Archive of ‘Good Causes’ category

Remembering Eva, the One in a Million Baby

tessa #ArWoman campaign

I didn’t meet Eva before she died. But in ten months, she touched so many people’s lives, and mine was one of them.

Eva died unexpectedly last week, and I’m writing this post because I know my own readers were moved by her story when I shared how her mother Tessa Prebble inspires me. Even if you only read about Eva for the first time last week, if you have been awed like me by the strength of her mother, please do read this post by Tessa which explains ways to remember Eva.

Eva was born in New Zealand. Her mother Tessa is a beautiful and talented writer and teacher I met almost a decade earlier at journalism school. Through Tessa’s blog, I followed her motherhood journey.

Eva was blind and deaf and diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome – a rare and complex genetic pattern of defects. If you are able to support the CHARGE Foundation in memory of Eva, please do. It is amazing to think that in ten short months she has left a legacy which will make a difference to the lives of other babies with this complex syndrome.

Tessa wrote about the challenges she and Eva faced with unflinching honesty. Like I said last week, I was constantly inspired by her courage and her strength. She wrote about becoming a new mother, she wrote about the constant medical appointments and challenges Eva faced. She wrote about their daily lives as mother and daughter – the first Christmas, the new highchair, the first smile.

Tessa also wrote about learning to see the world in a new way. With Eva by her side, she saw life very differently. She wrote about starting to truly appreciate the every day and the little things. Through her blog, The One in a Million Baby, her readers too came to see joy and light and happiness and good in places where Eva showed it to exist.

Tessa wrote on her Facebook page and blog in the middle of last week that ten-month-old Eva went to bed with a slight cold. A few hours later, she woke crying. She died very soon after.

Eva was farewelled and her life was celebrated in a ceremony in New Zealand at the start of this week. Around the world, candles were lit in her memory. So many people who never met her Eva will hold her in their hearts forever and see the world differently because she was in it.

Tessa’s friends have set up a donation page for people to donate to the CHARGE Foundation in memory of Eva. You can find it here.

To read more about Eva’s life, read Tessa’s blog at The One in a Million Baby.

Rest in peace little Eva X

tessa #ArWoman campaign

 

Celebrating Inspiring Women – My #ARWOMAN

tessa #ArWoman campaign

When Atterley Road got in touch to tell me about their #ARWoman campaign, I knew immediately I wanted to be involved. The campaign is about recognising and celebrating the many women who inspire us – and I love the idea of being part of the conversation which does this.

It wasn’t hard for me to choose my #ARWOMAN. While I’m constantly inspired by the success of my mother, the togetherness of my sister, and the sheer wonderfulness of some close friends, my #ARWOMAN is a person who I’ve not seen for years.

I met Tessa Prebble at journalism school in New Zealand in 2006. I thought she was smart, clever, funny, trendy, and going to go places. She was one of those students who you knew was going to be brilliant at everything she tried. She was lovely with it. Friendly, fun, and an incredibly talented writer.

We never became close friends, but we saw each other a fair bit in that year of our studies and social media has meant we’ve kept up with each other’s lives from afar since then.

But Tessa’s career or friendship isn’t the reason she is my #ARWOMAN.

Tessa became a mother last April. Since then, I have come to know a different side to the bright young journalism student I met in Wellington nearly a decade ago. In fact, I now feel honoured to have been let into the life of someone so brave, so strong, and so inspiring.

You can read about Tessa and her life with her beautiful daughter Eva on her blog, The One In A Million Baby. Eva is blind and deaf. She has been diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome, a complex genetic pattern of birth defects which occurs in about one in every 9-10,000 births worldwide.

On her blog, Tessa explains more:

“She has a missing corpus callosum which may or may not seriously affect her development, and wider than normal sylvian fissures in her brain; she has a large atrial septal defect in her heart and a small PSD; she has trouble feeding and is almost exclusively fed through an NG tube, soon to be G-tube; she has low muscle tone.”

