Conversation With…Beritha Muzondo, Teacher and Founder of VOW/Women of Valiance

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Beritha

VOW/Women of Valiance was founded in 2017 by school-teacher, mother and wife, Beritha Muzondo, to bring women together to support education in Zimbabwe. In 2017, she hosted the 1st VOW High Tea at Woburn Sculpture Park, Bedfordshire which raised just over £1 400 for Kandava Primary School, Seke Rural, Zimbabwe.

This year, VOW will host another fundraiser, a Ladies Luncheon, on Saturday July 14th2018 at Whittleberry Hall, Towcester, Northampton.

 

 

What’s the inspiration behind VOW?

Well, over the past 4-5 years, I had always been sending school supplies, whenever I could, to Rakodzi High School in my home country Zimbabwe. One year, I collected and donated around 300 library books.

Believe me when I tell you that back in my day this school was one of the best schools there was. This was in Marondera, a high-density area. The head teacher was Australian, most of the teachers were ex-pats and it was well-resourced. But when I went back a few years ago, things were not the same, in fact far from it. I thought, if a school like this with so many donors is in this situation, what about a school with no donors.

A school that came to mind that I knew had little support was Kandava Primary School. One year, during a visit to my family homestead in the rural area, as I was driving through, I saw some children going to school without shoes or uniforms. I thought to myself that I could start with buying uniforms.

I decided to shelve Rakodzi as a lot of people were already supporting them, then focused on Kandava Primary. I asked Kandava if they had orphans and they gave me a list of 120 children. That was way too much for me, so, I asked them to prioritise the children in order of need and I went away and started thinking of ideas to fundraise.

What made you think of a high tea event?

I like to plan events and I plan them well. I bounced ideas from others and a high tea event came out on top.

The venue for last year’s event was exquisite! How did you find it?

I like nice things! And we all deserve nice things. What was important was to make the event memorable, so I wanted a venue that was different, unique, elegant and would allow people to dress up. I wanted people to feel that they were doing something truly wonderful and the surroundings had to inspire that feeling.

Last year’s event featured great speakers and that awesome auction! What can supporters and guests expect this year?

This year it  will again be an inspirational, dynamic and fun-filled event. People really enjoyed meeting each other so this year there will be more time for interaction and networking. There are going to be some dynamic speakers as there were last year and with more audience participation.

For you, what was great about the VOW2017 High Tea?

What was wonderful was that so many supported the event and were so generous with their donations. Tickets were sold out and in the end 196 guests attended. In fact, so far, a lot of last year’s guests already have tickets for this year’s event. The one thing they had to do was bring stationery, books and pens and everyone did. With the ticket sales and the luxury auction held on the day, we raised just over £1 400. This bought uniforms, shoes and paid school fees for 20 children at 2 schools – Kandava Primary and Muchakata Primary. Although the event was not formally sponsored, many gave cash donations.

Beritha Kids

The theme last year was ‘Stop Saying I Can’t and Start Saying I Will’. What’s the theme for this year’s event?

This year’s theme is ‘Starve Your Distractions and Feed Your Focus’. It’s important that guests come away feeling inspired in the same way they are inspiring our young people through their generosity.

What opportunities are there for people to get involved and contribute?

We do have sponsorship packages which include time for sponsors do a short presentation about their business. Sponsors can also be anonymous if they prefer!

What would you like guests to donate this year?

This year we ask guests to bring stationery and books again, as well as clothing which of course must be in good condition. We would also like people to sponsor a child which costs £100 per year. Imagine that £100 can support a child at school for a whole year including fees and uniforms. In fact, last year, one guest sponsored not just one child, but the entire family.

What’s the fundraising target amount for 2018?

This year we aim to raise £5 000 to build a borehole for Kandava Primary.

 

For more information on VOW Ladies Luncheon 2018, contact: info@valiant-women.co.uk

For tickets, contact 07979091582, 07850089572 or purchase via website at: http://valiant-women.co.uk/

Tickets cost £50pp and include a 3-course lunch with tea and coffee

Follow VOW Annual Ladies Luncheon on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/womenofvaliance/

If you are not able to attend but would like to donate to the cause, please contact: info@valiant-women.co.uk

 

 

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Conversation With… a humanitarian in South Sudan

 

This humanitarian and modern-day heroine works to educate on and attend to those who have been traumatized by gender-based violence (GBV) in South Sudan. She herself is a woman from another African country.

Salute to the many who sacrifice much and risk their lives to alleviate the trauma of those who suffer in areas of conflict.

 

What led you to take on this humanitarian role?

I took this role as part my of humanitarian obligation and ethical contribution towards addressing the needs of vulnerable women and girls during emergencies, as it’s known that in conflict and displacement, women and children, both boys and girls, suffer the most.

What was the biggest surprise for you when you started this work?

The biggest surprise was the high level of violence and suffering. In an acute situation, women often flee to safety with almost nothing as they must concentrate on ensuring that they have their children. Sadly, in the process many lose children. Both the parent and the child experience a lot of trauma when forcibly separated by war.

It is very unsafe to leave a protection site to track missing children or parents as there will be armed groups all over the place. There is practically no mobile communication with the outside world in the initial stages of displacement except through humanitarian agencies who focus on family tracing.

Another big surprise for me was the real extent of sexual violence experienced by women and girls. Rape is used as a weapon of war. Women are sometimes raped when they go to fetch firewood or collect water or even when they leave protected areas simply to work. Some women brew alcohol as a livelihood which puts them at high risk as most of the displaced males are idle, spend the day drinking and when drunk, perpetrate these acts of violence.  More than half of reported GBV incidents are of intimate partner violence indicating the high stress levels among couples; children are affected indirectly. Men and boys also experience sexual violence.

