We are all Born free

I had a sobering letter today. I frequently receive letters from charities asking for support. I do when I can. My husband isn’t overly keen on charitable giving. Whereas I on the other hand started shaking a tin from the tender age of 3. On Saturday mornings my Mum and I used to sit outside our local pharmacist (or rather I would sit in a rather comfortable child’s wicker chair) and shake a tin for Oxfam. I don’t know whether my Mum was using me for pulling power but it worked. I helped collect a lot of money for Oxfam in the early eighties. My Mum’s help for Oxfam, a charity close to her heart, continued well into my teens when I was dragged around door to door in our neighbourhood shoving donation envelopes through the door. A month later I would return, my Mum doing one side of the road, I the other (reluctantly) going from door to door asking “We are collecting Oxfam donation envelopes can you spare some change?”. Most people were irritated by our call, which made it all the more squirm inducing, particularly as a teenager. Nethertheless it was satisfying when my Mum and I came away with a load of heavy envelopes (the lighter ones were the better with pound notes in them, although rare) to give to Oxfam knowing that we had help fund the charity and their work in Africa.

So, I have been brought up to believe that, when possible, you need to help others. We don’t believe in God and don’t go to church – we just want to help out. As I have got older I have also felt guilt at the lifestyle my family leads when only a few miles away, or even on our road a family is living in poverty. Also a few hours flight away and families are starving to death or forced from their homes because of war or living in captivity. I don’t see why I have this life and someone else has worse. I am grateful but I want everyone to have a decent standard of living. I don’t understand why that is too much to ask in 2012. However the ugly truth is we don’t like sharing and that sucks. We are also greedy, some more than others.

A letter arrives from Amnesty International about a guy from North Korea who was born in captivity. Since the day he was born, he was only allowed to eat when the North Korean authorities permitted him to, has scars on his back from torture and was made to watch the execution of his mother and brother because they attempted to escape. For the people trapped in these North Korean concentration camps they are there for simply watching South Korean TV or other such trivial things. Apparently your ‘crime’ trickles through generations so your children and parents are arrested too. The Authorities even conduct forced marriages between inmates in prison. This man, now 30, who was born in the camp, was as a result of a forced marriage and he was then brought up literally in hell. For 23 years he endured this existence, not knowing any other reality apart from sifting through cow manure to eat undigested kernels. Then one day he managed to escape, although his accomplice did not. With the change in power in North Korea Amnesty now believe the time is right to start an aggressive lobbying campaign to end the suffering in these camps. The camps have been growing in size and it is sickening to see their existence on satellite images nestled between mountains, trapping thousands of innocent inhabitants.

The people of Syria are also going through hell at the moment and are at the mercy of tyrannous leaders. When I left the paralympics there were people handing out flyers to join in the lobbying campaign to take action for the Syrian people.

My daughter has a book entitled ‘We are all Born free‘. It is a book designed for children with illustrations to help them understand injustice, how to recognise it and how to defend your rights. If you are able to support Amnesty’s campaign both in Syria and North Korea, please visit their site – support means lending your voice to the protest, not always about money – although it helps the campaigning!

I am blogging every day for Unicef, but for today please lend your support to Amnesty International particularly as September is the month that holds World Peace Day.

Can children in care go on to become Olympians?

I was reading an article today on Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds. Her achievements are an inspiration and the article features quotes from her family and her teachers detailing her strength of character, her competitiveness and her determination. Her mother said that she was always like this from very young and her teacher said that she is the same with her schoolwork.

Paralympians overcome physical scars to achieve their goals. What about people who have deep-seated emotional scars from a childhood that was far from perfect? Children who were forced to be independent and lead their own lives in order to survive from a very young age. Children in care have inconsistent emotional support and most of them have attachment disorders (they are incapable of forming bonds with parental figures because of abuse suffered earlier in life). If you were born determined and competitive does this stay with you despite a crap mum and dad who can barely feed you, let alone support your personal ambitions?

I read a column by Guardian journalist Lucy Mangan the other weekend that touched on the inequality in standards of education. More specifically, the percentage of privately educated children that go on to Oxbridge and Russell group universities. She quite rightly argued that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to educational inequality. There are children born into a world of domestic violence and abuse. Many just don’t have their most basic needs met, such as a bed to sleep on, a meal every day, a book read and are left to fend for themselves until social services are called in. Having gone through the first four years of life existing in this way can you imagine what these children must go through when they start school for the first time? As Lucy put in her column, these children are exhausted before their education has just begun because they have been too busy trying to survive the hell that they have been born into. That is the real inequality. They haven’t even got a chance in the first place.