I’ve never met Eva, and I’ve not seen Tessa for years. But since Eva’s birth, I’ve thought about them so much.

Tessa has reached out online to a community of other parents with special needs children. I’m not a member of that community, but her writing has had such an impact on me. It is not a life I can relate to – other than that I too am a mother.

In Tessa, I see a mother who has immeasurable strength, bravery and resilience – and it has all grown out of her love for her daughter. Tessa has been unwaveringly honest about her motherhood journey, and she has written with a grace and courage that frequently brings me to tears. It hasn’t, of course, been a straightforward road. It is a road which I can’t imagine doing anything other than shouting out against in anger. It is a road which will continue to be strewn with difficulties, with no clear path ahead at times.

It is hard, of course, to imagine other people’s lives. It is hard, of course, to know how you might feel in their position. I don’t try and do this. My life is a world apart from Tessa and Eva’s. But, when I read Tessa’s words, I am struck, every time, by the beauty of a mother’s unconditional love.

Tessa doesn’t know this, but she inspires me every day to try and be a bit better at life. I know that if you read her incredibly powerful writing, you’ll feel the same.

tessa #ArWoman campaign

Who inspires you? Share their picture on Instagram and let me know @kiranchug, using the hashtag #ARWOMAN. Tag in your friends. Let’s start celebrating inspiring women. You can read more about the campaign at Atterley Road and see their picks for inspiring women here and here.

Homeless at Christmas – the #SlippersforShelter campaign

While our little family opens presents in a warm home, while we sit down to a feast in a kitchen filled with love, 90,000 children in the UK will be homeless this Christmas.

The government figures are heartbreaking.

They put a number on how many children won’t sleep under their own roof, dreaming of presents and reindeers. They put a number on how many children won’t wake up in their own, snuggly bed. They put a number on how many children won’t bounce down the stairs to see what Santa has left under the family tree.

90,000 children. That is three children in every school across the country who will be spending Christmas without a home.

If, like me, you believe children deserve a home at any time of year, please help them this Christmas.

As part of its #SlippersforShelter appeal, Shelter is asking people to donate £2 to help homeless families this festive season. To take part, just wear your slippers to work on December 18, take a footsie and share it using the hashtag, and donate £2 to Shelter. You can find out more information on how to be involved here.

Shelter has launched the appeal as it braces itself for a surge in calls to its helpline, in that hope that donations  help its services cope with the strain this Christmas.

You might have seen the face of the campaign already… it’s Tom.

#SlippersforShelter

 

Tom and his mum Andrea spent last Christmas in a tiny B&B room, sharing a bed. Christmas dinner was a cheap takeaway they ate sat on the floor. There lives have been turned around by Andrea’s call to Shelter. Today, having received help to work through the legal difficulties they faced, they are in a flat closer to Tom’s school and their family and friends.

The situation they had found themselves in is too common. Government figures show that the number of homeless families living in B&Bs has almost doubled in three years. A recent Shelter investigation found that well over half felt unsafe in their temporary accommodation, with parents reporting exposure to drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, swearing and racist language.

The investigation also showed the emotional impact on the children living this way. Over half of the families said their children’s mental or emotional health had been affected, including reports of depression and panic attacks.

Our little family will be wearing #SlippersforShelter on December 18. Please think about how you could help the 90,000 children who will be homeless this Christmas.

#SlippersforShelter

 

Find out more about the #SlippersforShelter campaign here: http://www.shelter.org.uk/slippers, and don’t forget to donate £2 on December 18, while sharing your pictures using the hashtag.

My ambassador role with MAMA Academy

As soon as I heard the phone ring on that beautiful summer’s afternoon, I knew something was wrong. It was my midwife – she said something along these lines: “We’ve got the results of yesterday’s blood tests Kiran. Can you go to the hospital now please. They’re expecting you.” I had just made it to 37 weeks pregnant. We hadn’t yet painted the nursery.