Unfortunately, few seek help as the violation of women and girls is perceived as acceptable due to cultural stereotyping. Permission is needed from a male to go to a clinic or there is a requirement to explain their condition to the whole family first. If they don’t accept or understand that a violation has taken place, then what’s the point. Then on top of that, the victims are ostracized. As such, there is a lot of under-reporting in seeking healthcare and psychosocial support.

 In a place like South Sudan where there are so many needs, where do you start?

Emergency responses are very well coordinated, and a lot of planning is put in place before responding. Each agency focuses on its area of expertise, but there are inter-agency efforts. The first step is to inform the community of the services available, where to access them and that they’re free.  Some community-based staff then assist in identifying people with special needs for further assistance but for the general population, it’s about giving them the information they need to make informed decisions without pressure.

 Can you share a moment which moved you?

There are so many moments that have and that also made me reflect on some of the things I take for granted. There was a 9-year-old child that shared his story of seeing his mother beheaded and his younger sister burnt. Yet this boy was still able to hope for a better future and became a team leader for his play group. The child has now relocated to another part of the country to join a foster family.

What progress have you seen in your time in the Sudan?

Tangible progress has been made. The level of awareness has increased; women and girls have started to realize their rights and are starting to raise their voices for redress. For example, there is now advocacy to end child marriage all over the country.

The reporting of GBV cases to clinics or other institutions has increased and indicates that the message has created an impact where women and girls are seeking help.

The services provided have been appreciated and acknowledged by the community, e.g., family tracing and reunification. More girls are being sent to school and they are participating in skills development activities set up especially for women and girls.

 You must be frightened at times. How do you deal with the fear?   

The training on safety you undergo as you enter this line of work helps you, but you get the greatest inspiration from the people you serve. If they are enduring this level of hardship day in day out, you then appreciate your position because you can opt out when the going gets tough. The interaction with the community helps you to create a positive and resilient coping mechanism. In addition, most agencies have staff counsellors to support you.

The presence of humanitarian agencies in an area is sometimes a deterrent to some attacks. Evacuation plans are activated when necessary to save lives of staff. The converse though is that some humanitarian workers have died because of attacks specifically targeting them.

In memory of St Josephine Bahkita, Patron Saint of victims of trafficking. She was born into a well-to-do family in Sudan in 1869 and abducted by Arab slave traders at the age of 7. She was sold and resold many times and was abused and tortured in her 12 years as a slave. She eventually was sold to an Italian Vice Consul who took her to Italy where she became a Canossian Religious Sister until her death on February 8th 1947.

Josephine Bakhita

Image courtesy of: https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=5601

I am an immigrant, and here’s why I supported England at #World Cup 2018

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FBL-WC-2018-ENGLAND-JERSEYI am an African immigrant, one of those that has been vilified by the British government long before it was open political party rhetoric. I may not have come on a boat or escaped war and may have a life 100x more privileged than those who did, but I am an immigrant nonetheless. And several times over at that – born on the African continent and raised in 3 different Caribbean countries before coming to England nearly 30 years ago to continue my education. When I got that education, all 7 years of it, I thought I’d go back ‘home’, though looking back I don’t think I really knew which home I was referring to. Other immigrants will understand this; I felt as if I had one foot here with the other foot kind of flicking between Zimbabwe and The Bahamas, occasionally straying to Jamaica.

This year, 2018, was the first time England had made it this far into the World Cup championship since 1990. No one can forget that day, 28 years ago, when England faced Germany in the semi-finals. I was 2 years in by then and had reluctantly accepted that England was not all roses and cheery skipping through lavender-filled fields in the countryside or eating daintily-cut sandwiches and cakes washed down with tea at 4pm. Not for us immigrants anyway – it was cold, hardly snowed, rained a lot, and the British, who I had only known to live happily in our sunny climes, didn’t really want us in their temperate ones. There was always one who woke up with the sole intent of making that very clear to any passing brown-skinned person.

The conflicting existence of immigrant life

Anyway back to World Cup 1990 – Italia90 as it was called. That was also the year that Cameroon was the first African country to dazzle on the  world football stage. No matter where you were from, once you were black, you supported Cameroon. When they were knocked out, you supported any other team but England. The history of the dysfunctional relationship between the colonial land and our homes was very much alive and coupled with the way we were still being treated in the 20th century, it would have been high treason on all levels to support England, especially in the North of England where I was, where racial tolerance was, well, not tolerated.

It was during that ill-fated semi-final match that I had the first of many lessons on the conflicting emotions of the immigrant life. I didn’t want England to win but it wasn’t because I wanted Germany to win. No one liked Germany. But as an immigrant, you just could not support England.

For me though, having been exposed to so many cultures – yes, the Caribbean countries are very different – yet raised with the utmost African pride, I was inclined to be tolerant. At university, I had friends from all over the world including all 4 countries of Great Britain. I was curious about and wanted to enjoy this country. I wanted to feel a part of it, explore it, taste it, in the same way that I had done Guyana, Jamaica and The Bahamas, and in the same way I would do with Zimbabwe as an adult.  Even though England really didn’t care much about having me here, I, all of us immigrants in my circle anyway, still wanted to be part of English society. What all that meant was that I did empathise with the frustration that the English felt over not having won the cup since 1966 where they’d also faced Germany. When that 1990 final came to a penalty shoot-out where Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their shots, ensuring England’s misery for another 4 years, I felt a tug in my chest, but the immigrant rule was that you never supported the coloniser. You just didn’t. Period.

In the months and years after, we all watched the fall from grace of several players from that squad, we all mocked the decline of English football and we all lost faith in the England team ever winning anything, ever. Six years later, at the UEFA Euro96 tournament, it was another semi-final, another penalty shoot-out in another match with Germany. This time, the penalties went to sudden death and this time the protagonist was Gareth Southgate. His public slaughter by us all and the media that was tragic. Apparently even his own mother asked him why he hadn’t hit the ball harder. But, here is the first reason why 28 years later, I supported England in the semi-final World Cup match against Croatia – #GarethSouthgate.

