Girl Power – International Day of the Girl Child

Last Thursday, October 11th, 2012, was the first UN International Day of the Girl Child.  Nowadays most people agree that one of the keys to the well-being and prosperity of the planet lies in the education, protection and enfranchisement of girls and women.  Unfortunately, most people doesn’t include the parents of millions of girls who are forcibly married off every day.  Or the government of Iran who have recently banned women from 77 university courses.  Or the Taliban in Pakistan who shot 14 year old Malala Yousufzai in the head last Tuesday, October 9th, because she had spoken out in favour of the education of girls and said –

“I have rights.  I have the right of education.  I have the right to play.  I have the right to sing.  I have the right to talk.  I have the right to go to market.  I have the right to speak up.”

Fortunately, more and more girls themselves are beginning to object and because many of these marriages are arranged out of love and concern for the child and a fear of stepping outside tradition rather than any cruel motive, more and more parents are also listening to their daughters.

If you have time today perhaps you’d like to read what Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt said about this last Thursday – Today, A Promise to Girls.

Or maybe you’d like to watch this short video about one girl’s stand against marriage – and her family’s surprising reaction –

Or maybe you’d have time to see what Mary Robinson and others have to say about child brides –

If you have a minute you might go onto the Amnesty USA page to send a message of protest about the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

Even if you haven’t got time to do any of those things maybe you’d just think about the problem of girl brides and talk to others about it so that gradually we can all become aware and support those little girls when they say ‘no’.

Tell Me About It…

We have no control over many of the things that happen to us in our lives but if we can make sense of what has happened, we will usually construct a narrative to explain it to ourselves.  This narrative is more than just a story, it’s our escape hatch after trauma.  It’s what we can use to help us to overcome whatever horrible disaster has befallen us. Climb over it. Make good our escape.

Dan Siegel maintains that people who have horribly traumatic childhoods make excellent parents once they can make sense of their own story – no matter how awful.


No matter what happens – once you can look it in the eye and make it your story it loses its power to control you.

We have told stories since forever which means they are commonplace in our societies.  But common as they are, they are still essential to our well-being, safety and resilience.

We explain away myths and legends as primitive ways to explain the natural world – and they did indeed have a function in this regard – but it’s possible that they mean more than just that to us. It’s possible that they explain truths and experiences that are too subtle or difficult to approach in other ways and it’s possible that they allow us to construct narratives that function like ladders on which to climb out of the holes into which we may have been thrown.

If this wasn’t the case, then why do we still love to tell and hear stories? Whether it’s science fiction or vampires, rom-coms or action adventures surely our attraction to stories – myths – is because they are still fulfilling the same purpose for us that they have since time immemorial?

Transferable Skills

No matter what you do, if you care enough to use your skills and talents and ideas to make the world a better place, you’ll succeed.

You don’t need to be Mohandas Gandhi or Mother Teresa to effect change in the world.

You just need to be you.

And do whatever it is you do.

One of The Most Widespread of All Human Rights Abuses…

In 2008 a ten year old girl in Yemen, Nujood Ali, succeeded in obtaining a divorce from the husband who beat and raped her.  She has been allowed to divorce but has to pay more than $200 in compensation to her husband.

In 2009 a twelve year old girl, Fawziya Ammodi – also in Yemen – died after three days of excruciatingly painful childbirth.

Her baby also died.

Obviously legal protection is needed to shield girls like these against being traded and married and abused.  But the real key to the end of this suffering is education.

We need to become creative about how we might deliver education to the child brides that survive their awful experiences and then, at least, there will be a hope that their daughters will be spared the same fate.

If you are interested in this horrendous abuse of little girls then you may also be interested in  a study called – The Worst Places to Be a Woman – Mapping the places where the war on women is still being fought.  This study is by Valerie M. Hudson who is professor and George H.W. Bush chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.  It makes interesting reading –

Art for Art’s Sake?

Are children the only people who can really partake in art for art’s sake?  Is it important to do this?  Is it a waste of time?

Many of you will have seen these videos already –  but I hadn’t so just in case I thought I’d post them.  I also thought it might be worth asking ourselves exactly what this boy is doing in the first video?  And why? And if there is a link between his work and the work of the artists in the second video?

Just wondering what you might think…

Continue reading

Dido and Aeneas

Roman Mosaic (part), found at Low Ham (Somerset)

Roman Mosaic (part), found at Low Ham (Somerset) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The beauty of some stories is that they are telling one story when they seem to be really telling another.

Take the Aeneid for example. Virgil wrote the Aeneid c. 29-19 BCE – in other words over two thousand years ago. He wrote it to glorify Rome and to give the Roman people a pedigree of greatness – to claim them as the descendants of the defeated Trojans. But the Aeneid is not just the story of a defeated – or even glorious – people.  It is the story of people.

