I don’t think many of us who were at the afternoon charity session of #cybermummy will forget the occasion any time soon. The short video presentation very quickly took everyone in that room far far away from the hubbub of the main event.
In complete silence we listened in to Liz Scarff talk about the #blogladesh campaign (the reach they had to so many millions of people is just staggering – I know the whole room was thinking well done Liz and her team). There was passion in her voice that drew us into doing nothing but listen. Some of the images and stories we heard about were haunting. We heard about the thin dividing line that is life and death for too many people.
Rosie too spoke with a steely determination. I hadn’t met her before, but she clearly had this desire to get across to us that things can be done by everyday men and women. And backing up what Sarah Brown said in the morning session – there really is nothing stopping any of us!
Mummytips spoke just a few words. That was all she needed to do. The effect of the Bangladesh trip for Sian was there for all to see. Watching @porridgebrain in an act of brave sisterly support, walk to the stage and take the microphone was a privilege to watch. As with Liz and Rosie there was fluency and meaning in all she said.
The session ended I had become subdued into silence. I had, in truth, become reflective. It was time to put the questions to bed and just absorb what I had just heard. Not heard. Experienced.
A while later I took myself off to a quiet corner. An image jumped into my head of me in an alley way just to the side of Exeter Cathedral five years ago. I remember it well. I was having a full-on, full-blown panic attack. It was three in the afternoon. I’d dropped my shopping and a work briefcase. That was lying open and papers were flying everywhere. I was rushing to my car where I would sit and hide and breathe into a paper bag that I used to keep hidden under the driver’s seat. I knew I needed to cease the panic quickly, and get back home to be with my girls when they came home from after school club.
When a grown man of 41 finds himself crumpled on the floor with food shopping all around him and all his work papers flying all over the place – and he feels so panicked all he can do is shake and hold his head in his hands and cry, you can guess that that man needs a bit of support.
It was then that a female solicitor who worked in Sourthernhay (where my office was at the time) came running up to me and asked if she could help. I must have looked liked I was in a real mess. I was in a mess. She did nothing more than pull me up to a wall where I could sit. She put her arm around me. She didn’t say anything. After a while she collected the few bits and pieces that were scattered over the place and came back to sit down next to me again. It was then she asked what I needed to do urgently and was there anything she could do…
…By the time I got to my car I knew she would have arranged for my daughters to have been collected from school by a neighbour. The friendly solicitor lady understood that I could not go and collect them like I was. She said she would organise everything. She was even able to take down the right numbers of the school and what have you by using my mobile phone and doing it for me.
Back in my car, with the panic attack subsiding I was overtaken by a feeling of being completely overwhelmed. As a man, my job was to provide. I knew (having just escaped from work early yet again) that my days of paid employment couldn’t go on like this. But more than that, as the primary carer for my two daughters I needed to be there for them. All single parents will know that feeling of increased responsibility – it’s a heavy burden at times.
I looked at my situation. Tucked away in a corner of a multi-story car park. Hiding from the world. No more tears would come. A vomit stained shirt. My career coming to an end – I knew I wasn’t doing my job properly. But more than that it was 7 o’clock. My girls would by now be more than worried! The voice that said “Bob, you are a complete and utter fucking disaster” was mine.
Some people call these “black days”.
Back at #cybermummy I found @porridgebrain sat at the back of the hall. I asked her where all the men were in Bangladesh as they didn’t appear in many of the slides. I asked if they minded their family receiving charity? I think I had quite a few questions actually…I wasn’t best placed to hear her answers though, I think I was still in another place…! Sorry Josie – we’ll have that conversation another day.
Over the last few days we have all looked aghast at our televisions and newspapers. In Somalia and the Kenyan borders we see and hear of mums and their children quite literally starving to death. Stories of malnourished younger children being left by their mums so they can continue to try to keep their other children alive are beyond heart-breaking. The gravity of this situation is, to my mind, unthinkable, and unimaginable.
The image I have of Somalia, with the backdrop of violence and chronic poverty is that of a country having something akin to a panic attack. A period in their history when everything is wrong and nothing quite works. Recovery will take years.
Like many of you reading this, the question “what can I do to help” hangs heavy. We all want to do more, but probably don’t know where to start.
Well #cybermummy helped with some answers to this question. The overall strategic solutions for devastated countries like Somalia now lies with world-wide governmental coordinated cooperation. Of that there is little doubt. But what we can do as individuals is to make sure our elected representatives in Parliament keep these issues and our concerns on the agenda. We can all book an appointment to meet our MP or send them an email…it costs nothing.
And the other way to keep these issues up the task lists of Governments is to support the campaigns like those orchestrated by Save the Children and those other charities working at the coal face. And this can be done by using their charity shops, by making the odd donation, and by plugging their work on social media like twitter. It really can make a difference. That’s the charities saying that by the way, not me.
My lady solicitor friend on that dark day a few years ago now, spent ten minutes with me, made a couple of phone calls, and had the heart to put her arm around me. For her, it might have been a slight inconvenience during a busy day. For me and my small family, she gave me space to recognise that I needed help. I owe her much.
Adding a link to your favourite charity from your blog, and offering the occasional supportive blog post or RT…these things take ten minutes. You may think it’s nothing. But it is!
you can visit the Save the Children website here