrate 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.
This morning, I’m delighted 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 in terms 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 himself 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.
I am sat here with a wiggly boy on my lap, his 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. Since my trip to Bangladesh last year, the realisation of the huge privilege it is to live in a country that gives him those opportunities have been very stark and very precious.
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’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.
Rachel herself, directer of www.selfharm.co.uk, self-harmed for over ten years before her recovery. Her story, featured on This Morning on Tuesday is inspirational and well worth a watch.
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)