Tuesday, 23 December 2008

News, news, news. Ho ho ho

News: With the team of Chilli Trustees, I'm happy to announce the launch of our latest Chilli newsletter No.4 (left). We've found this a great way to pass back to our supporters stories from the children we're helping. Download it from the main Chilli website: www.chillichildren.org.uk

News: I blog in two places at once! The one you're on is my personal blog. The second is the Chilli blog which is for news of the Chilli Trust and the Children's Project. There's recent news on there just going up now (no... now, sorry, no... now) from the Project team on how they've done with this year's 2nd chilli harvest. Have a gander: http://chillichildren.blogspot.com/

News: What more is there to do in the last days before Christmas but to look back and be grateful for all that we have? I am SO happy that I have this blog. It really helps me to explain to family & friends what's going on. I've felt the support of close family, cousins, Bethnal green mates, maths dudes, Links UK and Accenture colleagues. I've had some very welcomed donations on my justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/rebeccathorn, one lovely friend has set up a standing order to the Chilli Trust and another friend has donated a mini-video camera to the Project to help us record the stories of the children! I am incredibly thankful for these generous donations.

After suffering from a shot of the dreaded stomach bug, I'm convalescing at my cousin Helens and looking forward to Christmas at my sister's, also in Bedfordshire. In much the same way I imagine my friends in the UK and Uganda to be gathering together with family or friends. Back to the simple warmth of close relationships, good food and reflection on our great many blessings.

Merry Christmas to any and all of you!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

So what's it like...

Many people have asked me about what it's like in Uganda: Is there running water? Where will I stay? What are people there like? Do I need to take malaria tablets and have jabs? What will I do? Am I scared?

One of the reasons for writing this blog was to answer these questions along the way. But then today I found someone who's been there, seen it, done it, written the blog. Annie is in Mbarara (about 60kms from Rukungiri) on the main road to the South West of Uganda. She's out there with her husband Danny who's volunteering with VSO.

Now they're not doing exactly the same thing as me, for one they have a 'mother' organisation, which I don't (well I have the Chilli Trust which is certainly a 'mother' organisation but more of a 'single teenage mother living on handouts from churches' organisation). They have 'Prepare to volunteer' training and advice on visas. I've got google :) But I've also been to Uganda twice which helps immensely: 6 weeks in Kabale in '97 teaching English at Kabale Preparatory School (primary) and then 2 weeks in 2006 visiting friends from the '97 trip and importantly the Rukungiri Children's Project for the first time.

So if you want to hear more about what it'll be like for me then I suggest you glance at Annie's blog. She brilliantly and briefly explains the day-to-day life of a 'muzungu' (white person) volunteering in SW Uganda. http://volunteersabroad.blogspot.com/

Prefer pictures to words today? Check out some of my 2006 visit photos. The second half are the best: http://picasaweb.google.com/chilli.children/ProjectPhotosBeckySVisit2006#

Monday, 15 December 2008

On the outside

Identity. Sometimes understood only as it changes. Last week I left my job and as my laptop, security pass, contact list and access to free stationery was all taken away I had a feeling that my identity was being stripped off. Along with the stress of leaving a job and an institution after 3.5 years, I was emotionally afloat. I managed to steal my final lunch break with some alone time. I floated out of the office, up Watling St and found myself at the foot of St Pauls. Its hugeness, stability and magnificence drew me in. The admission price proved that my need wasn’t as great as I thought but something caught my eye on the way out pausing me to think that even the entrance hall was worth it. Was this noticed detail intentional? Or just my tired mind overstretching any meaning I could grasp? They had etched on to the modern doors “This is the door to the House of God. This is the gate of Heaven.” But what, perhaps, they hadn’t realised was that because it’s a revolving door you’re given this message on the way out, as well as the way in. It’s not necessary to find God, Heaven, strength or even what I needed most (lunch) inside a church, how ever grand, its all outside too. Outside. Outside of institutions I find myself. I redefine myself. Independent. Supported by friends. Strengthened inside. On my way to Africa…

Monday, 8 December 2008

Please don’t idolise/idealise me, just support me!

I went to a friend’s house for a bit of Christmas cheer at the weekend. It was so nice to catch up and have a bit of a laugh. The conversation turned to my impending unemployment and so my trip to Uganda. One friend remarked that I’m the closest to Gandhi out of all our friends. While this was a lovely thing to say, I was also struck with fear! I’m no where near Gandhi! I’m just struggling as so many people are to fit in my ideals alongside leading a ‘normal’-ish life which includes a path to material stability (a house one day with a garden would be nice) but I haven’t given up the material like Gandhi did – in Uganda I’m even going to be lucky enough to have a sofa!

What I really fear is that my friends see what I do as something they could not do and so hold me up on some pedestal without really hearing me or seeing my need for support. You may think that compared to the struggle for children in Uganda your own struggle is not important. But it is. I’m really not going to do well if my friends think that I’m now some hippy who’s off to start a new ‘self-less’ life who you won’t hear from again (I can hear some of you saying that you’ve always known I was a hippy – ok ok, you got me).

Anyway! So, friends, what can you do to be ‘good’? Well I’m sure that many of you are already doing a lot that makes you Gandhi-like. Do you give money to charity? Do you help people out with directions? Do you let an elderly person have your seat on the tube? Do you ask your colleagues how their weekend was? It’s little things that build up to make a ‘good society’ but it can also be helped by coming at each day from a ‘good’ approach like having an underlying ideal of the workplace you want to create or keeping in mind quotes or philosophies that really mean something to you.

