Sunday, 19 October 2014

Kenya

Click on image for a better view

Mr Ouku holds Friday assembly
The candidates are given a pep talk by My Ouku, and the Mazungus


Best friends, born on the same day







Sammy
Chilling after school and chores
View from the office




Flip flop football



Sure 24 children have first ever collective meal with soda!


If you’d like to know more about the work of Sure 24 then visit

Friday, 17 October 2014

Empathy

Having experienced a wide range of professional support over the years our experience has been to say the least, mixed. 

From the worse than useless at one end with professionals suggesting that extreme behaviour was a result of our anxiety and it may help if we relaxed a little. We left such encounters worse than when we arrived, our perspectives, views and emotions undermined and questioned. 

At the other end of this spectrum we've come away from meetings with no answers, strategies or helpful insights. But we've been touched by the empathy that we've been shown. We've felt supported, validated and encouraged that how we feel and what we think is right and that we're not alone. 

Em-pa-thy
Noun
1. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

You can't learn it in book or classroom. 

With this in mind I'm looking forward to The Open Nest conference 'Taking Care'.  
Sharing stories of the highs and lows of the adoption journey with Type C's, those who get it. 
We don't need to give long winded explanations or lessons on child development and the impact of loss, separation and trauma needed as caveats to anecdotes or stories. 

I'm sure we'll share horror stories if stupid comments, bad behaviour and 'interesting' Social Workers. More that this we'll share the joys of adoption orders, matching and breakthroughs and moments with our children. 


I'm pretty sure that nobody will ask me if I've got any children of my own. 








Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dust on my Shoes

Our Matatu came for us at 3am and we started the 22-hour journey home from the Sure 24 orphanage and school, Nakuru, Kenya to my front door.

It’s a long journey, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to slowly unpack the experience of spending time with these remarkable children and the adults who give themselves to care for them.

There are many things that I’m bringing back, stories,  feelings, thoughts, experiences, trinkets for my children and dust, lots of dust, everywhere, in my clothes, in my bags and on my shoes.

However, the enduring feeling is one of hope.

Through my eyes I’ve struggled to see how many of the children can overcome their experience and I am astonished at the sense of hope that permeates the home and school.

Yes, I’ve seen children on the fringes that are deeply affected by their experiences.  I wonder about the therapeutic value of shared trauma and loss and the mutual support that the children give each other. Those on the fringes are not falling through the net, but resources are limited.

Staff work ceaselessly to primarily meet the children’s needs as well promote a route for the children out of crushing poverty. Almost everyone, adults and children, has a collective gratitude for what they do have and they believe that things will get better. They have a hope, born from a personal and collective faith and a belief in the transformative, and proven, power of education.

With two street children now at University and others training for employment they see that there a route from where they have come to a different life. Many of the children are moving onto high school and the Sure24 Primary School rated by the government as the best in the municipality.

What I want to bring back is hope.

I need a little hope for my family, it feels almost absurd to discuss my circumstances in the same post.
But I have and I know this without  hope then our hearts grow sick* and everything is too much.

So, I’m bringing back hope and like handful of dust I threw in my bag, a little bit goes a long way.




If you’d like to know more about the work of Sure 24 then visit



*That’s in the bible that is.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Rift Vally

I find myself at an orphanage nestled in the Rift Valley in Kenya. The founder asked me to come and help, offer training and audit the children's files.

So, I've been sitting in a hut reading through the case notes of the 153 children. 

It's what I do on a daily basis, albeit, a slightly different setting so I'm no stranger to stories of tragedy. Reading the stories was hard, they are as complex, traumatic and tragic as anything I have ever read or will read.

I've sat shocked and in disbelief.

Witchcraft, murder, beating, poverty, abandonment, abuse, violence, layer upon layer, multiple trauma,  all leading children to a dusty plot of land in the Rift Valley. Children brought here by 'good samaritans' and local Chiefs and desperate members of extended families.

Repetition of themes and patterns for 153 children, there are no good reasons to be here. 

At playtimes I go and watch the children play and a happier, seemingly, carefree group of children you'd be pressed to find. Talking to matrons and patrons they tell a different story. 

I think about thresholds, absolute and relative poverty and a thousand other things as my senses are bombarded with the reality of the 153 children's lives. 

It's ok. I can manage the information when in isolation. 

In my mind I'm keeping the children and the stories apart, when they come together I falter.



Girls dormitory, Sure 24, Nakuru.
It will take time to unravel and make sense of all that I've seen. 


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

I'll never forget the day you were born.

I find it intriguing to ponder on where I was and what I was doing when my children were born, clearly I wasn't there.
I was just going about my life unaware of the strange journey I was on that would intersect with them in the future. Oblivious to the life changing events that were happening with different players miles away.


The day Sarah was born I was thoroughly unemployed/unemployable rather disinterested in getting a ‘proper’ job. I was living at home with my parents bumming around trying to earn a few quid while I waited to go off and spend a few years working for a youth charity. I’d not even met that vision of loveliness, Mrs C.
When Gracie popped out I was unemployed, I’d finished my couple of years travelling around the country and was trying to find a viable way of making money doing as little as possible. I was in the throws of an (over) emotional breakup with my girlfriend. Mrs C was a friend but no more and I only had three guitars and a CD collection to my name.