All hail #Gareth Southgate

 

Southgate daily express

Image courtesy of GETTY via http://www.express.co.uk

When he was appointed manager of the England Team, I silently applauded him. And to learn that this wasn’t some random selection was really inspiring. He had nursed himself back quietly and deftly, had clearly worked hard and was smart. He’d led the Junior England team to U-17 World Cup victory in 2017 after all. You see, we immigrants  know about being smart, working hard, quietly and deftly – we do it all the time, with our eyes closed, so we appreciate it when we see it another.

Besides, who doesn’t like a come-back? And Gareth’s is the mother of all comebacks. Because really, no one should have survived that battering he got after missing that penalty shot 22 years ago, yet he did. It’s a mother of a comeback because he not only dared to get an English squad back to where it was all those years ago, but also journeyed back to look his demons square in the face. On the face of it, to go back where you seemingly failed, is a kind of courage we don’t see much these days. But he is of that special generation, the 70s babies. We are a special breed because we hold on to our old school values but not so tightly as to let them limit us, continuously harking back to the past. We use them to quietly and deftly make sense of the chaos that seemingly reigns in today’s age; we use them to help guide the generation after us as they navigate through their chaos; we use them to go back to basics when faced with challenges, yet are still able to appreciate and utilise the new rules and tools of 21st century society; and we use them to go out on a limb, take chances because sometimes you have to do things differently to get a different result.

The rehabilitation of English footie

england-world-cup-goal-2-1

Image courtesy of: https://wdef.com/2018/07/11/world-cup-2018-england-vs-croatia-semifinal-odds-lines-expert-picks-and-top-insider-predictions/

And here is the second reason I supported England in the World Cup semi-final. #GarethSouthgate went out on a limb. One thing that we immigrants are acutely aware of and have experienced at one point or another is being passed over for that job or promotion when you are more than qualified, all because you don’t look right. We will all tell you that one reason England has performed so poorly over the past 28 years is that the managers didn’t always pick the best players – and many of the best players are black. There was a time when the English squad simply looked ridiculous as it nowhere near reflected what you’d see in Sunday leagues up and down the country – diversity. On top of that #GarethSouthgate chose players from some real underdog clubs, like Leicester City, as opposed to those from the big guns, the likes of Chelsea et al. He chose players he knew could play well, were hungry and truly represented the best of England and that was all that mattered.

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Image courtesy of http://edomshow.com/england-vs-croatia-world-cup-2018-live-updates/

In a way he has rehabilitated football and allowed us brown people to be a part of it. In 1990, you’d never see us in a pub, at a bar, or any public congregation to watch football. You’d be watching it safe and sound at home. But in 2018, we’re actually venturing to watch it outside of our living rooms! I had to run some errands for the first  30 minutes of the match, so at a traffic light, I shouted out to a bunch of people outside a drinking hole, asking for the score. Who shouted it back at me? A Nigerian man having a cigarette break, whilst an Indian man, also puffing on a fag, was hurriedly making his way into the pub to get stuck in. That would not have been possible 30 years ago, so thank you #GarethSouthgate.

‘Our lads done good’

The third reason I supported England in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia is one that must be a wake-up call for all of us – our children. My son is a Londoner, born and bred. He is proud of his triple heritage, but this is his home, regardless of where mummy and daddy are from. Like a true Brit, he eats, sleeps and breathes  football – he’s getting ready to be vice-captain of the school team, plays for a local club, plays it on his Xbox and plays it on his phone. He collects football boots – literally all his last birthday vouchers were spent on them. He lines them up perfectly and reverently nearly every day.

His boots

He collects football kits; on a family holiday to Portugal his only objective when shopping was to get the full Ronaldo No 7 Portuguese kit. He asked the taxi-driver from the airport if he knew Ronaldo (incidentally he did, because his brother-in-law worked in Ronaldo’s restaurant, and so the theme for the 1h drive was set).When he goes out, all he really wants to wear is one of his kits or a tracksuit. He hates the Spanish football team because they are mortal enemies of the team – Portugal – of his favourite player – Ronaldo. He can’t walk anywhere without kicking something to show off his skills. He loves the French team because they are really good, and probably because he adores his au pairs – all of whom have been French. But England is his team because this is his country and he plans to play for them one day.

So could I really support Croatia as I would have done if it was 28 years ago? No. Did I want to? Honestly, a part of me nearly did, out of habit, but today, it wasn’t about me and my immigrant loyalties because the rules were different, the air was filled with hope, the stars were aligned for victory and the stakes were higher. As immigrant parents of children born in the diaspora, we at some point must put aside our conflicting emotions about our dual existence for the sake of our children. We must also work to reverse the intolerance that they will at some point have to face. This means we arm them with the tools to stand up squarely to that intolerance, no hesitation, no apology because this is their home. It also means we appropriately help them affirm their position and their rights to be a part of British society, a society into whose fabric football is tightly woven. It therefore made sense, whether wholeheartedly, symbolically or sympathetically to support their national team, our national team.

So ‘you done good lads’, ‘you done us proud’. ‘Engerland, Engerland.’

Now bring #Euro2020 home!

 

england-squad

Image courtesy of inews.co.uk

 

 

Conversation With…Michael’s Styles

This blog post has also been picked up by The Voice Online here: http://voice-online.co.uk/article/meet-londoner-using-hair-and-beauty-educate-youth

Michael Roberts is the owner of Michael’s Styles, a salon and hair academy in Willesden High Road, North London. Last summer, he ran a six-week programme called Save a London Life as his proactive response to the increase in violent crime perpetrated by young people in the capital. The programme recruited 20 teenagers to weekly classes in hairdressing and beauty; it was so successful that he will run the programme again this year but needs our help. He has started a gofundme page to raise £10 000 for this year’s project.