What followed was a terrifying but ultimately amazing couple of weeks. And then I brought home my first baby. Milin. He was healthy and happy and perfect – but I will never forget the fear that went through me the first time I heard the word that changed my pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia.

That was more than two years ago. I have learnt so much about Pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome since then. Although both are serious conditions that can affect pregnant women, I knew very little about them before being told I had them. My story has a happy ending. However, my experience of these illnesses made me realise how important it is to be armed with knowledge while pregnant. It’s crucial, vital, essential, to seek professional help at the first inkling that something might be wrong. And so it follows that it’s crucial, vital, essential, to be able to recognise that something might be wrong.

My pre-eclampsia was picked up quickly because I phoned my midwife and asked to see her – despite not having an appointment scheduled. I was worried about the swelling in my feet and hands which wouldn’t go down. I hadn’t connected it with the unbearable headaches I was experiencing and the excruciating pain beneath my ribs. However, my instinct was to seek advice. I was sent for tests which showed my blood pressure had risen suddenly, my liver function was out, protein was leaching into my urine and my platelet count was very low. I was admitted to hospital with Pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome and booked in for an induction.

Milin’s growth rate had been slowing down – perhaps because my placenta had stopped working as efficiently as it should have been. By seeking advice from medical professionals, I had placed myself and my baby in the safest hands.

I will never forget being told I was being admitted. I was terrified because I knew so little about what pre-eclampsia was and what it meant for me and my baby. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I wasn’t ready to have my baby, I hadn’t imagined it would happen this way. My lack of knowledge and understanding made me feel like I was losing control over my pregnancy, and I felt very afraid. Since then, I’ve learnt so much about the condition I was suffering from. I went into my second pregnancy far more knowledgable and confident.

My experiences have prompted me to join a team of ambassadors for the UK charity, MAMA Academy. Its goal is to help babies arrive safely and promote positive pregnancies. The MAMA Academy educates expectant mums on how to keep healthy and when they should call their midwife for advice. It also supports midwives by keeping them up to date with current guidelines and research to aid consistent maternity care. I’ll be helping the MAMA Academy spread its key messages of promoting healthy pregnancies and reducing baby loss – and you’ll see more on this in the coming months. In the meantime, do visit MAMA Academy to find out more.

MAMA Academy

The First Day

On my first child’s first day, I held him to my chest and shook. He was here. He was safe. He was healthy.

On his first day, I wept at how perfect he was. I lost my breath when I touched his silk-soft skin that had never seen the world until now. I felt my heart quicken when I looked into his startled wide-open inky eyes that looked at me for the first time but already knew me. On his first day I couldn’t believe how quiet he was. Worried, I had to keep checking that this placid, beautiful baby was mine, was still here, and was real.

On his first day, I marvelled at how light and tiny my first child was. I pressed him to my body and learnt how to nourish him, to feed him, to protect him, to calm him. I felt my skin against his and knew then the infinite love a mother has for her child.

On his first day, I knew I would spend the rest of my life keeping my son safe. I knew I would spend the rest of my life putting him above all else. I knew I would never again be alone.

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On my second child’s first day, I held her to my chest and shook. She was here. She was safe. She was healthy.

On her first day, I examined every inch of her and cried for she too was perfect. From the moment she was born, she told the world she had arrived. With cries and screams she protested at being brought into this world. I held her close. She was mine and I would soon learn to soothe her cries.

On her first day, my daughter needed her mother. I held her to my body and learnt to nourish her as I had her brother. I touched her jet black hair and pale skin, and knew then the infinite love a mother has for all her children.

On her first day, I knew I would spend the rest of my life keeping my daughter safe. I knew my children would always mean  more to me than they could ever know. I knew I would never be alone, for I had my children.

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My children, Milin and Jasmin, are two years old and seven months old. I can remember their first precious days clearly. They were beautiful days, the happiest of my life.

For too many families, this first day is also the saddest.

