Just. Do. It.

It’s been a while since my last post.  I haven’t been slacking though, honest. I’ve been busy ticking things off my list.

IMAG2411Most recently, I ran the Great Manchester Run and achieved my goal of reaching 10K. (Hooray!) I finally see why some people get hooked on running as the buzz on finishing was immense. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of myself – yes lots of people run a lot further, but it was something I never imagined I’d do. It once again brought home to me a realisation that has been taking shape over the past couple of years – I can be my own worst enemy, and equally I can now kick that enemy’s ass when needs be.

Ever since I was a teenager I was convinced I wasn’t very athletic. There were all sorts of reasons for these assumptions – bullying PE teachers; a few of humiliating experiences trying to execute a forward roll; awkward encounters with the opposite sex stumbling through the Gay Gordons; gangly legs that seemed alien and too long for my body.

I convinced myself sporty activities weren’t for me – I wouldn’t be very good at them. I’d fail. And who likes to fail? Best not try.

I’ve discovered I really, really don’t like to fail. I’ll admit it, I’m scared of failing. It goes a lot deeper than just not wanting to try sport; it’s ingrained in all aspects of life. It has stopped me from trying to make friends (they might not like me), going for jobs (I’m not what they’re looking for), trying new things (I won’t be able to do it, I’d look stupid).

The irony of this is clear; all those missed opportunities are the failures. The failure to try – and usually because of how I’d look to others. I think it’s a common weakness that most of us have to some degree; the real challenge is how to overcome it.

The good news though is the answer is simple. Just. Do. It. (Nike have the right idea). I discovered ignoring my inner voice that has so much to say about failing is the best way to shut it up. Then after, I can have a word…

You said I couldn’t run 10K, but I did. What have you got to say about that now huh?! Nothing? Cat got your tongue?

Yes, it’s worrying I’m talking to myself. But I hope my point is clear – you’re not always right about what you assume you can and can’t do. I constantly surprise myself these days. I find myself at the top of mountains, speaking to strangers at tram stops, on planes to all sorts of places, dangling from a rope at great height, dancing the night away with people I’ve just met, and running over finishing lines.

10365829_10101446856766219_8436005759532134935_nPart of me thought I couldn’t do those things, and so when I do, it’s one in the face for my doubts. Each time I try and succeed, I chip away at my assumptions about what I can achieve. Even when it doesn’t work out as I hoped, I find the ‘failure’ is never as bad as I imagined. Trying new things becomes gradually less of an ordeal as the doubts have less substance and weight any more.

I’m sharing this not as a huge pat on the back to myself. I’m sharing this because sometimes I really wish others around me would discover this too. It’s a great gift to be free to do as I wish with less fear, and a gift I’d like to pass on. I often hear ‘I could never do that’, or ‘but you’re brave, I don’t have the confidence’. The question I’d throw back is – how do you know? It’s cheesy, but take a chance, grit your teeth, jump in and just do it.

International Women’s Day: why we need it

Upon hearing that International Women’s Day takes place tomorrow, a recently conversation with a male colleague sprang to mind. I hope he will forgive me for recounting this, but as we sat in a auditorium at the One Young World conference waiting to hear the first speaker talk about gender inequality, he leaned over and whispered “But it’s not a thing, is it?”. I was baffled – what could he mean? Had I missed the beginning of a conversation?

To my surprise, he was referring to gender inequality. Now, I’m aware that a lot of men, and probably some women, can have the misconception that women are now treated fair and square and have nothing to complain about, but I was still a little shocked to hear it said out loud by someone I felt should be better informed. Two minutes into the presentation (which incidentally was about surviving rape) he whispered again “I take it all back”. To defend my friend a little, I think he was drawing on his own life experiences and how far women have come. I would argue, however, that even in the UK we are a long way from true equality. Put “gender inequality is not a thing” into a world context – and it’s a plainly ridiculous statement.

Women have a raw deal across much of the globe. I could throw endless stats at you, but how about for starters:

  •  At least 1 in 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her.
  • More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated.
  • If current levels of child marriages hold, 14.2 million girls annually or 39,000 daily will be child brides.
  • In the UK, the gender pay gap is 15% – with women on average earning £5,000 less a year than their male colleagues. In part time jobs, it goes up to 35%.

Is this a world where women are celebrated and recognised as equals?

Of course it’s not. I’m not going to labour the point – we still need International Women’s Day because women are not treated equally. We might be making progress in the UK (there’s still work to be done though), but does that mean we should look the other way while women born into less fortunate circumstances struggle and suffer?

Because I’m a woman, I think we should take action. But mainly because I’m a human being, I think we should take action.

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” Gloria Steinem

Too right. I’m joining this year’s International Women’s Day by doing my small bit to raise awareness of women’s equality. But it doesn’t end here. The theme this year is to inspire change, and I’m setting myself a challenge to think about how I can do my part.