 

 

Michael's Styles

Michael Roberts, Owner of Michael’s Styles & Founder of Save A London Life

Michael, what inspired you to start Save a London Life?

 

The level of violence amongst our young people last year was too much for me and I felt that I had to do something. I looked around my neighbourhood and asked myself, ‘what are we doing, especially as business owners and entrepreneurs, for these young people?’ Something had to be done. And now this year, things seem worse, so I must do this again and make it bigger and better.

How does Save a London Life work?

The programme will start in July and run for 6 weeks as it did last year. It’s open to any young person who simply wants something to do. They sign up to weekly classes at the salon where they will be taught hairdressing, styling and beauty techniques. I am currently recruiting professionals in the industry and have recently confirmed the services of a nail technician. There is homework too so this is a serious thing!

At the end of the programme, each student will be awarded a certificate of achievement at a presentation ceremony. They will also receive a basic level qualification that they can use as a foundation for further education should they wish to do so.

I think this ceremony is important not just for the show, but also because it celebrates achievement.  We need to celebrate these young people – it makes them confident which in term helps them make positive choices.

What else will the programme offer?

In actual fact, someone questioned why I was doing something that most colleges offer for free anyway. Well first, this programme is also free! The salon and the programme will provide a safe environment for that youngster who for whatever reason doesn’t feel safe in their own environment.

The other thing these days is that a lot of teens don’t have basic skills around etiquette and communication and building relationships. We will teach them to answer a phone call not with ‘Yeah’, but with ‘How can I help you?’ And then of course, we will show them how to dress and carry themselves professionally. The idea is that we will teach them a range of skills that will hopefully help prepare them for the adult world. We will also offer group therapy sessions where they can all just be open with each other and us and share.

 

The Academy 1.1

Save a London Life Academy Students, 2017

 

How was last year’s programme received?

It went really well! Really, really well. We would have had more students but were limited by space. Let me put it this way, some of our students want to come back this year.

What is one thing you want to achieve with Save a London Life?

One thing? If I can save one life that will of course be the greatest achievement. Just getting one child off the street, making sure their parents know where they are, that’s something too. And of course if we can unlock someone’s potential, pique their interest in something, to perhaps become an entrepreneur in their own right in whatever field they choose, then we’ve done good!

 What support have you had so far?

As I mentioned, we are starting to secure volunteers to teach but we still need more. Last year the Brent and Kilburn Times ran a story on the programme and hopefully this year they will do the same and help spread the word. I am also hopeful that Brent Council will support us too. However, we definitely need more help. Interestingly, I have contacted several leading figures in London who you would think are interested in supporting causes like this, but have had no response.

 So what else do you need?

Gosh! What don’t we need? It would be good to have more space to accommodate more people. We nearly did get that extra space last year but things fell through at the last minute though that didn’t stop us as we still went ahead in my space.

Right now we need a barber, products, tools – combs, shampoos, tongs – and uniforms. I’d like the students to wear black tees and trousers. It will be great for anyone with the right skills can give their time to teach these youngsters. And of course funds. I have set up a gofundme page to raise £10 000 that we can use to purchase equipment and tools.

Who is Michael Roberts? What qualifies you to do this?

I was born in Northwest London and grew up in Stonebridge so I know what it’s like to live in the so-called ghetto. As a youngster, I was very mischievous I won’t lie. I was actually labelled as a troublemaker and sent to a special school called Vernon House at the time. My life was not easy by any means, especially as a gay, black man in London in the 80s and 90s! But this is my home and I must give back to my community.

In all that mischief, I knew what I wanted to do though. I was good at cooking and I loved to do hair. At the age of 14 I was teaching catering, and I went on to become a qualified chef, cooking professionally for 5 years. After that, I followed my second passion, hairdressing, and here I am.

Through all your challenges as a youngster, what kept you going?

First, I always knew what I was good at. I was confident about that. Secondly, my family knew what I was good at and in their way supported me. They knew that with Michael, their hair would get done, so they’d look good and eat good at the same time!

 

To help raise funds for Save a London Life, go to: https://uk.gofundme.com/michaelstylestomorow

 

For more details on the programme, contact Michael Roberts on

michaelroberts186@hotmail.com or michael@michaelstyles.co.uk

Tel: 07956671242; 02088303579

 

Michael’s Styles, 186 High Rd, London NW10 2PB

http://michaelstyles.org.uk/index.html

IG: michaelstyles186 – https://www.instagram.com/michaelstyles186/?hl=en

 

 

Time to Do Something

To read the sensational headline that London now had a murder rate higher than New York City (NYC) was shocking. And sensational it was, because that statement actually pertained to the last 2 months of 2018, bearing in mind we are only in month 4; in February, London recorded 15 murders whilst NYC recorded 11; in March 2018: London, 22 and NYC, 21. Were these really margins that warranted the screaming headlines across the front pages and our TV screens? When you look back over the last 3 years at least, London’s murder rate has been well below 1/3rd that of NYC’s, and London still remains a lot safer than a whole load of other cities around the world. So what really is the significance of this statistic?

Well, the significance has been hotly debated in the last week…again, and that is that 35 of the 48 murders so far have involved stabbings and pretty much all of these stabbings have involved young black men. By the time you read this, the figures 35 and 48 will be out of date. We have been talking about knife crime perpetrated by young black men for at least the past 5 years (and behind closed doors for much longer), but each year it just gets uglier and uglier and hurts more and more. I ask myself why it hurts so much, because obviously the vast majority of young black boys are actually leading the lives of normal teenagers, supported by loving families and friends.