Every year, 1 million babies around the world die on their first – and only – day of life. The death of one baby is a tragedy. The death of a million a year is an outrage. Yet most of these deaths could be prevented with the help of a trained and equipped midwife.

Today, Save the Children is launching the First Day campaign to end newborn deaths. With support, Save the Children can make sure the first day is just the beginning.

Save the Children is asking for donations to save lives by helping to train more midwives and give them tools and medicines. You can also take action to urge the Prime Minister to push his fellow leaders to prioritise training and funding more midwives.

To find out more about Save The Children’s First Day campaign, and to take action or donate, please click here.

Changing stereotypes, image by image

Women who lift weights, fathers who change nappies, women who are soldiers, girls who ride skateboards – do they challenge stereotypes? Or are they the new cliches?

An article in the New York Times caught my attention this week. It’s about Getty, one of the largest suppliers of stock images, updating its library. It has entered into a partnership with the non-proft LeanIn.org to offer a new collection of 2500 images of women in leadership . (LeanIn.org is, of course, the organisation headed by Facebook executive and vocal champion of women in leadership roles, Sheryl Sandberg.)

I love the idea of the new stock images. There are women surgeons, women bakers, girls who surf, and women in offices with smartphones without 1980s power suits. They are intended to offer an alternative to the mother smiling while feeding her child or pushing a supermarket trolley.

Certainly, the new stock images are more reflective of reality. They depict a world where women of all ages and races work and work at the top. They represent a world where gender roles are no longer clearly defined in the home or at play. They show a world where stereotypes are hopefully being broken down.

However, stock images are called stock images for a reason. They feed an industry, or many industries, which arguably require a cliche. These industries talk in the language of stereotypes. They use instantly recognisable pictures to depict not just a few words, but a concept, an idea, a ‘type’.

I used to work in a newsroom at a national daily. As we put together the front page, and every page inside, we picked images to tell our stories. We didn’t want to use stock images, but sometimes, because of logistical restraints, we didn’t have our own photo to publish. Searching through the stock of sites like Getty could be a depressing job. Every stereotype, every cliche was there. Sadly, we picked the ones that told our tale in the most straightforward way, the ones that wouldn’t leave any doubt in readers’ minds of what we were trying to say.

Is it laziness to use the stock image that shows the cliche? Yes. But it’s also safe.

And so, while I welcome the move made by Getty, I’m sceptical about how widely the new images will be used. Will they be chosen instead of the older ones? Is it risky to try and erode a stereotype with a picture?  Or will they simply serve to enforce new stereotypes –  because isn’t that what stock images are?

I hope not. I hope they encourage editors, designers, content providers and media outlets to challenge their readers. I hope they force a rethink of a lazy acceptance of cliches, and generate a new conversation about what a woman looks like in 2014.

These images have the potential to be seen widely and enter mainstream consciousness. They have the power to challenge stereotypes and retell the stories of women as they go about their lives. Let’s hope those picking the images open their minds and give this collection a chance. In doing so, their actions could have extraordinary power. By changing the pictures the world sees, by presenting a reality in which women are strong and empowered, those choosing these images have the power to change the lives of women.

The Silence Isn’t Working

Their eyes will haunt us. Their stories will break our hearts. Their names will join the saddest list of all.

Their lives were cruelly ended far too soon.

They are the babies we all should have protected. They are the children we all failed.

And around them, a family, a community, a school, a country will weep. It will be too late. Individuals, acquaintances, teachers, social workers, friends, family, strangers, all of us who now feel our hearts break – we didn’t do enough. When it mattered, when we could have made a difference, we were all silent.

And around the child, a mother, a father, perhaps someone else. Also heartbroken. And completely broken. Because we failed them too. When it mattered, when we could have made a difference, we were all silent.

Today is not the day to wring our hands and point fingers of blame. Today is not the day to scrutinise budget cuts and rue impossible case loads for social workers and welfare agencies. Today is not the day to search for missed signs. Today is not that day.

