So here we are, four years on, and I need a new challenge.
Writing the book about my mother and her war (Love and War in the WRNS, to be published in June) – one of the best periods of her life of which she was justly extremely proud – provided solace and therapy after all the bereavements and stress we have suffered over the past few years: the deaths of my mother, father and Louise, plus both Ross and I being diagnosed with cancer.
Putting it in perspective: after Louise died, I threw myself into raising awareness of the dangers of club drugs and legal highs, channeling my energies and grief via The Angelus Foundation , founded by the indomitable Maryon Stewart, who also lost her daughter. Everyone now knows what harms ketamine and legal highs can wreak on young lives and their high profile in the media and with government is largely due the work of Angelus.
I am not someone to get stuck in my grief and, after a year or so of being constantly in the public eye and repeating Louise’s story, we needed to move on; hence the book and the relocation to Singapore, an opportunity which seemed a gift from the gods. And it continues to afford us the most fascinating opportunities to travel to places I have only ever dreamed about – going to track tigers and leopards in India next week and here we come Shangri La in May! Oh and squeezing in a little muck diving in Sulawesi between the the two trips
During my two years here, I have completed the book and created a website to provide a resource for other people with cancer, using my experiences with holistic healing, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, mixed in with a lot of common sense, as the platform. So far it’s done well for both of us!
But I want to do something with my time that is in line with Louise’s own philosophy of caring for others, giving back to people less fortunate than ourselves. So it is that I am now charged with setting up a SE Asia hub for the ground-breaking charity United World Schools .
In a nutshell, our objective is to ‘teach the unreached’, targeting the poorest of the poor in former conflict zones where there is no access to education at all; currently we have 27 schools in Cambodia and 5 in Myanmar with several more being planned. We are about to start building in Nepal, too, to fulfil our goal of educating 50,000 children by 2018.
Some mind-blowing statistics: 58 million children have no access to education, of these over half are in our target countries, and there are 774 million illiterate adults; all this while funding and aid for education projects in low-income countries are declining. If all the children in these countries could achieve basic literacy, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty.
The unique factor about UWS is that it is low cost, sustainable and scalable – each school costs on average £16,500 to build, £5000 to equip and only about £1 per child per week to run. We work closely with the local communities, and as a result they feel proud ownership of their school and provide the labour, as well as some of the teaching staff who work with local government teachers, and who are trained and funded by UWS.
Here is a short two-minute film that gives you a flavour as to what we do:
So to kick off my fundraising activities (got to put your money where your mouth is, as they say), Ross and I have decided to sponsor a new school in NE Cambodia, in Kiri Vong Sa village. The school and teacher accommodations are built and the classrooms currently being equipped. We will be visiting it later in the year…very inaccessible (only by water in the rainy season) so it will be quite an adventure.
Meanwhile I am now networking like mad and trying to find high net worths and international schools locally to partner and sponsor UWS schools…so wish me luck! Oh, and if anyone wants to fund a school or get their children’s schools involved, check out our website, or contact me.