The situation is significant and we debate it because no child deserves to die, especially violently, no matter their race or background. With each and every young person that is denied their potential, we are compromising the future of our society. That one death impacts not only that child’s family, but also their peers, their teachers and anyone who has worked to prepare them for their life ahead. Whether we feel it or not, a little bit of society dies with the death of a child.

 

Why do something?

We also debate it because it raises some pretty ugly goings-on in our world: the life of ‘the hidden’ who have no status and are exploited not only by a particularly vicious type of criminal that preys on vulnerable youngsters but also by legal agencies that should provide protection; dysfunctional or non-existent parenting that in some cases is wilful, but in most, is a legacy of the long-standing decay in family life that actually pervades across social strata – some simply have no idea how to parent, and not just black parents either; community politics that has transformed into career politics where politicians work for themselves as opposed to working for their electorate; a society increasingly devoid of empathy for the ‘have-nots’ and which takes great pleasure in marginalising those ‘have-nots’ along racial and social lines.

I think we have debated the issues long enough to know that the situation we find our community in has been borne out of many factors. We’re pretty much past pointing fingers and apportioning blame now though. We can still point if we want to, but it’s probably time walk up to the problems and simply deal with them. Forget the ones we can’t control for now and start with the ones we can do something about. A start may be to just seek to understand the way in which our world has evolved to land us in this mess. Even for those of us that live a ‘cushy’ life where none of these issues ever enter our sphere, whenever children are dying, we must make it our business to engage.

Like many parents of a young black boy in London, I am increasingly aware of how he is already perceived by those around him, many of whom won’t even know him. Whilst the saying goes, ‘what people think of you is not your business’, in this situation, it is our business because the consequences of those skewed perceptions can lead us down a path we should not have to tread. And even if I or you may not be the one that treads that path, either of us may have to take that walk with someone we care about. And trust me, I know, it’s not a stroll in a lavender-filled meadow. That thought alone compels me to engage and do something and surely that must go for all of us, whoever and wherever we are.

 

What is your something?

My something is words – putting them together to tell a story. My other something is connecting people. My other, other something is seeking knowledge. I am going to put together all my somethings and throw them out there under the guidance of the Spirit. One thing that has consistently come up in the many conversations I have been a part of in the last week is that there are many individuals and collectives who are doing so much to address many of the problems that have come to the fore. And, there are many who want to do their something. So why not bring everyone together?

Over the next few days or weeks or however long it takes, I will connect those who are doing with those who want to do. When the idea came to mind, I realised that actually, many of these folk are already in my contacts list. So this was pre-ordained! Starting tomorrow, I will share stories of the many good works that some amazing individuals are already doing, and some of the eye-opening conversations we have had. If you think you can help them in any way, I urge you to do so. If it inspires you to do your something, even better!

 

Fear Not For He Runs With You

 

Bible VerseI have been running pretty much since I was 12 years old, on and off, but very much on for the last 15 years. Even ran the Virgin London Marathon in April 2010, a defining moment for any human being. Preparing for my 5 hours and 26 minutes of personal glory meant training through rain, sleet, snow and ice over the months of December to February, then revelling in the changing of the seasons as winter made way to spring.

 

The dreaded winter runs

Yet every year, I absolutely dread starting my winter runs. I mean really dread. I am a child of the sun through and through, born in Zimbabwe and raised across the Caribbean. How I have survived nearly 30 years in England is anyone’s guess. But that’s another story.

For the past 2 weeks, since the clocks went back and the temperatures dipped, I have found every reason why I couldn’t and shouldn’t run: It’s too dark so it’s not safe. Got to get to work extra early today so no time to run. I’m just getting over a cold (which finished 3 weeks ago). I didn’t lay my clothes out last night and it’s going to take too long to find them. I’ll go tomorrow. I really can’t be bothered.

Then I realised that all week I had been fearful of a lot of stuff. I was worrying about my parents’ health even though they were actually chilled about things. I was getting wound up about my son’s seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards preparing for his entry exams in 2 months, even though he was obsessed with getting into high school. A couple big projects at work just weren’t progressing quickly enough and so I was actually dreading even looking at them. I was putting off having a conversation with a really challenging individual about their really challenging attitude and now I was avoiding them altogether. I was feeling pretty below par all week, then started getting annoyed with myself as really my life was nothing to be miserable about at all, especially considering the crap a whole load of other people have to face.

 

Fear of failure

Then as I started my morning devotions today the penny dropped…and made a loud clang. First of all the title of today’s ‘UCB’s Word For Today’ devotional was about exactly what I had been experiencing all week: fear. And the first few sentences read:

‘Let’s take a look at some of our most common fears and how we can overcome them. Fear of Failure. This is the most common fear of all, and it keeps us from fulfilling any vision God may give us.’

I hadn’t run properly for about 3 weeks and it was now all dark and cold and wet and yucky. I was fearful of the pain from the blast of the freezing air on my cheeks, the vasospasm of the blood vessels in my fingertips even through my lined gloves and the resistance of my thighs as I willed them to step up, move fast and get it all over and done with. I was fearful of not being able to comfortably finish a run after my 3-week hiatus. I had totally forgotten the lesson that God had taught me all those years ago as He had given me the strength, the will, the resilience and the stubbornness to train in some of the harshest weather there was to achieve my personal goal. He had shown me the stuff I was made of and here I was essentially disrespecting how far He had brought me – way beyond a 3-miler through the ‘burbs in 7ºC.

