Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Rob Ryan joins the Sisterhood!

We had an amaaaaazing Shoreditch Sisters WI meeting with the very sweet and very beardy Rob Ryan yesterday. I've been in love with this man's beautiful papercut pictures for a while now, and almost blew my lid when I found out he was going to be a guest speaker at our April meeting!

Facing an audience of adoring sisters (he loved it that he could call us 'sisters', never having had any of his own), he spoke about his love of storytelling, and how papercutting became the perfect medium through which he could tell his stories. Text has always featured heavily in his work as an essential part of the emotions he is trying to convey. Moving from drawing and painting to working in monochrome paper 'liberated' him as an artist, enabling him to interweave his text and images into one visual message.

He's clearly an emotional and thoughtful guy, and hearing him speak really made his pictures fit him as a person. Awwwww what a loverly man.

Papercutting is what he is most known for, but he sees himself predominantly as someone who likes to draw.  His designs are everywhere now, from wedding cards to editorial spreads in Vogue. He is even (as he not so subtly name-dropped) currently working on a commissioned piece for Cath Kidson. She's a lucky lady!

We got the chance to do our own papercutting of templates that Rob and his assistant had brought along, which was what all the die-hard crafters had really been waiting for! A room full of scalpel-wielding sisters set to work, and an hour later this was the result - Lovely isn't it? Thanks Rob! Oh, and he also gave us a signed picture, and there's whisperings of him contributing a piece to our FGM campaign...exciting!

You can see Rob's work on his website, buy it on etsy or see it in the flesh at his Columbia Road shop Ryantown.

Friday, 13 April 2012

I heart Wood Street!

Today I found THE SECRET GEM of Walthamstow - Wood Street Indoor Market! Move over Orford Road, stand aside Walthamstow Village, you've got a slightly crappier, yet way cooler little sister in town!

It seems that the old boys and girls at the local council have finally decided that E17 was growing into a bit of a shit-hole, what with all the muggings and stabbings and that, and needed a serious make-over before the 'lympics, so they've given some wads of cash to some lovely arty types :-) nice folk eh?

It's full of super-cheap vintage shops, artists, designers, home-made cakes, craft shops, upholsterers, cafes &tc &tc. A general miss-mash of 'makers' (a term I have never heard that before, but hey, I think I'm going to call myself a 'maker' now too - it's got a nice god-like ring to it...)

Some lovely 'makers' that I met and bent the ears off in my haze of excitement were Animaux CircusAnja JaneCraft Guerilla (who also hold knit & natter meetings at the Rose & Crown in Walthamstow on the 2nd Thurs of each month). Super excited to have such creative people a stone's throw away from my yard!

AND the market even has a tiny weeny theatre! I went to their opening show tonight, a play by Write by Numbers about a guy with asperger's syndrome taking photos of what makes him happy and starting a Flickr sensation. *communal awwwww* It's on for the next month, and it's free, so give it a go.

Another lovely thing that's been added to the area to give it a sprucing is a beautiful and very funny and very east-end mural about the history of Wood St. It's called 'Tall Tales and Dubious Stories', and it's amazeballs - well worth a read, a stare and a piccie or two.

Im still feeling a bit dizzy at seeing my area get trendy before me very eyes. Need a to lie-down.

<3 x :-)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Going to Zambia! the end of April I'm jetting off AGAIN to embark on a 3 month volunteering project in Zambia with Restless Development, the leading global Youth-Led Development Agency! The project is funded by DFID, through the International Citizenship Service (ICS) which they started last year.

I will be working alongside Zambian volunteers to deliver Financial Literacy and Sexual & Reproductive Health workshops to student teachers in a college in Kabwe, Zambia (a town north of the capital city Lusaka).

Financial literacy is a really important way of enabling young people (especially young women, a particular interest of mine!) to have the freedom to make choices of their own. The aim of the SRH workshops is to reduce the rate of HIV related deaths (currently 2% amongst teachers) and build the capacity of student teachers to pass this information on to their classes once they start teaching.

I'm also a RD team leader, so I will also be supporting the other volunteers from the UK & Zambia! Meeting them at the pre-departure training, the other UK volunteers seem like a really diverse and interesting bunch, and I'm sure the Zambian volunteers will be equally fab, so I'm sure supporting them will be both fun and challenging!

It's going to be an amazing experience, as I've never been to Africa, and I know I am going to learn so much and hopefully have a positive impact on the community in Zambia and on the other volunteers. I can't wait to learn more about International Development, and the education system in Zambia, as well developing my skills of working with young people. YAY!

I'm really looking forward to it but I am a tad apprehensive too, as I will be away for so long (though I'm sure it will fly by!) and will really miss people. But...YOLO! ("you only live once" - apparently this a new phrase that all the cool kids are using...)

Also I'm fundraising for Restless, so if you want to donate some cash monies, please do it here (and GiftAid it!) and I will bring you back a Zambian animal...

