How to Be Happy

One of the problems that naturally occurs when a light is shone on pain and suffering is that those who are looking at this picture are overwhelmed by pity.  This might seem like a good outcome – surely if we are sorry for someone we’ll try to help?  Well the answer to that is not a definite ‘yes’.  Sometimes when we feel sorry for people we also feel angry, or resentful or superior or confused.  We wonder how this can happen and why they can’t help themselves just like we have to do and if they have some inherent shortcoming that precludes them from building a wholesome and sustaining life for themselves… Continue reading

Slumkids are Kids Too…

In 1999, Sugata Mitra – now Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastlle University in the UK, was working in Delhi when he had a crazy idea.

The complex in which he worked was surrounded by a slum and he wondered what would happen if he embedded an internet-enabled computer in the wall of the complex at kid-height, so that the children running around outside could reach it?  Would the children ignore the computer?  Break it up?  Or – most unlikely of all – would the children learn to use the computer? (Preposterous notion given that these were slum children who hardly ever went to school, never saw the internet and didn’t speak or read English)

So – what do you think happened?

Have a look for yourself.

P.S. – Fun fact – when Vikas Swarup read about Sugata Mitra’s experiment he began to think about slum children educating themselves and was inspired to write Q&A – the novel that was adapted to become Slumdog Millionaire.

Man is a Mine Rich in Gems…

Nature or nurture?  Are we empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and virtues or is there at least some stuff we might already have inside us that could be accessed?  A seam of gold?  A mother lode of virtue?

Perhaps if we had a little confidence that the good is there, deep inside – especially in children – we’d be pleasantly surprised?  And more likely to find it.

Here are two true stories…

Trusting The Truth

Do you love your children?  For most of us the answer is Yes.

Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

Do you sometimes make them do things that are unpleasant – or even painful – for their own good?

Again the answer is Yes and we do this because we love them, don’t we?

All the doctor and dentist appointments.  The homework and discipline and training in the face of reluctance and protest.  But parents suck it up because they know it is for the future well-being of their child.

My niece had very serious scoliosis and had two extremely painful surgeries when she was just 13.  I am happy to say that they were fantastically successful surgeries but there were no guarantees beforehand and they did involve a lot of pain and suffering for her whole family – and especially for her.

What would you do to prevent your child being ostracized, cut off or rejected?  If she might be condemned to never being respectable.  Never finding a husband.  Never having a family of her own.  You’d do a lot – most of us would – even if it was a risky and painful road, we’d be frightened not to take it.

It takes immense courage to stay with what you know to be true in the face of social pressure and tradition.  What if you are wrong?  It’s a scary place to be.

We can’t always trust our gut.  Our gut will tell us to fit in and do whatever the herd does because there’s ‘safety’ that way.  The people in this video are showing magnificent courage.  Their capacity to hold fast and stay with the truth even while they recognise the pressure around them is inspiring.

I am in awe.

The Truth Smarts…

Continuing the theme of lessons we accidentally learn via having children – this story is about my second son. I have three so this makes him ‘the disadvantaged middle child’.  As he always felt free to complain about the fact that he was suffering from this syndrome, I figured he wasn’t quite as disadvantaged by his position in the family as he made out. Anyway, always a perceptive child he also taught me quite a lot.

The pivotal conversation with this child – let’s call him Two-of-Three – happened in the aftermath of him getting into trouble for something or other. This was not a rare occurrence, he was a bit of a crazy boy when he was a kid and common words out of my mouth to him were often along the lines of – “Seriously?” and, “What were you thinking!” and “Please think before you act…” – he was maybe nine or ten at the time of this incident and it went something like this –

Two-of-Three – “I don’t think it’s fair that you punish me twice when I do something wrong.”

Me – “I never do that.”

Two-of-Three – “Yes you do.  You always do that.”

Me – “No.  You know that’s not true – you know you shouldn’t have done x, y or z and now you’re grounded and that’s just one punishment.” (N.B. – I’m pretty sure this is historically accurate and that he was grounded no matter what his transgression as it was my go-to sanction)

Two-of-Three – “No – you’re mad at me as well and that means you’re not as friendly as you are the rest of the time – that’s two punishments.”

Me – ………..deafening silence……………

The truth has that effect on me sometimes – especially when it comes out of the mouth of babes – even badly behaved ones.

He was right.  I was nothing as forgiving and straightforward as I believed myself to be.

So this is what I said when I recovered –


He was nicer than me and therefore didn’t punish me twice.

Feet of a Dancer

I hope you find the feet of a dancer,
I hope you can sing in the rain,
I hope you find all the easy answers to your pain;
It won’t be easy, what can I say,
There will be trouble along the way;
‘Round every corner there’s terror and fear,
Always remember that we’re here.

Charlie McGettigan – Feet of a Dancer

I love this picture.  I love everything about it, but I especially love the expressions on their faces.

I don’t know who took the photograph, or where it was taken, or when.

But I love it, anyway.

It’s on the One Human Family Facebook page here –

“Human beings, vegetables or cosmic dust, we all dance

to a mysterious tune intoned in the distance

by an invisible player.”

Albert Einstein

Teach a Girl – Change the World.

Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) is an international, non-profit organisation focused on educating and empowering girls and young women in a bid to eradicate poverty and help develop societies.   Camfed programs operate in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi.

In 1993, an English woman named Ann Cotton started Camfed at her kitchen table after a visit to Africa.  Nineteen years later, Camfed has helped 1,451,600 children with their education.  In addition, they have also set up the Cama Network – an offshoot of Camfed which trains and organises women to provide support, healthcare and education to others in their communities,

Wonderful as these things are there has been an unexpected outcome from this whole endeavour – the Camfed graduates have become individual philanthropists themselves.

The girls who have benefitted from the help given by Camfed, are now helping an average of 5 other girls at any one time – not including their own families who they also help.

As Ann Cotton says – “They are becoming real role models in their communities. It may be that the neighbor’s child can’t go to school because she doesn’t have a skirt, so she’ll provide that. Or maybe she’ll pay another girl’s school fees.  This was something we didn’t expect at all. It shows the power of education.”(1)

Human beings.  Endlessly wonderful once they get a chance.


(1) Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, p. 203

Little by Little One Walks Far*

UNFPA is the United Nations agency that deals with providing much needed family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world.  In 2002, the American government decided not to give a promised 34 million dollars to UNFPA.

In different parts of the country and without ever having met, two ordinary American women, Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, asked the women of America to send $1 dollar each to UNFPA.

Nobody – not even UNFPA – thought it would work. But it did.  Soon a deluge of envelopes with single dollar bills began arriving at the UNFPA offices from women – and men – all over the United States.

From this an organisation called 34 Million Friends of UNFPA ( was formed and millions of dollars were raised to help families all over the world.

In 2009, the U.S. administration restored the funding to UNFPA but 34 Million Friends still continues to work to support this vital service.

And all from the efforts of two ordinary women – a social action butterfly effect if ever there was one.

(*Peruvian Proverb)

The Most Natural Thing In the World?

As the daughter of a nurse I had some vague idea of what a fistula might be (my mother always liked to tell us the ‘real’ name for everything.)  A fistula is a hole – usually a tear – between organs.  To be honest, I can’t say that I was all that aware of obstetric fistulas.

An obstetric fistula is a tear that develops between the rectum and/or bladder and vagina as a result of prolonged or severe childbirth.  The physical result of this tear is that woman – many of them teenagers too young to be physically capable of giving birth without medical intervention – leak urine and feces all the time.  The social result of this is that they are usually divorced and ostracised. Because they smell bad, they are forced to live in huts at the edge of their villages where they starve or die of infection.

“The woman with a fistula is the modern day leper,” as a healthcare worker describes the situation.(1)

Obstetric fistulas were not unknown in Europe and America – for example, the present day site of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, was once the site of the Women’s Hospital of New York, which specialised in fistula repair until it closed in 1928. (2)

Since the early twentieth century in the Western world, the condition of obstetric fistula has been relegated to obscurity by the availability of medical intervention in childbirth. Obscure enough that this nurse’s daughter was never warned about them by her mother.

This is not the case for thousands of other women around the world (regardless of who their mothers may be).  They know exactly what an obstetric fistula is and all about the devastation it wreaks on a life.


(1) Half the Sky, Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, p. 109


A Proud Legacy

Yesterday an Irish journalist died. She was 54. Her name was Mary Raftery and while she didn’t live as long as most Westerners can hope to live – she did more good than most of us will probably ever do, no matter how long we live.

She is best known for a television documentary she made in 1999.  The programme – entitled States of Fear – comprehensively, shockingly and with meticulously researched evidence outlined the widespread and horrific sexual and physical abuse of children in Ireland.  In particular, States of Fear, investigated the treatment of children who had been forced to live in state residential facilities between the 1930s and 1970s.

This programme not only resulted in the establishment of The Commission of Inquiry into Child Abuse but reclaimed the lives of many of these victims and caused a massive change in Irish society. For the first time, most ordinary people believed the stories told by these victims and took their side.

In 2002, she made another ground-breaking documentary – Cardinal Sins – about the cover-up of sexual abuse of children in the Dublin Archdiocese.  This programme also resulted in another government investigation – The Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese (and the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne) – better known as the Murphy Commission.

Mary Raftery as an investigative journalist was instrumental in uncovering several other serious social issues.  As recently as September last, she produced Behind the Walls – a documentary on the psychiatric system in Ireland.  In this documentary she pointed out that in the 50s and 60s, Ireland locked a higher percentage of its population into psychiatric institutions than anybody else in the world – and that includes the former Soviet Union.

Tribute after tribute has pointed out that Mary Raftery was absolutely dedicated to championing the cause of the people whose victimisation she uncovered. According to the people who worked with her, she showed these interviewees the programmes she made about them before release and welcomed their input. Fellow journalists describe her as absolutely determined but her peers also describe the fact that her determination was to work for justice – not to further her own career.

One person after another – including many senior members of the Catholic Church – had the same thing to say about Mary Raftery –

She worked for acknowledgement and justice for victims of institutional child abuse and not only did she succeed in that she also made Ireland a safer place for present and future generations of children.

What an amazing legacy.