How often had I worked through tasks that seemed impossible just by taking a step back, a deep breath in and a moment in prayer? And really my father’s blood pressure was really not that high and a second week of monitoring as suggested by a doctor who was objective about it was ok. And as for my son, he was after all a), only 9, b), confident he could do it, c), left with 8 whole weeks of prep, and d), actually doing this a whole year earlier to see if he was ready. On top of that, hadn’t we already prayed  for his success? And I won’t even mention the really deep valleys that He, our Creator, had lifted me and others up from, and to a higher plane each and every time.

 

Step out in faith

I was spending a lot of time being fearful of stuff that I had already dealt with yet had fallen into the trap that we all easily do – that default setting of self-doubt and thus forfeiting our faith. So I read on and meditated on the Word: ‘They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.’  – Psalm 112:7. I prayed as per the devotional: ‘Ask God to remove any fear you may feel of not being good enough. Thank Him that He loves and accepts us just as we are, while inspiring us to improve.’

The devotional went on: ‘Using the gifts God has given you, step out and take a risk based on faith, trusting Him for success.’

And so I stepped out. I set my Nike+ Run Club app to a 2 mile run but when the time was up, I was just warming up so I carried on and ended up doing 4.7 miles. Whilst I was running, divine inspiration came and I worked out this absolutely cracking introduction to a presentation in 2 days’ time. When I got back, 9-year-old was done with homework and was enthusiastic about practicing an exam paper which he completed in good time. And his score, with 7 weeks to go, means if he carries on at this pace, he’ll ace it…and his parents’ purse strings will remain tight for another 6 years. But that’s cool because if we step out, ‘You will have good success’ – Joshua 1:8.’

As for my being a little unsatisfied/unhappy/grumpy all week, well the endorphin rush fixed all that. However, as my little book of ‘Everyday Happiness – 365 Ways to a Joyful Life’ says for today, November 12th:

 

Book of Happiness

May we be all encouraged to step out in faith for guaranteed success in all we do – big or small!

 

 

 

Zimbabwe at 37: Independent We Are Not

On April 18th 1980 Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, marking the end of a brutally racist white regime and the return of African rule. All that was wrong with our country supposedly became right.

Happy-Independence-Day-2017-Zimbabwe-Images-Wallpapers-Photos-Pictures

Image from: http://independenceday2017images.com/happy-independence-day-2017-zimbabwe-images-wallpapers-photos-pictures.html

 

Today Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of independent rule. This year more than any other, the proclamation rings hollow, because independent we are not and the only thing to celebrate is the bravery and boldness of those who sacrificed much in the run up to, and since 1980.

I remember independence year like it was yesteryear. My family was living in Jamaica at the time, alongside a whole load of other Zimbabwean expatriates, who had been flung to all corners of the earth by the oppressive and racist white regime of Ian Smith. We attended a ceremony to celebrate the occasion, and even as a 7-year-old, the significance of the moment was not lost on me. The adults were really serious, more serious than funeral serious as up until then, for me, funeral serious was the most serious anyone or anything could be. So this was big. When they sang the new national anthem, the pride in their voices was audible, and the emotion in their souls was palpable.

In my adult years, I came to know that many of the adults that day including my father, had left Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some had left part-way through a higher education that their uneducated parents had sacrificed much for them to gain. Others had left families, dead and alive. But none, including both my parents, had left without the hope that one day they could return home, free, to resume their interrupted lives, and rebuild the nation they had fought for.

The Pre-independence Years

In my adult years I think back to my childhood, my pre-independence childhood, in rural Rhodesia. In my little world, with my extended family, it was a happy and safe world. But, intriguingly, all the images and memories of that time are always covered in a grey cloud, literally. There is no colour. I figured out that this cloud represented the soldiers that lurked everywhere whenever we went into town. Big white soldiers, with red faces, dirty blond hair, mean mouths and big guns held up against their green army fatigues. They watched our every move and made sure we didn’t go into the stores we weren’t supposed to shop in or the restaurants we weren’t supposed to eat in. To this day I feel nauseous at the sight of anything, absolutely anything, with the pattern of those fatigues whether green, grey or blue.

In my adult years I think back to my uncle, my youngest maternal uncle, a true ‘army vet(eran).’ He ran away at 14-years old or so to join the freedom fighters. I now imagine how heartbroken my grandparents who raised me and numerous other cousins must have felt, not knowing the whereabouts of their youngest child. They never showed us that heartbreak, or even fear for that matter, not even on the night that the white soldiers burst into our kitchen, pointing their big guns at my grandmother, probably demanding that she tell them where her son was.

In my adult years, when you hear of the brutality of civil wars across the globe, I now know that we survived that time purely by grace, My uncle did come home. I have yet to hear the story of how he turned up, but though he must have seen some very ugly things he came back with more joie de vivre than I remember him disappearing with. I saw him every time I went back on vacation; every time until 1996. That was the last time I saw him alive. He had survived a brutal war only to die, one day before Zimbabwe turned 17, at the hands of a regime equally inhumane, an African-led government that failed to respond to the AIDS epidemic, waging war, this time against its own.

Modern-day Warfare

Today that war rages on with different rules of engagement, but a war nonetheless. The shops and restaurants may now be open to all, but far from all can pay for anything therein. The country has run out of money for the 2nd time in 10 years and this time round the government issues a worthless currency, saving the real money for themselves of course. No one who holds a decent job gets paid at the end of the month, any month in fact. To get paid you need to run a hustle or be connected to someone in power. And the icing on the cake, those same people in power say it’s okay to use goats – as in livestock goats – to pay for school fees, while they use the country’s money to fund their children’s education at elite schools around the world.

There is no infrastructure: if you have water and electricity at the same, by default you must be living in the presidential residence. The best roads are at the airport to impress visitors or in the president’s constituency. The capital city is a shadow of its former self. The offspring of the wealthy elite boast that they have never set foot in Harare – way below their worth to do so.

In 2017, any voice of dissent is shut down, imprisoned or disappears. Worse still, the masses are so broken that they have no faith in anyone who stands up to the regime. Where are the leaders in waiting? Not allowed and nowhere to be seen. When they do manage to rise, they somehow falter as there is no fertile ground for their growth.

Today, a Facebook friend posted a video of part of the Independence Day proceedings in Zimbabwe. A procession of middle-aged men, surrounding one very old man, shuffles along to the beat of a brass band playing what I call afro-imperialist music – dreary, overbearing, repetitive, with bars reminiscent of the old colonial days, trumpets on the verge of screeching and drums too loud. These are the ruling elite, Zimbabwe’s new oppressors. Fatigues have been replaced by suits and the weapon of choice is now the dollar. Their mouths remain mean but now their faces are black and their heads bald. There isn’t a woman or young person in sight. Everyone is serious, funeral serious, because this time round there is everything to mourn and nothing to be proud of.

Zimbabwe at 37 – independent she is not.

Zimbabwe_Independence_Celebrations_45967

Image from: http://www.heraldonline.com/news/business/article145176029.html

 

 

Women’s Day 2017…or is it 1720?

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate, according to the IWD website https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About, ‘the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.’ As the day draws to a close, I have to admit that I am a little ambivalent about what progress has really been made with regards to gender equality…and in fact ‘gender everything’ ever since the modern revolution of women’s rights started back in the 1900s. This question weighs heavily on my mind not just today, though I can’t say it does so every day either, but often enough for me to be compelled to blog about it on our special day, when all I really should be doing is catching up on some sleep!

Theoretically a woman like me – aged 44, with a privileged upbringing as my niece-in-law described it over the last family weekend (and not privileged as in ‘moneyed’ either, much more and pricelessly so), with my own family albeit not in the conventional, ‘married-with-2.4-white picket fence’ sense, with parents still alive and fighting fit, in a profession with the perfect balance of job satisfaction and challenges that stretch the intellect, able to make time to get my hustle on and tick off my bucket list – should be patting herself on the back with all her female relatives and friends in the same boat, or thereabouts, about how good we have it.

This past month alone though, I found myself wondering why I was the only woman in not an insignificant number of meetings of late; why at several high profile celebrity events, all the noise and hype was around male achievement when there were some ground-breaking contributions by women in the same time period; why in 2017, a young man in Australia feels it’s reasonable to imprison a woman for nearly 2 months subjecting her to what appears to be a brutalizing regime of rape and beatings (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/08/uk-backpacker-raped-held-captive-australia-out-of-hospital); why the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland cannot just admit to its appalling and inhumane treatment of young mothers and their children and allow their souls to rest in peace (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/07/catholic-church-children-buried-at-tuam-ireland); and why a father is more insulted by his daughter’s murderous breakdown as a result of sexual exploitation, than by the fact that it was his own friend who subjected the daughter to such, with intentions of moving on to his other daughter (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37683927) . And I wonder about the multiplication factor that would be applied to all of these incidences, because they are not isolated by any means.

As each year passes, and more so this year, I cannot help but think of the millions of women all over the world whose lives do not reach their full potential whether it’s personally, for their families or their communities, simply because the laws governing their locality say that they are not worthy. I think of the hundreds of thousands of women who go missing every year into black holes of sexual and other forms of slavery. I think of those who are disowned by those endowed with the title of ‘family’ simply because they do not conform to the rules of their society that are designed to suppress their very essence, their womanhood. I think of those women in areas of conflict – including the conflicts we don’t hear about – who cannot be the mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives, girlfriends and comforters that they are meant to be and just want to be. It is mind-boggling to me that the men and other women who subjugate women like this, do mankind an indescribable disservice. Without mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, wives and girlfriends who are valued in the true sense of the word, society will eventually cease to function. This is not to proclaim superiority over men – but God did not create man alone.

Whenever I get around to reading historical accounts of women in society I often wonder where it all went wrong. The tales of ancient and some recent civilizations indicate that women at one point, long long ago, had a much higher standing in society. Then for reasons outside the scope of a late night blog like this, it slowly but surely fell apart. Fell so far apart that at the core of it, when all the glitter and glitz and gloss is peeled back, when you delve into the psyche of society, I must ask, is womanhood in 2017 any different from what it was in 1720? If one were to plot some extrapolation of gender progress over time and do some mathematical corrections that take into account changes in the key societal factors which are converted into some numerical value, would we see an exponential or even at least a linear growth in women’s standing in society? I suspect it will be far from either.

Perhaps what is the more important driving factor for gender equality is not how society defines us, but how we as women define ourselves. We now have a voice that most but not all choose to listen to, and we are using that voice now more than ever before. Already this year, women around the world, many who didn’t really need to, marched in their millions against a misogynistic President – not that he is the only one of his kind mind you. With that voice we are redefining ourselves, or actually, let me phrase that correctly, reclaiming our original and intended definition of ourselves, with the intention of marching forward, side-by-side with men, in all our womanly glory.

IWD Logo for blog

 

Dear Mr and Mrs Obama

Thank you.

