Conversation With…Lesley Osei, Contracts Manager for Children and Adult Social Services, Southwark Council

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Lesley Osei studied Neurosciences at Baites College in Maine, USA, graduating in 2005 and is a Contracts Manager for Children and Adult Social Services with Southwark Council.

She is the eldest of 5 children born to Ghanaian refugees who moved to England in the 1980s, a mother of 2 and a Pastor’s wife.

Finally, we get to have this conversation! What does your work involve?

I’m responsible for ensuring contract and performance management of a range of services for children, adults and families. These include care at home, supported housing, nursing home care, advocacy services, fostering, children leaving care, hostels for the homeless, services for children with special educational needs and children’s speech and language services.

With that, I oversee a large portfolio of contracts with a spend of over £80 million. Through leading a team of Contract Monitoring Officers and Business Support Officers, I ensure that we carry out inspections and that services are quality assured and held accountable against service specifications. I also represent the council on matters such as press releases, coroner’s enquiries, complaints, members enquiries and MPs enquiries. 

How did you get into this role?

I’ve worked in Southwark Council for 13 years, starting as an Administrative Officer, moving up to a Project Support Officer, then a Contracts Monitoring Officer until I was promoted to Contracts Manager. For this role, I had to compete with people I had worked with for some years and it was a bit awkward! But I was encouraged to apply so I had to give it my best shot and I got it. In between all these roles, I’d also been seconded to others meaning I got to expand my skill set and widen my network.

How has the provision of social care changed in the time you’ve been in the field?

It’s changed dramatically. There is now the concept of ‘personalisation’ meaning a shift away from institutionalised care as we try to keep more people living in their own homes and in the community, and less in care and nursing homes. The focus is on more tailored care, choice and control which is a really good concept.  

The challenge is that this is all happening in an austere financial climate, where we have seen several cuts to our budgets, meaning that services that people have enjoyed for years have had to be decommissioned.  We’ve had to rationalise and run contracts a lot more efficiently than in the past.

In terms of trends in services, we’ve seen a rise in mental health needs across all services from children, adults and older adults and sadly, a shocking increase in sexual assaults amongst and against vulnerable groups. We all speculate that the internet and social media may be having an impact on these emerging trends as well as increased awareness meaning that people can report these issues. The latter is of course a good thing. 

What’s great about your job?

Definitely the people! I have a great team of some of the nicest people you could ever know. We are quite a stable group, so we’ve worked together for many years.  The people you work with make a huge difference to your job and I work with some pretty amazing human beings who genuinely care for others. 

I also feel fulfilled, as it feels as though I’m giving back to the community that I grew up in. You know, Southwark was the first borough that welcomed my family when we moved to the UK as refugees from Ghana. I attended nursery and primary in the borough so lived here for most of my childhood before moving to Surrey. So, in many ways the area has shaped who I am today. 

What’s not so great about your job?

It can be quite stressful. There are lots of deadlines and the pressure to get things right can be heavy. Then, as you move up in the organisation there are some quite strong personalities! I guess it comes with more responsibility.

It sounds like your job can be intense! How do you unwind?

I unwind with music mostly, especially Hillsong Worship or artists like Joe Mettle, Travis Greene, Mary Mary, Lauren Daigle and Tasha Cobbs.

To be honest, I couldn’t do without prayer in the morning. I like praying with Cindy Trimm’s recorded prayers and I take part in a prayer army called MOGPA – based in Ghana – that you can join by radio or by phone. I enjoy spending time with God before my husband and kids get up in the morning. It’s a refreshing time that sets me up for the day.

You are a faithful Christian and a Pastor’s wife. How do you reconcile what you witness or hear with God’s hands on this earth?

Working in social services means you sometimes see the worst of humanity. We come across incidents where people are severely abused and neglected whether financially, physically, sexually and mentally. It’s enough to break your heart.

However, I also see the best of humanity, and it’s important to remember that there are thousands and thousands of people who care for others for free, going out of their way to help their families or others in need. I believe such people are God’s hands on this earth and I feel privileged that I too get to partner with them in their acts of service.

When I’m conducting investigations, giving service users a voice and seeking the best for the residents of Southwark, I’m working with God to restore people’s sense of worth and dignity. To do that for people who feel forgotten or disadvantaged is a blessing. There is nothing more rewarding than that.

©MolahMedia, 2019

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Conversation with…Elijah Frederick, Teenage Author

Elijah Frederick is the 13-year-old author of action-adventure book ‘Shifted Code’ launched in October 2018.

Before writing his book, Elijah was a junior blogger for the Obi & Titi series, a competition winner and contributor across a variety of publications.  His love for writing prompted him to ask the creator of Obi & Titi, Oyehmi Begho, for guidance on how to publish his first book; Oyehmi then mentored Elijah through the whole process.