Like Dido.

Dido is tricked by the gods into falling in love with Aeneas – but fall in love she does. Against her better judgement – and contrary to her loyalty to the memory of her dead husband – she and Aeneas become lovers.

And then Aeneas leaves.

He can’t stay in Carthage because he is destined to lead his people to Italy to found the Roman nation and so he is commanded by the gods to leave Carthage. Leave Dido.

Dido can’t bear it. Insane with loss of love and loss of self-respect and loss of hope for the future she kills herself with a sword Aeneas has left behind.

Virgil portrays Aeneas not as a cad but as a dutiful man who has to get on with his mission and, therefore, must leave Carthage. As we read the Aeneid we are certain Virgil thinks it would be much worse if Aeneas stayed in Carthage and neglected his duty.  Even so, Virgil describes Dido and her love for Aeneas with tenderness and sadness.  He describes her as a good, and up to this point, dutiful woman and not – as is so common in literature – as a seductive she-devil. It is the sweetness and not the evil of Dido’s love that distracts Aeneas from his mission.

As Book Four of the Aeneid progresses, Virgil describes Dido’s anguish, her growing madness as the Trojans prepare to leave. With Virgil we feel her desperation, her unbearable distress and longing for release and then we feel the pain of Anna, Dido’s sister, who discovers her beloved sister on a pyre with a sword plunged into her body.  Virgil shows us Anna, crying and holding the bleeding body of Dido as she dies.  Even the goddess Juno is moved by Dido’s suffering and sends a messenger to take a lock of Dido’s hair so that her pain can end, though her death is not meant to be.

Virgil elicits our sympathy for Dido and her pain and though he has a two thousand year old view of Dido and Aeneas as pawns of the gods not fully in charge even of their own decisions, he never once characterises them as other than human. Virgil shows us the big picture and all the small pictures that exist inside it.  He describes each part of the picture as a section of reality that doesn’t negate or nullify any other part but rather contributes to the overall truth. Rome was founded on glory but also on sadness and sacrifice and pain. Like a huge mosaic picture made up of individual pictures.  It’s a richer picture.  We could learn from it.

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.

Don’t Stamp on the Seedling…

Stop Joseph Kony

Stop Joseph Kony (Photo credit: boston7513 Kevin)

The Kony 2012 campaign has caused a huge stir in the world.

Is it good?

Is it bad?

Are we being fooled?

Are the organisers just manipulating us so they can make lots of money?

Is it foolishly idealistic?

I’m a European and I’m a born cynic (ask my family) and here is what I think.

It is important to know – as much as possible – what is going on.  It is important to investigate truth for oneself and not to be duped but here are the questions I have asked myself about this campaign –

If my child was in danger from Joseph Kony would I want help?

Would I feel insulted if people from other countries tried to help me?

Would I care if they were making mistakes or would I be glad someone was trying – even imperfectly – to help me?

There is a lot of criticism about the Invisible Children campaign but I haven’t read – or heard – even one thing that says their accusations against Joseph Kony are false. Everybody says the same thing about him – he is a vicious criminal and nobody has managed to stop him.

So, what is bothering us, exactly? That we’ll be fooled?

OK – that’s not pleasant but I’d prefer to run the risk of looking foolish than to leave people in danger because I was busy protecting my ego – wouldn’t you?

As for the paternalism accusations – helping anybody, anywhere, any time can be seen as paternalistic – it’s all about how it’s done. So here are my questions about that –

Are the people (even the Ugandans) who are objecting to the campaign the ones living in terror?

Do the people who live in this abject terror object to the attempts to help them?

If those in the firing line are happy to receive the help – and I don’t know if they are but it seems that way – is it not really incredibly paternalistic to say they don’t know what is best for themselves?

Saying we don’t want help from outside is a divisive act like saying we will only help our own people.  National boundaries are increasingly illusory and increasingly impossible to uphold in the ways we used to define them in the past.  The earth is clearly more and more obviously just like one country, so unless the assistance is extra-terrestrial surely it isn’t really from outside?

As for accusations against the Ugandan government – I imagine they are mostly true but I wonder would any of our governments stand up to much scrutiny and if not should that deprive us of help from others?

This campaign interests me because it is trying to find ways to use our present day social reality to facilitate some good.

I’m sure it’s flawed. I’m sure they are making mistakes. I’m sure it won’t be entirely successful but here’s the final question I ask myself about this –

If this campaign helps to improve the life of one child will it be worthwhile?

For me the answer is yes.

The Brilliance of Hearts

This talk is officially called Tan Le – My Immigration Story – and it is that, an immigration story, but it is also much, much more.

It is a story of tradition and war and fear and upheaval, a story of displacement and escape, a story of love and hope and perseverance and family and hardship and the forging of a human spirit.

A truly inspiring story.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller