World Health Organisation

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On Wednesday 11 March 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the following during his opening remarks at a media briefing about COVID-19:

The WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic…..We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.

At the time I commented it confirmed my fear that there was too much complacency around the world towards this threat.

The WHO works worldwide to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable. At a time of world pandemic, the WHO is needed more than ever, it’s a vital health organisation. It relies on countries and people everywhere to support it and act on its advice, this is everyone’s responsibility as global citizens.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has decided to cut funding to this vital organisation at the time it’s needed most, for reasons known only to himself.

Bill Gates summed up this decision perfectly on Twitter: Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs WHO now more than ever.

Staying Friends on Social Media

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The algorithms of social media often dictate that we live within an echo chamber of friends who share our outlook on life. But not everyone agrees with us, nor do we always agree with others. The old adage of ‘agreeing to disagree agreeably’ sometimes goes out of the window when passions run high, and social media can be a catalyst to entrench our opinions and polarise debate.

In an increasingly divisive society, we may need to relearn the concept of being nice, affirming each other and appreciating diversity.

When I post something on Facebook I expect disagreement, but I don’t expect rudeness. People can get so angry that others have a different, well-considered opinion from them, one that may be part of their very being.

Often on social media there is no engagement with the issue(s), just simply shouting an alternative opinion, with no concept of nuance in any discussion. We are not heard by shouting. There needs to be respect, both for ourselves and for others. It’s also perfectly acceptable to admit the merits of someone else’s position whilst not necessarily agreeing with it ourselves.

Please don’t think that I’m saying I’m perfect in this regard, I’m not. But I do feel we all need to take a careful and humble look at ourselves and how we respond to things posted on Facebook and social media generally.

Personally, I approach this as a person of faith, and so many of my attitudes, thoughts and actions derive from this and make me the person I am.

Paul writing to the Philippians says: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Here is the context of the whole passage, where Paul suggests we should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Be kind to each other.

Coming out as gay

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I write as a straight man, even though someone once found my website using the phrase ‘is john ager gay’, but also as someone who seeks to empathise and understand those who struggle with their sexuality and societal attitudes.

It came as a complete surprise when I heard this morning that Phillip Schofield had come out as gay, even if there were those who said they always knew.

Much has already been spoken and written about this, and I can’t possibly (nor do I intend to) cover all the issues raised by this announcement. However, I would like to raise questions of why it’s so difficult for people to come out, and why can’t people be allowed to be who they are in the first place?

I found a number of well-articulated comments on Twitter helpful in this important discussion and I leave them with you:

Owen Jones: It’s up to all LGBTQ people how or when or whether they come out. But when someone with a public platform comes out, it helps people who are struggling with their sexuality. Love and support to [Phillip Scofield]

Patrick Strudwick: Next year will be 30 yrs since I came out. (14, at my comprehensive school, it stopped me killing myself). To STILL see people trapped in the closet for decades before having desperate, highly-charged comings out reveals how little things have changed. We have so much more to do.

Sam Wise: [Phillip Schofield] grew up in a time when gay people didn’t have any rights and nobody can blame him for feeling he could not come out. Still today homophobia is alive in our society and people in the public eye feel they can’t be who they are…the fact that [he] has only felt able [to] come out now says more about our society than it does him. He’s made a courageous step today and the fact his wife and kids are right behind him with love and support is excellent.

Coming to terms with and being your authentic self is never easy, especially in the public eye. Phillip and his family deserve our love and support.

Time to Talk Day

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We live in an uncertain world, with many pressures in our day to day lives. The reality is that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, so there has never been a better time to open up about the mental health challenges we face. The more conversations we have about mental health, the more myths we can bust and barriers we can break down, helping to end the isolation, shame and worthlessness that too many of us feel when experiencing a mental health problem.

Having had my own mental health issues in the past (although anxiety, stress and depression can still affect me) this is my heartfelt plea for everyone to open up and talk at more than just a superficial level.

The annual Time to Talk Day provides an opportunity for everyone to add to the wider conversation on social media, television and elsewhere. Here is an opportunity to reach out to others in meaningful ways and help address mental health stigma in society.

An Understanding Brexiter

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Even though I profoundly disagree with Conservative MP Steve Baker, he fully understands the sadness and sorrow Remainers are feeling today as the UK leaves the EU. “I will celebrate. I will allow myself a smile, I’ll allow myself that glass of champagne, I will enjoy myself. But I’ll celebrate discreetly, and I will celebrate in a way which is respectful of the genuine sorrow that others are feeling at the same time.” Thank you for your empathy and understanding.

Update: Since posting this a number of people have challenged me about this and why I’m praising an architect of Brexit. My reply: I’m not a Steve Baker fan, but his attitude towards today is a million times better than Farage. That’s all I’m saying.

Unseen Promise

The promise of a better life is a tempting offer. For those living in poverty, in even the most beautiful parts of the world, the dream of providing for your family becomes a constant and agonising ache.

In the Philippines, a sun-kissed paradise of more than 7,000 tropical islands, one in five people live in poverty and the luscious setting shrouds an ugliness which lies beneath the surface. Preying on the vulnerable, traffickers deceive and exploit, enticing people with the promise of dreams fulfilled.

People who are desperate to support those they love, believe the lies and accept opportunities to journey away from home unaware of the reality which awaits them. The promises remain unseen and the dreams remain unrealised.

Traffickers see people merely as commodities, ignoring the truth of who they are – children of God, full of promise and dearly loved by the One who created them.

The Salvation Army is raising awareness of the reality of trafficking, mobilising communities to protect themselves, supporting survivors and helping to improve opportunities at home so the drive to leave is lessened.

Through prevention, protection and partnership, we are supporting people to reclaim the promise that exists within them and rebuild their lives.

If you would like to donate to support this work, you can donate online at donate.salvationarmy.org.uk/anti-trafficking

If you want to connect with The Salvation Army International Development UK on social media you can find us on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Follow to hear about new campaigns and updates from our projects. You can also find out more here.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a

See also here: Hidden in Plain Sight

This is me (Helen Austin)

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I’m pleased to share this guest post by my online friend Helen Austin. It’s a deeply personal story with an important message. This is my edited version (with permission and approval) of her original post that you can find by clicking here.

The iconic song This Is Me from the film The Greatest Showman performed by Keala Settle has partly inspired this post.

‘I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are’

My life changed forever 11 years ago, late afternoon, walking past a building site I had walked past SO many times before. It took me on a journey I had no idea about. The journey of being a victim. A rape victim.

I had no idea what to do, how to be, how to move forwards.
I just put one step forwards at a time and somehow managed it.

Looking back there are things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had told people, my friends, especially those in London who had no idea and no idea why I suddenly moved after deciding to settle there. I wish I had told my Mum instead of feeling this fierce sense of protection for her, and not wanting to expose her to my mess. I wish I had found other ways to cope without drinking and self-harming, and trying to die a few times. I wish what had happened hadn’t happened.

But it did, and despite now wishing I had done things differently, I have found peace with the fact that I did the very best I could at the time to survive. In 11 years I’ve learned and I’ve changed, I’ve changed from being a victim to being a survivor.

For years the darkness was present and often overwhelmed, as did the thoughts, the ones in my head that told me I needed to hide, to hide who I was and my feelings, because no one wanted to know or cared, or wanted me, this person in ‘broken parts’.

I spent years being ashamed of both my physical and mental scars. Yet, somehow deep in my soul was this ability to not be totally grounded down to dust.

‘But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious.’

I was fragmented, with lots and lots of different fragments (hence the name of the anonymous blog I wrote for many years), but I wasn’t dust, and I started to find my ‘place’. A place to be and belong, not as an anonymous person hiding behind my stories.

As me, Helen, the survivor.
As me, Helen.
I am bruised, for sure but I am also who I am meant to be.

I’ve learnt to laugh again, and love again, and find joy in life again. I’ve learnt to let people in, to accept support, to accept I am who I am, and that is who I was and am meant to be, shaped by my experiences but not beholden to them.

This last year, in particular, I have learned to embrace being a rape survivor as part of my story. It isn’t all of who I am, but it is a part of who I am and that cannot be changed. My rapist (and his friend who was there) didn’t beat me, they have not silenced me.

‘I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.’

On social media I’m passionate about talking about sexual violence and violence against women. As part of that I sometimes share my story. I know some people think I’m mad and some people wonder ‘Why’ I put myself out there in that way…

Well…

I do it because I am not afraid any more.
I’m also not afraid (and never have been) of what people think of me.
I genuinely don’t care if people don’t want to read what I have to say, as they don’t have to, although I hope they do!

People with voices and the ability to speak out need to be seen and heard. It’s 2018 and despite the successes (?) of online media campaigns such as ‘Me Too’, society still needs to see and hear survivors of sexual violence.

It’s 2018 and stigma still exists. Prosecutions and convictions are abysmally low and victims/survivors are failed every day across the country by local services and police.

So (if we are able) we have to speak out, challenge and bring about change.

I do this so other people know they are not alone. Being a victim of rape, or any sexual violence can leave you feeling incredibly alone and isolated and I spend a lot of time in contact with other survivors who find life hard, supporting them as a friend, and as someone who understands.

So I hope by beating the drum loudly if just one person knows they are not alone, and that someone out there cares, then it is worth it.

I’m thankful for the women who went ahead before me, beating their drums, mentioning, in particular, the rather amazing Jill Saward who was a forefront campaigner on this stuff, and a close friend, who personally taught me so much. We miss you Jill.

So, here are, 2018 and its 11 years on for me…

I am happy (apart from when the health stuff gets bad). I love life and living. I’m loud, bubbly, outspoken, fiery at times, passionate about Jesus; and loving people. I’m not where I ever thought I would be BUT I am where I am meant to be, and it’s a huge privilege to be able to use my experience to support others.

I am Helen, and 11 years later this is me.

Note: See also here.