<3 x :-)

Thursday, 16 June 2011


While living and working with Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans in the East of Sri Lanka for 3 months, I learnt a lot about the devastation caused by the civil war - death, displacement, injury, shelling, destruction of buildings, economic stagnation, corruption, rape...the list goes on. I even experienced being stopped at police checkpoints, which, although there are fewer now, are still in place between districts, and where Tamils may still be stopped and interrogated about where they are going and why.
However, the majority of what I heard about the civil war which raged in the North and East of the country for over 30 years was unreal for me; stories which touched me and made me cry, but which were still almost fiction to me, having no personal experience of it.
I once sat and listened to a Tamil woman talk about how she and her family had to escape from attacks by both government forces and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), wading through rivers in the pitch black and hiding in forests. Tears ran down her face when she described how she had to lie ontop of her 3 year-old son so that he wouldn't be shot in the head. The fear a mother must feel at that moment of utter powerlessness, trying to keep her children safe, but not knowing how or for how long. Although her family survived and relocated after their displacement, many thousands did not, as Channel 4's harrowing 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields' documentary shows.
The real-life footage of atrocities committed by both sides held me speechless in disgust. One woman tells how the Red Cross came to provide both sides with the GPS co-ordinates of local hospitals, so they wouldn't hit them, but the government forces used this information to target 65 hospitals directly. A beautiful TV presenter on the LTTE channel is reading news in a saree one minute, and lying naked and dead the next, having been brutalized, raped and killed by government troops. Somehow, previously seeing her in such a public role makes her horrific fate so much more real and representative of the hundreds of other women sexually assaulted, then tossed aside for being Tamil.
The distance between the decision-makers at the top, like President Rajapaksa, and the victims of the fallout of their decisions is so great it is sickening. While he sends his children to international private schools and buys cars and bodyguards for his wife in Colombo, poor, vulnerable people were losing their lives on the opposite side of his small island. His corruption is so entrenched now, as he has appointed family members into the most senior positions of government, that the country seems to be moving towards a dictatorship.
The video raises the question of how much the UN can do to intervene in crimes against humanity. When the UN workers in the North of Sri Lanka were told to leave by the government, they had to, and could do nothing to prevent the killings being carried out. However, I do believe the 'international community' must expose and denounce such atrocities, and show that we do care about people being killed on the other side of the world.
I will certainly be lobbying my MP to let him know that I care about people like the Sri Lankan volunteers I lived and worked with for 6 months, and that something must be done to defend the rights of the Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese civilians affected by the violence, which have been violated for so long.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Poor Kids

"I don't want to grow up" said 8-year-old Courtney as she lay on her hole-ridden bed, scratching her eczema-scarred ankle. Because for her and 3.5 million other children in the UK living in poverty, growing up only means the stress of struggling to feed a family on less that £70 a week and getting into debt. Courtney's mum can't even afford a bus fare, a sobering fact that has resigned Courtney to believe that she will “always be poor”, unlike her friend whose parents both have jobs and can afford holidays to Greece.
In another scene, Sam, an eloquent 11-year-old, reveals many of the compounding effects of being poor. He is bullied at school for wearing his sister’s second-hand uniform and called “mop-head” because his dad can’t afford to take him to a barber’s. He eventually does get his hair cut for £9 as a 12th birthday present, as well as a card. He knows the value of money; for him £1 means 6 hours of TV, paid on a meter. He doesn't want to have a wife, because "she might leave me", as his mum did on his second birthday.
Paige, who lives with her parents in a high-rise flat in Glasgow, points out the damaging effect of damp on the health of children living below the poverty line as she covers her mouth in disgust, looking up at the blackened ceiling of her friend’s bathroom.
It seems unbelievable that so many children and their families must live in such unsuitable accommodation while thousands of houses lie boarded up and empty across Britain, which should surely be renovated and given to families in need.
The responsibility for increasing the opportunities of poorer children lies with many people; local authorities, parents, schools and the government all have their role to play. Admittedly, the provision of free swimming, free family planning clinics, and free bus rides in deprived areas has increased, and libraries have always been places to access books and computers for free.
However, these services are rendered redundant if parents do not know how to access them, or schools do not take advantage of publicizing them.
And as for the government…well, the protests against the cuts only touched the surface of their irresponsibility. When in East Lancashire recently, I attended a community debate in a community centre that was going to be shut down owing to the cuts. The children there were extremely vocal about the damaging effect the closure would have. Not only would it would remove a place they could relax and play in, but they also believed it would reinforce stereotypes of hooded, criminal-minded teenagers hanging out on street corners, and thereby increase tensions and mistrust within the community, further impeding people's abilities to work together tho improve their community.
Poverty is not just lacking money. It pervades and cripples so many other areas of life; health, education, social inclusion, and in particular one's sense of one’s own prospects and future.
Organizations like Kid's Company are doing great work to tackle the traumatic effects of poverty and support children to grow into independent, secure adults. But we should also think about how we can do our bit, whether through lobbying MPs, supporting charities, setting up free after-school clubs at the local library or contacting schools to inform them about free facilities in the area.
It's documentaries like this that really make me want to get onto Teach First...fingers crossed.

Monday, 13 June 2011