I also put it to you – what will you do?

Goodbye January

There have been a few unexpected set backs this month, and the January blues haven’t been entirely kept at bay by my list. I’ve moved to a new city and there have been challenges: the commute, horrendous weather, neighbour politics, missing friends, a defrosted freezer…generally small things, but they can seem huge when a bit overwrought and tired.

My list has, however, given me some focus and provided some rays of light in the cold dreary dark nights:

Alarm_Tick_Icon_256Join a pilates class.
I signed up to a beginners class, and after four sessions I love it! The exercise lifts my mood and I can see improvement already – core of rock in February?!

Alarm_Tick_Icon_256Improve my climbing – achieve 5+ or above.
I have managed to climb a 5+ already this month, which gave me a bit of a buzz. I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can do given I have already surprised myself!

Alarm_Tick_Icon_256

IMAG2031-1

Try a new recipe once a month.
I made a lemon and blueberry drizzle loaf for my parents’ anniversary. Not too bad if I do so say so myself!

Alarm_Tick_Icon_256Dance more.
It’s still early days and it doesn’t end here, but I’ve hit the dance floor once this month with a group of new girls – I went to bed with a smile on my face.

Alarm_Tick_Icon_256Join/do something in my new local community.
I’m going to blog about the separately as it’s something I want to share – I joined a site called MeetUp, which is brilliant for meeting new people.

Lots of my friends have been making their own lists and inspiring new activities to add to my own – it may have its ups and downs, but I feel on balance 2014 has got off to a pretty decent start!

I’d love to hear how everyone else is getting on…

Bring on 2014

Happy New Year everyone!

I really mean that, I hope 2014 is a very happy year. But right now, with a small hangover and that slightly nauseous feeling you get from lack of sleep, the happy levels are dropping somewhat. The mince pies are gone, I’ve probably consumed my own body weight in chocolate, friends and family have gone home, and it’s back to the cold, grim reality of January and work. It’s enough to make the cheeriest of souls have a little wobble.

I’ve allowed myself a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, but this year I’m determined that’s it. Why waste a month on feeling low? I’ve just re-read my post from last year – Five ways to make January more bearable – and it still rings true. It’s time to take my own advice.

Taking stock of 2013

Looking back at my list of goals from a year ago, I’ve made progress, but still have some work to do:

Join the National Trust and visit more places to take photos
I didn’t join in the end, but I did visit more places and take more photos.
Build up to running 5K
Ah, yes. I’m still working on this one. I ran 3K and lost interest!
Join a craft course
I went on a decoupage class at the Ministry of Craft in Manchester (highly recommended).
Write a blog post at least once a month
As is evident from this blog, this didn’t happen. However, I wrote when I wanted to, and wrote what I wanted.
Read a book at least once a month
Go camping at least twice this year
Go to a festival
Have a go at a 5+ graded route each time I climb
I’ve tried plenty of 5+ routes, but injured my shoulder towards the end of the year. 

For those of you looking back on what you hoped to achieve last year, don’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t meet every goal you set yourself. Personally, I think it’s good to still have goals on your list; I’m not disappointed I haven’t done everything. It will be all the more satisfying when I do finally tick them off, and does it really matter if it takes longer than I planned?

Goals for 2014

1. Run 10K.  I’ve signed up to the Great Manchester Run (despite not reaching 5K yet!)
2. Join a pilates class.
3. Volunteer.
4. Join/do something in my new local community.
5. Travel – last year my holiday plans went awry, this year I want to see somewhere new.
6. Go to a comedy gig.
7. Paint the canvases that have been sat in a bag for three years now…
8. Improve my climbing – achieve 5+ or above.
9. Sleep more. The wise words of Arianna Huffington still resonate (read more here).
10. Try a new recipe once a month.
11. Learn to use my camera better.
12. Go on more walks.
13. Go to the cinema alone.
14. Make listening to music easier (considering my job, I haven’t embraced modern technology very well!)
15. Dance more.

Just writing this list was therapeutic as it’s reminded me of all I have ahead. It might be January, but there’s still a lot to look forward to.

For those of you feeling a little low this month – be kind to yourself, make some lists, try something new and keep looking forward. Happy New Year.

We need to talk: part 2

The One Young World Summit (see previous post) provided plenty to think about on a wide range of subjects, but the plenary session on human rights exploring gender equality stands out as being the most inspiring and moving.  Fellow delegates spoke about their personal experiences in a very frank and honest way.

It’s no small feat to get up in front of over 1,300 people to share a personal life-changing trauma. Especially when recounting an act of violence that is a complete violation of a person’s human rights. I find it hard at the best of times to talk about difficult periods of my life, so I fully appreciated that Amanda Dufresne from the US showed immense courage by standing up and telling her story.

Rape.

It’s an ugly word – it makes us feel uncomfortable and we don’t like to think about it, let alone talk about it.