Ginger's arrival into the world coincides with Mrs C and my holiday together celebrating our first year of marriage. So, as he entered into the world we were sat in the Pyrenees Mountains enjoying ourselves considering our future together.

It would be another 20 months before I would meet my children. Good luck, chance and happenstance conspired that we would come together. Their journey was a little more ‘interesting’ than ours and without doubt more challenging. Never the less we met.

Flossy exploded into the world six years later. I was an established dad by now, I had a job and was quite respectable. We hadn’t even thought about being foster carers but by the time her little sister, Lotty, arrived a year later we were almost approved foster carers and we were awaiting our panel day. In fact the day Lotty arrived was our 9th wedding anniversary.

We met these two fireballs three months later and things have never been dull since. But like the big three their journey to us was tricky and the path to the Adoption Order was laid with many dangers, toils and snares, but we got there.

We knew Peanut was coming, but we weren’t meant to, a birth family member had tipped us off. The day she arrived we sat in our garden with a hundred or so friends, family and acquaintances holding our own Fostering and Adoption hoo ha.
We knew, everybody knew, that she was coming our way but caution and bureaucracy conspired and we waited 21 months, long months, before we met.  

And that makes six.

I have only cried once in relation to my lack of genetic offspring and I cried like I’ve never cried before or since.
It came out of the blue with no warning. The day after the birth of my friend’s child the new father told me of the trials, tribulations and joy of the birth. I had to leave and I sobbed and sobbed.
At the time I couldn’t understand why I was so upset at that point, 10 years into our adoption journey. I'd never felt such feelings before.

Now, reflecting on it, I think I was upset for Sarah, Gracie, Ginger, Flossy, Lotty, Peanut, Mrs C and Me. That we didn’t share the most important days of all our lives. 

I have to ask, where were you?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Sweaty palms & Social Workers

Not unusually we had a bit of a fracas, you know the usual stuff, pushy, shovey angry, kicky, shouty, pretendy call the policey and so on. But as it took a turn for the worse towards the end and new behaviours manifest we thought we'd better inform the powers that be.




So, we dutifully called the local Children's Services Duty Team and briefly let them know what had happened. Though we have ongoing and weekly access to a range of professionals they have a more therapeutic role than statutory protection so the Social Workers seemed to be the right people to tell.

I think they where a bit perplexed.

We asked the Duty Social Worker to record the incident and they offered to come out, well we said we weren't that bothered about seeing them but if they fancied a trip out they they were welcome. 

Lo and behold a letter arrived and they were going to pop out and have a chat. 

I then started to get a feeling of uncertainty, perhaps they thought we were hiding something. That us not being 'bothered' about seeing them was interpreted as something more sinister.

Perhaps we would get a Type A Social Worker. That wouldn't help.

Also, what the hell would Flossy say. An unceasing torrent of utter tosh normally pours out of her mouth, bless her,  and at best it's just irritating and at worst it's catastrophically dangerous.
(I must blog about the time when we were returning from holiday she threatened to tell airport security that I'd stolen Madeline McCann*). 

I rub shoulders with Children's Services Social Workers on a daily basis so they normally hold no threat or mystique for me. On the whole they're a good bunch, overworked yes, but malicious no. 

But to have one come to the house on a professional basis is quite a thing. What presumptions would they make, what conclusions would they draw.

Sometimes when I visit a home in my professional capacity I can feel the brittle anxiety experienced by a parent when a  Social Worker steps into their home. Now their feelings of loss of control and impotence where creeping around Mrs C and I and it wasn't nice.

As it turns out all was well and as suspected it was more a case of being thorough than of being suspicious.
For me it was a good lesson professionally and personally.
It made me consider my manner and actions as a Social Worker.
I made me think about my children's parents, yes very different circumstances. However, I know the system and my rights and I'm able to communicate effectively yet still I found the experience challenging. Being an average white man the system favours me but I thought of the challenges they faced and the failings they experienced.

All in all, an interesting experience. 


*I didn't


Friday, 19 September 2014

Snakes & Ladders

We are walking away from trauma, loss and separation and some days we seem to have walked so far.
Some days we appear to be on a cosmic Snakes and Ladders board, just with very small, infrequent ladders and lots of snakes that take us back from where we came.
We make a baby step, then another in the right direction, we fall and we seem to be back where we started.


Our psychotherapist calls it regression.

Regression
Noun.
  1.  A return to a former or less developed state.
  2.  The act of going back.


The usual suspects provoke its arrival, the new school term, birthdays, trips, the summer, memories, people, family, shampoo, and the word ‘no’, it is a long and unpredictable list. 
The inevitable onset of puberty, physical and emotional change, complicates the picture.
We look back to see where it came from to try and look forward to sidestep any potential provocations.

Sometimes the regression is fleeting, in the flicker in the eye or change in expression we see the frightened/angry/desperate infant for a second. Sometimes we go back to the chaos of thought and feeling for a day or a week.
It can be banished by a distraction, words or comfort, sometimes it can’t.
It is the testing of hope, like a shadow that looms and subdues the light.
Warned though we were of its inevitability it still comes as a shock, a disappointment.

Though I’m not sure what the goal is but sometimes it seems unreachable with the threat of regression underfoot

It’s not all bleak, we’ve had our ladders. We’ve expected the worst and seen the best. We’ve been left agog at self-awareness and insight.

A two-rung ladder outweighs a myriad of snakes.
Hope is a potent thing, so we roll the dice every morning.