For me, I know that I’m no good without the support of my friends and family. I wouldn’t even be considering this trip if it wasn’t for the many conversations I’ve been having which end in ‘don’t worry, you’ll get a job when you get back, no worries’ or ‘I think this is great, let me know how I can help’. With this kind of support I’m really blessed. So with all these offers to help and support me, what do I really need? Well I’m really struggling to say this (hence the very long preamble) but what I need is donations to the charity.

With enough donations, I can help the Project to do extra things like epilepsy drugs for one of the 40+ children who can’t afford them (£5) or make sure every kid who needs one has a wheelchair (£150). But donations are also needed even just to make up the basic activities – due to the economic crisis the exchange rate has gone crazy since July http://www.exchange-rates.org/history/UGX/GBP/G meaning that even the basics like medicines and fuel are squeezed. Without donations, then I’ll just be out there doing crisis management, trying to do the best of a bad job with ever decreasing funds. Sorry to get heavy but that’s the story. So what would we spend it on? What are basic activities? Find out about the amazing work of the Children’s Project from the newsletters on our website www.chillichildren.org.uk .

So if you’re still with me (and I appreciate that asking for money is a great way to ‘lose friends and alienate people’ but stay with me) then you might be asking: How do I donate?
There are a few options. Easiest is online via my fundraising page: www.justgiving.com/rebeccathorn Or you can just donate via your online banking (ask me for bank details). Or just slip me a fiver next time we meet. Or if you are not afraid of a little commitment then set up a standing order (ask me for the form) – 10 people giving even small regular donations would double our current number of regular givers, helping us to move status from crisis to surviving.

If you can’t donate at the moment, then please don’t worry. Just by reading this blog and keeping touch, you’re supporting me. As I leave work this week I’m at risk of losing a whole bunch of really wonderful friends so the keeping in touch bit is really important! Got it? Now, pull me off that pedestal and let’s go have a spiritually uplifting pint!

In return for all this support, I leave you with some Gandhi inspiration. This quote reminds me that we shouldn’t live racked with guilt or self-doubt, we should just act to help others and be happy with ourselves:

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”

Mahatma Gandhi, January 1948

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Chilli Children @ Chain Reaction 2008

Why haven't I blogged for a bit? In short, I've been busy.

What have I been doing? Number One: Taking life changing decisions, like, leaving my job. An unforeseen reshaping to the cunning plan. But plans should be flexible enough to adapt to any situation. This situation is actually a big boost to the cunning plan because it enables me to spend more time working for Chilli Children (catching up on the backlog) and on my preparations for 5 months in Uganda (realising now how silly first plan was to only have 2weeks of preparation time!). Most importantly I may, for a month at least, have my weekends back! So I can for example this weekend see my niece at her 13th birthday party! OMG!

What else have I been doing? Number Two: experiencing Chain Reaction! And that is ... a two day interactive event on London's South Bank for social leaders from across private, public and third sectors (CSR managers, charity leaders, civil servants (OTS, DCLG, DfID), young people, Chief Execs from socially-minded corporations, social media reporters, etc.) to get together and 'connect, collaborate, commit'. The PM even popped in after speaking to the House on his way back from G20. Other 'well knowns' include: Jane Tewson, founder of Comic Relief, Peter Jones, Dragon's Den, (he's Very Tall), Peter Gilley from Peace One Day (proof that one person with an idea and the will to try it out, can make a big difference - he convinced the Taliban to stop fighting for one day to allow through vital vaccines), Tim Smit, founder of the Eden project, etc. I was very fortunate to be there because of my current assignment. Pretty amazing from many of my perspectives, but especially from the tiny charity view.

I could go on - but the videos speak a thousand words, you'll be relieved to know! - see the links from www.chain-reaction.org . I also started twittering a bit while I was there - see http://twitter.com/chillichildren
3 things that you can do now to feel a teeny bit like I do post-Chain Reaction:
1. put International Peace Day 21st September in your diary,
2. watch one video from Chain Reaction http://uk.youtube.com/user/chainreaction2008,
3. sit and think about what you would do if you could do something that you really wanted to do since you were little to help someone who's not as strong as you right now (even if you're feeling weak) and think about how you would feel after you'd done it.

How does this all link to my cunning plan? Well basically I'm inspired by lots of people who I heard talk who all started with what seemed to the outside world like 'a crazy idea that will never work'. It's also boosted my self-confidence to think that I might acutally be able to go largely self-propelled to Uganda to try to figure out what I can do to help the Ugandan team to help thousands of children. Before I was just trying not to think about it too much and just do it.

Last word is to say thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. The little emails and the unexpected 'good on you's that I've got from several family and friends since I started talking about going to Uganda have really helped. Particularly thanks to people for following this blog. Once I'm there I won't feel so separate from you. I'm very lucky. Thanks.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

War, what is it good for?

This isn't what I was expecting to write about in my second post. Something comical about the Yellow Fever vaccine I'm having on Friday or perhaps something warm and glowing about my 'objectives' for helping the Project create a five year plan. I write with news that a war is breaking out in DR Congo some of it in Rutshuru just 10kms from the border of Uganda and the area we help. About 35kms from where I’m hoping to be living in a little over 3 months time. Refugees have been photographed fleeing with whatever is most precious: a mattress, a plastic bowl, a goat. I texted Evas (Rukungiri Children’s Project Manager) to see if they’ve seen or heard of anything yet. She’s not heard the news yet, so we wait and see. That’s all we can do, wait and see.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The journey begins...

The journey starts before it begins. The journey starts at around the time Dad first mentions the Great Rift Valley and Mum talks of arriving without a house built for her and baby Cathy, of children walking miles to school and of running out of petrol thankfully at the top of the hill so they were able to cruise down all the way to the petrol station at the bottom.

But this blog will need to start later than that lest I'm still describing the start after the actual journey begins.