That’s the problem though. Rape is a ‘silent epidemic’.

Approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year.

1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

(Both stats can be found here.)

This is completely unacceptable. I think most people will join me in this opinion.

The problem is, until we begin to talk about it openly and honestly in our own countries, communities and homes, we can’t begin to tackle the issue. It really shouldn’t be necessary for someone like Amanda to need to take to the stage to share her experience of being a survivor of rape. But I am glad she has the strength and bravery to do this, because around the world there is still very little support and help available to women. In some countries, a woman can be sent to jail for reporting rape, in others they are forced to marry their rapists. Even in countries where there is more support available, women are often reluctant to come forwards because of the stigma.

At Railway Children, the international children’s charity fighting for children living alone on the streets in the UK, India and East Africa, we know that violence against girls and women in the home, school and community can lead to a child running away and ending up alone and at risk on the streets. On the streets they suffer even more violence and abuse – including rape. We are working to reach children before an abuser can, and our approach includes working with communities and governments to change perceptions and to make a sustainable long-term change.

It was inspiring and motivating to hear what others are doing around the world. Ilwad Elman from Somalia founded the first rape crisis centre in the country – Sister Somalia – upon returning to her homeland with her mother after living in Canada. Somalia is the second worst place in the world to be a woman, so it was truly amazing that they had the courage to go back, particularly as Ilwad’s father was an activist and killed there.

Violence against women – rape, genital mutilation, stoning, beheading – is rife in the country. Women are treated like criminals if they come forward to report it. Therefore, the success of the centre has relied on word of mouth – women referring other women. And successful it has been – from the beginning there were at least 13 women arriving every day. Ilwad and her team face threats, but still they fight on.

It’s both humbling and inspiring to know there are young people like Amanda and Ilwad taking action – not afraid to tackle rape and violence against women head on. We all have our part to play too. The challenge Amanda set was to talk about rape once at the conference, and once when we get home.

I’m certainly going to do this – the question is, will you join us in talking about rape too?

Watch the human rights plenary session for yourself below:

Limitless Youth

One Young World is a fantastic forum to talk about the issues of education, poverty and youth unemployment, but there’s only so much reality that words can convey when sat in an overly air-conditioned auditorium with constant access to snacks and drinks. We might have been in Africa, but it could just as easily have been London.

The breakout sessions across the city were a welcome change. I’d chosen the ‘Limitless Youth’ session in Soweto due to the connection with the work we do at Railway Children. I wanted to try to see a little of ‘real’ Johannesburg, rather than just the sanitised version in Sandton. Stepping out of the minibus I was met by Thulani Madondo, who welcomed me to my “home away from home”. A larger than life personality, he seemed to embody everything that the Kliptown Youth Program is all about – pride in the community, positive spirit, inspiration and passion.

Kliptown is a slum that has been stuck in a cycle of poverty, suffering high rates of crime and unemployment. Its people live without electricity or running water, and it is very far removed from the shiny, modern ,urban area that all delegates stayed in. However, Thulani was clear that we should not feel sorry for those living there. And to be honest, I didn’t. The children that visit the project all seemed very happy and confident – far more so than many of the children I have met in the UK. While walking around a small area of the slums it struck me that there was much more of a sense of real community, with people greeting each other and children running to join our group. In much of the UK, you are lucky to get brief eye contact – never mind a proper greeting in many cities.

Of course, the area has its problems and while this wasn’t something that was dwelt upon, I don’t imagine for one moment that it is an easy life – and I think this is something that Thulani wanted us to see. They are surviving and succeeding, even in very difficult circumstances.

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This is really what the whole Kliptown Youth Program is all about – children succeeding against the odds and being given the chance to believe in their dreams. The project provides educational support, after-school activities and meals to more than 400 children from the surrounding area. During our visit the centre was packed with children of all ages, coming and going from the hub of buildings in the centre of the slum. Most impressive of all is the IT room, kitted out with computers that are powered by solar power. The children are taught IT skills and how to use the internet so that they are connected to the outside world and have a whole host of opportunities and information at their fingertips. I was amazed that children who have no substantial roof over their heads could have their own email addresses!

This idea of giving children the opportunity to learn computer skills came up time and time during the summit, and it’s something I will certainly take back to Railway Children. I also have some thoughts about using IT in my own volunteering ventures – so watch this space!

I think the most poignant point I will take away from the visit was the pride both staff and children showed for what they are achieving – and rightly so. It’s a community-led project that is driven by people with a true passion, and they are determined they will end poverty for themselves. This is worth celebrating and sharing, as we can all learn something from these children who are determined to succeed.

The children

While I didn’t get a lot of time to talk to the children, their hugs and smiles will stay with me for a long time. I was particularly bowled over by the performance of gum boot dancing we were treated to – the video doesn’t really do it justice, but hopefully helps to convey some of the enthusiasm, energy and passion in the room.