Today is the day we break the silence.

It is the day we speak out when we see something is wrong. It is the day we raise our voices when we feel something isn’t quite as it should be. It is the day that we start really listening to those trying to reach out. It is the day we stop giving up on those who won’t reach out.

Today is the day we talk openly about mental health. It is the day we extend our hands, our ears, our hearts and our selves to mothers and fathers and carers who need our help. It is the day we stop hiding how hard this life is and we start talking about it truthfully.

Today, on this day that our hearts are broken, we accept that the silence isn’t working. Today we accept mental illness and the tragedy it brings. Today we accept that every single one of us must work together to break this silence.

Let’s talk. To each other, to those who might hear us if we only try, to those who might listen if we keep talking, to those who don’t want to hear. The silence isn’t working. For those children, for those parents, let’s break this silence now.

* If you are worried about a child, or if you are a young person who needs to talk, call the NSPCC. Its vision is to end cruelty to children in the UK.

Christmas Jumper Day

I love the simplicity of the idea behind today’s Save the Children campaign. The charity is calling today ‘Christmas Jumper Day’, and is asking people to ‘make the world better with a sweater’. It’s a simple idea, wear a Christmas jumper, and donate £1 to Save the Children while you do it.

Milin and Jasmin have been practising looking their best in matching reindeer knitwear.Of course, wearing such super cute jumpers meant they were having too much fun to both pose for the camera at the same time.

xmas jumper day

Save the Children will be using all of the money raised today to help save the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. In the world’s poorest countries, more than 7 million children die every year from easily preventable causes like diarrhoeaand malnutrition. Simple solutions, like vaccines and mosquito nets save lives. With the money raised from Christmas Jumper Day, it’s those kind of simple solutions that can be achieved.

Campaigns like this encourage people to have a little fun and share what they are doing. Hopefully, Christmas Jumper Day will also encourage us all to think beyond novelty knitwear and prompt us to look at other ways we can help vulnerable children. For today though at least, put on that jumper that’s been sitting in the back of the cupboard, and do your bit to make a difference. X

 

*Wear your jumper on Christmas Jumper Day on 13 December and donate £1 to Save the Children at http://www.christmasjumperday.org

World Aids Day: Life could be different

More than five million young people, aged between 15-24, live with HIV. It’s a shocking number, and a number that is growing. Young people account for 40 per cent of all new HIV infections, with 2400 young people becoming infected with HIV every day.

This year, on World Aids Day, I wanted to write about Link Up. It’s a five country project aiming to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than one million young people living with and affected by HIV in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda.

I was contacted about the project in the lead-up to World Aids Day and touched by the story of Momima, a 22-year-old single mother living in central Ethiopia. She was diagnosed with HIV three years ago. She didn’t know then that she was pregnant, and so she wasn’t able to get the treatment she needed to protect her unborn son from transmission of the virus.

Benjamin Chesterton duckrabbit International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Benjamin Chesterton duckrabbit International HIV/AIDS Alliance

When her son, Yerosa, was four months old, she learnt that he too was HIV positive. She decided to give up him for adoption to a family in America, in the hope that he would be able to receive the medical treatment he needed. I cannot imagine saying goodbye to my child. I cannot imagine having to make that decision. These are Momima’s words:

“I convinced myself that it is better to see my child well. If he had not been seriously ill, I would not have given him away. I would have fought until the end. I am praying for him to be well wherever he is.”

She is occasionally sent photos of Yerosa from the family that adopted him. That is her only contact with her son.

Benjamin Chesterton duckrabbit International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Benjamin Chesterton duckrabbit International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Momima’s story started when, as a teenager, she left home afraid she would be forced to marry an older man like her sister had been. Her sister later died of AIDS. Momima had her first child, Rapira, and without the support of her family, moved from community to community, taking jobs where she could to provide food and shelter for him.