For encouraging Change

For reminding us that Yes We Can

For encouraging us to reclaim Hope

For showing us that if you go higher when they go lower, it’s a win-win, though really the win is mostly ours and not so much theirs

For allowing our children to grow up knowing that if a black man runs the ‘free world’, it’s no biggie – when they grow up, if they want to do the same, or anything else for that matter, they can

For showing the rest of the world that not only does functional love exist between a black man and a black woman, it is actually the reality for the majority of us

For validating the black family…and how central grandma is to that family

For shutting down the angry black woman thing

For putting the ‘respeck’ back in the black man’s name

For showing the world that it’s quite normal to be articulate, educated, high achievers who are dynamic and inclusive, grow vegetables, love hip-hop and basketball, have beach holidays in Hawaii with ripped abs when they’re nearly 50, hug the Queen, give us shoulder goals, and keep their child away from the presidential farewell celebrations because said child has an exam the following day…and be black at the same time

For your impeccable style and grace

For giving us back our confidence

For inspiring an entire planet

For showing white people that they can indeed pronounce an African name if they just r-e-a-d out the l-e-t-t-e-r-s as they are wr-i-tt-e-n

For showcasing your culture and bringing others together

For not getting embroiled in some scandal – of course you are not perfect, we just haven’t seen your imperfections – but we thank you for giving us a breather on the shenanigans because chances are we will now get plenty of that

For, merely as a result of your presence in the White House, exposing the racial hypocrisy in your nation

For making us all proud.

 

Because it’s not always about giving people what is expected

Some wanted you to create predictable radical social-political change in your country: ‘fix all of black people’s problems’

But the roots, and there are plenty, of those problems were never going to be upturned with a two-term dig of the shovel by one hu-man

Your soil doesn’t allow that

Sometimes leadership is about sowing a seed

It’s about leading by example, re-igniting the self-worth of those that bestowed upon you the privilege of being a leader

So that ‘they’ remember that the soil belongs to them too

That kind of awakening psyches ‘them’ out, makes ‘them’ do weird things like choosing an Orange President

But the combination of being ‘woke’ on one side and going ‘weird’ on the other has potential

Potential to open the door for what you proclaimed way back in 2008, A Change We (All) Need.

 

Do keep in touch Barack and Michelle. And by the way do a little something later for Sasha please; it really wasn’t her fault she had an exam…

 

Yours,

 

One Really Proud Black Woman

 

The reality is…a reality TV star is the 45th POTUS

When all is said and done, that is the reality right?

I feel the need to add my 2-pence in with a lengthy blog on Donald Trump becoming the 45th POTUS, but in reverence to my renewed drive for increased efficiency, ‘work smart not hard/kill 2 birds with one stone’ mentality, I will insert the link to my rant after Brexit here – https://lalulaworld.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/an-unexpected-br-exit/ -, because essentially these 2-pence can easily be put towards the current situation. A few modifications here and there to make it US-centric, but the principles underlying this seismic fall-out remain the same – disillusionment, delusion, disenfranchisement, modern-day feudalism coming to roost, hatred and dirty nasty ‘politricks’.

Nevertheless, I will add a PS to the original rant, because you know, this occasion cannot pass without that.

PS.

When we look back over the last century to now, has there ever been a POTUS that wasn’t in some way a creation of America’s imagination, a caricature or a character of some sort. Some had valid qualifications for the job yes, but one thing they all have had in common is that at some point, when the cameras stopped rolling, the illusion became apparent – a contradiction of terms yes but that is the ‘reality’ that is America – an apparent illusion.

optical-illusion

Image from:

http://tabithaannthelostsock.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/optical-illusion-american-flag.html

 

 

Let’s start with whom most of us are familiar with. Wasn’t John F Kennedy though genial, a carefully crafted vehicle for his father’s obsession with power and glory? Then throw in his love for the fast life that was Hollywood, hanging with the mob and side-chicks. Perfect concoction for good TV.

Lyndon B Johnson had an honourable track record for his attempts to restore civil rights, but known to be someone who could change his personality to suit the occasion.

Richard M Nixon, Watergate says it all. The ultimate baddie.

Gerald Ford to be fair didn’t really choose to be President, but his intellectual capability for the job was questionable especially being an ex-football player. Only in America does a football player rise to the Presidency. And he pardoned Nixon.

Jimmy Carter was probably more successful as an ex-POTUS than a POTUS, so one has to ask ‘what did he do’ in the White House.

Ronald Reagan, though Governor of California before he became the 40th POTUS, let’s face it, was a Hollywood actor. He could therefore play any role asked of him. He is the reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger thought he could do the same but he forgot that Trump’s America does not like foreigners, especially those that actually sound like a foreigner; and Ronald Reagan is also why Will Smith went through a phase of joking about how he too could transition from actor to POTUS (or maybe that was the media creating something).  Today though, we know where those bad jokes can lead a nation.

Ah, then we enter the Bush era that gave way to the 41st and 43rd Presidents. An oil-rich dynasty that got into the White House to make themselves and their Texan buddies more millions than they already had through war-mongering. All under the guise of serving their country, waging a war on terrorism, using God as justification for bad behaviour.

Bill Clinton is one of the most liked and most charming and most popular POTUS’, who despite being impeached and displaying misogynistic tendencies of tremendous magnitude, and in the process contributing to his wife’s defeat in today’s election, is still liked and charming and popular. Typical reality TV star – incorrigible character, but you still love him.

Barack Obama. As a black woman, I will never deny the importance of his position as the 44th POTUS and how much it means that our children can grow up knowing that a Black man can hold that position and that it’s not a big deal for a Black man to hold that position. But I am under no illusion that his public image is probably a well-crafted one, and that one day, it may all come out in the wash. Most of us still admire him and Michelle though – that is reality TV – we take what makes us feel good even if it’s not real.

PPS. Be a part of the reality show

So we must not lament yesterdays’s episode because it’s part of the storyline. As more seriously put in this piece I came across as I searched for a meaning behind the madness, this is how the world works – https://medium.com/@theonlytoby/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next-with-brexit-trump-a3fefd154714#.1z8d5jkpm. History repeats itself, the same characters are thrown up in different guises and the plot follows a time-tested formula.

All we now need to do is decide what character we will play and play that character well. Become a part of history, a history our children can look back on and draw inspiration from when their turn comes up in the next round of calamity.

Because right now, just being a spectator is not going to cut it.