‘Shifted Code’ is about Tadeo, a tormented genius who is isolated and excluded by everyone in his class. He is also bullied by the brawny Nathan, and his friends, and ends up being paired with him on a computing project. The victimized Tadeo must then deal with the misery of working with his nemesis.

Shifted Code Author Picture

Elijah Frederick, Author of Shifted Code

How old were you when you wrote your first story?

I was in Year 3, but my best memory of writing is from Year 4, when we literally had to write our own book. We had to design the front cover, write the blurb, everything, on our own. After that, my passion grew, and I started to read more.

What or who, or what and who, inspired you to write?

I think my Mum inspires me to write, because of her personality. She’s a very determined woman and is one of the main reasons why I kept on going and not drift away from writing my book. Writing a book can drag sometimes but with my Mum’s encouragement, I was determined to keep going.

She also took me to a lot of writing events and would show me videos of young authors, and we’d talk about them. I then thought, ‘if they can do it, then I can do it too.’

How do you fit in your writing with school and homework and all the things that a 13-year-old likes to do?

Well I have good time management skills, so I make time. My secondary school finishes quite early too, at 245pm, so I have time to get my homework done and relax then think about my stories.

 What other activities do you do?

Well I went to rugby club today and I quite enjoyed it! I really like to brainstorm ideas for stories. I like playing chess and draughts, and I like playing a little bit of blackjack – my Dad is a player. I like money games as well.

When you read, what kind of books do you like to read?

I like to read action and adventure mainly because of the characters and because there are so many plot twists. Anything can happen. The characters are unique too.

Shifted Code is an action and adventure novel, right? How did you come up the storyline?

The story started out with the main character getting sucked into a chess game but that was difficult to get around. So, because I like computer games, I thought why not create my own game that the character gets sucked into? Then I found that mixing action and adventure and my love for computer games worked.

How long did it take you to write the book?

It took me about 2-3 years, because I was still in primary school when I thought of the concept. The plot was altered a couple of times because we needed to make sure that it was right for the age group I was writing the book for.

Did anyone help you to write the book?

My Mum did as well as my mentor, one of the authors of Obi and Titi. I met him [Oyehmi Begho] at this book event that my Mum took me to and then I read the books. After that, I wrote a review on one of the books, we kept in touch and he became my mentor.

Have you got another book planned?

I’ve got ideas for a few books and I also have ideas for a sequel.

If a young boy came to you and said, ‘Elijah, I’m thinking about being a writer too,’ what are 3 pieces of advice you would give him?

I’d say to them – get in the environment of writing, never give up on writing, read books that you genuinely enjoy and use them to improve your vocabulary.

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Further Information:

Contact: Candice Bryan; Website: www.elijahfrederick.com; Email: info@elijahfrederick.com Phone: 07930 637 902

To order your copy, go to:

www.elijahfrederick.com

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

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

 

 

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!

 

 

 

My Father Taught Me How To….Run

One of my earliest and most enduring memories of my ‘Baba’ (Father in the Shona language of Zimbabwe) is of him in a pair of red running pants, bare-chested with an afro and a goatee beard, dripping with sweat after a run across the plains of our then home town – Buxton  in Guyana, around 1980. Wish I had that photo to post with this blog! Ever since that time, my Father’s running became a staple in our household wherever we lived. I often wondered why he did it and what he got from it. When we lived in the Bahamas in the mid-80’s, during the long summer holidays, we would often go out as a family to one of the local school sports fields for an early morning run. My Mother and Sister would walk, but I would run. In the late 80s when in his mid-30’s my Father started competing in road races and did his first marathon. He became really cool with his students even inspiring them to enter races, and cool with our neighbourhood friends too – I remember feeling quite proud, even through those difficult father-teenage daughter times!

Since my teens I have taken to the streets and parks, whatever part of the world I am in, on and off, to run. Without knowing it running became a staple of my life. At 33, probably around the same age as my Dad had done, I did my first road race and have not looked back since. I now know why my Father ran and what he got from it. Running is about self discipline and self reliance: you have a race coming up? – it’s up to you and you alone to get ready, pushing through rain, sleet or snow.  It’s about setting goals, working to achieve them and overcoming fear; though I loved running, I had never really pushed myself as far as I could as I can be a bit of a ‘girl’ when it comes to pain. But when I decided to run the marathon, train for it, and then do it, it confirmed that there was nothing I couldn’t do, provided I wanted to do it. Running is about a time for self-reflection – alone with your thoughts, hopes and aspirations, you have no choice but to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings, see a way to overcome them and get what’s yours. Pure and simple, my Father’s running gave me inspiration, one of the best gifts a parent can give a child, and one gift I hope I can give my child.

Today on Father’s Day, I say thank you to my Creator for giving me a Father who truly taught me how to run!