The Olympics and Paralympics aims to inspire a generation and I wonder about the generation growing up in the care system  who have been watching the games? They may have been battered by their circumstances but do they have the strength to pull through and realise their ambitions? I would be interested to know of any athletes who have made it despite their childhood experiences growing up in care. Can you be born determined and still achieve despite suffering from attachment disorder? Adoption UK has a really good online animation – The Wall – that explains how abuse and neglect in a child’s early years can cause attachment disorder and other psychological conditions. Strength of mind overcomes physical barriers but does it work vice versa?

I hope you enjoyed this blog. If so please donate £1 to Unicef – the whole reason for my daily blog to combat child poverty and neglect worldwide. I am still hunting my first donation – so if you do donate you will be the first and I will thank you in my next blog. (the money raised so far is through the fee I pay to Unicef for missed blog days).

Thanx for reading.

Are the Paralympics better than the Olympics?

Sorry for my blackout yesterday – another pound in the pot. But, unlike the American media, I was present at the Paralympics.

I bought the tickets after failing to get tickets to the Olympics. But I am glad I failed. The experience in the stadium was mind-blowing.

As many others have reported the transport, signage, support from volunteers and efficiency in getting you in and out of the park was all faultless. As we snaked our way through the park to the outer ring of the stadium and started to ascend the steps to our seats, the view as we mounted the final step into the stadium itself was spectacular. Made all the more special after seeing it so many times on telly during the Olympics. I was trying to transpose the images in my mind from the opening ceremony and the athletes victory parades on TV and place it in the stadium before my eyes. I couldn’t. It was both familiar and surreal all at the same time.

Once we had settled into our seats, nothing had prepared us for the awesome display of achievement by professional athletes who stretched their physical abilities to the max and then gave even more because the crowd wanted them too. Tears were in our eyes as Houssein Omar Hassan, the only competitor from African country Djibouti, fought against the pain in his achilles tendon to continue jogging his 1500 metre race long after the race had finished for the other competitors. We willed the lone man on the track as he completed each lap and every one in the stadium gave him a standing ovation as he crossed the finish line. The roar of the crowd was deafening – so was the raw of emotion as we could all see what a challenge the race was for Hassan but his determination to finish was awe-inspiring.Houssein Omar Hassan


As the first of the women athletes lined up for the start of the 100metre heat we were stunned to realise that they each had a guide because they were blind. As the starting gun went each athlete sprang from the starting blocks hand-in hand with their guides who had to keep up with the stunningly quick pace but be careful to cross the line after, not before, their athlete. In the 200 metres the women just gently leaned into their guides as they rounded the bend before the straight and it struck as all at the courage these athletes had to run as fast as they could possibly go with only the noise of the crowd to will them on and the reassuring feel of their guide’s presence. We couldn’t begin to imagine what that must feel like. If the guides weren’t there they would have no looked no different to the female 100 metre and 200 metre olympic athletes.

Finally there was Richard Whitehead who came from nowhere out of the bend in the track to cross the line like an intercity train and claim gold. His blades aren’t designed to bend round corners. So, at first, there was a slightly disappointed hush as the race started and Richard was way behind going round the bend. But as the track straightened Richard’s speed rocketed as his marathon-like stamina and athletic power came into force. As he went from 0-60 in lightning quick time so did the noise from the crowd as they realised he was blitzing the competition for Team GB. The noise reached such a cacophony that my ears began to ring as if I was standing too close to a giant speaker. It was spine-tingling, hair standing on end stuff.

Why do I believe the Paralympics is better than the Olympics? The athletes are no different in their approach to their careers, their determination to succeed and their level of competitiveness. They are not there because of their disabilities they are there because of their talent and their ability. But to pursue your talent regardless of the fact that you can’t see the track you are running on, or that you can only use one leg, or only your upper body because your lower body just does not function or that your muscles spasm randomly or that you can’t hear the world around you ……….that can only come from strength of mind and something else that isn’t tangible or understood but can be best described as superhuman.

Yesterday we watched superhumans in action in the glorious setting of the Olympic Stadium at London 2012.

I’m so glad that my 6 year old saw that there are no limits to human ambition and determination – I think she realised that anything really can be achieved if you want it bad enough. My 9 month old was there too and I was also very proud of him as he was waving the union jack flag all by himself.

I hope you enjoyed my review of the Paralympic experience. If so please could you donate £1 to Unicef – the whole reason why I am blogging daily for the rest of my life.