Since her diagnoses, she has not been allowed back into the family home due to her mother’s fear she might infect her siblings. Her openess about HIV, in a country where stigma and discrimination is still rife, costs her though – she doesn’t have a job at the moment. Life would have been very different if Momima had known how to protect herself against HIV and had proper antenatal care.

Momima is helped with access to treatment and contributions to Rapira’s school fees by Ethiopia’s largest NGO working on HIV/AIDS, the Organization for Social Services for Aids. The NGO is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Ethiopia is one of the five countries being targeted by the  International HIV/AIDS Alliance Link Up project. The initiative is aiming to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than one million young people living with and affected by HIV .

The majority of existing programmes focus on adults living with HIV or on married women of reproductive age. Young people in many countries are often underserved by these programmes, or not served at all.

Link Up aims to change this. The project recognises that young people remain at the centre of the HIV epidemic and they have the power, through their leadership, to help bring an end to AIDS.  However, they face multiple barriers to contributing to HIV and SRHR policy and programme development processes.

Over a period of three years, the project will:

  • provide comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health rights
  • build the skills and knowledge of civil society, ministries of health and governments to deliver improved services which young people feel safe and comfortable accessing;
  • promote and protect the needs and rights of young people affected by HIV in their own national contexts;
  • gather evidence around what works when integrating sexual and reproductive health and HIV services to inform the development of new services.

On this World Aids Day, I think it’s a project that should be supported. Life could be so different for so many. Find out more about Link Up here.

On Universal Children’s Day

My children live their lives free from violence and harm. They do not know poverty or hunger. They are privileged.

Today is Universal Children’s Day. It is recognised on November 20th every year by countries around the world. The United Nations, which sought to have the day recognised as early as 1954, suggests it is a day spent promoting the welfare of children.

“We were all children once. And we all share the desire for the well-being of our children, which has always been and will continue to be the most universally cherished aspiration of humankind.”

– We the Children: End-decade review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Children, Report of the Secretary-General (2001)

Today has reminded me how fortunate my children are. They live in a world that many children less fortunate than them will never be able to access. They live in a warm home, there is always food on our table and love in our hearts. One day, they will go to school, and from their, they will be able to do anything they want to do.

On Universal Children’s Day, I want to highlight some of the stories that have touched my heart this year. They are stories about other children, children who have done nothing to deserve the horror or poverty or heartbreak they suffer.

Most recently, the children of the Philippines have faced the wrath of nature. Super typhoon Haiyan has torn apart families, devastated entire villages and left many children facing an uncertain future. If you can help, please do through the Disasters Emergency Committee.

In Syria, where war has raged for three years, more than one million children have been made refugees. They have fled their homes with their families, or the family members who have survived the war, and now live in camps on their homeland’s borders. They do not know what their future will hold. You can donate to UNICEF’s Syrian children’s appeal here.

At home in England, too many children suffer neglect, violence and abuse. Too many times this year we have been told the stories of children who were harmed by those they should have been able to trust. The people who should have loved them most, failed them completely. The people who should have been there to notice, to speak out, and to help – they weren’t there. If you can help the NSPCC with its vision to end cruelty to children in the UK, please visit its website to read more.

However, one child, or, almost still a child, has inspired me repeatedly. She is Malala Yousafzai. A year after being shot on her way to school by the Taliban, this now 16-year-old from Pakistan is the voice of hope for 57 million girls and boys who do not go to school.  She believes that every child has the right to an education. She believes in the power of the pen over the power of the sword. Her inspirational story is one we must tell our own children, so maybe they too will believe they can one day change the world.

We all have our own part to play in protecting our children and fighting for the rights of children around the world. Today, on Universal Children’s Day, perhaps we could all do something that will make a difference.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0494/JOHN WREFORD A child looks through the opening of a tent shelter in the Atmeh camp for displaced people.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0494/JOHN WREFORD
A child looks through the opening of a tent shelter in the Atmeh camp for displaced people.

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