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Why I applied for Connecting HR Africa

12th May 2016
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Thank you so much for reading this blog. It’s a long one so grab yourself a brew and settle in.

In September, I have the privilege of going to Uganda to support the great work that Retrak are doing with street kids. You can read more about what we’ll be doing and for whom here. The bit I haven’t yet shared is why I applied in the first place.

For as many years as I can remember, I have been totally focussed on proving a point. To who? I’m not sure. Myself, maybe? I don’t keep my past a secret. I spent teenage years in Foster Care, moved around a fair bit which meant my childhood was disruptive. I didn’t have too many prospects, if I’m honest.

My last Foster placement always went above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, there was no duty. Simply put, they really cared. You were lucky to get a placement with this family. Many didn’t.

Just before my 16th birthday I was deemed ready for independence. This, essentially, meant moving into my own accommodation (a bedsit) and learning the ways of the world. I shared the accommodation with another chap and, whilst the main room was grim, it was OK.

I hung around with undesirables, boyfriends included. I didn’t know any different. Surrounded by some work-shy, drug-dealing, weapon-using, violent, abusive types it is remarkable, when I look back now, to comprehend that it was even me in that situation. It doesn’t seem real. But it was.

So what happened to steer me on a path so vastly different to the one I was on, destined to remain on, some might say?

Kindness. People who did not have to help, but did so because they are beautiful people with huge hearts. Doing something for others for no other reason than because they knew they could make a difference. It may be a small difference, it may be a life-changing, path-defining difference. But it was still a difference.

Right people, right time

At 22 my life changed again. I had a different pub job and to take an excerpt from my very first blog:

“I loved it. Yes, I thought I couldn’t do anything else….I’d had years of people telling me so. Who was I to doubt them, they were the adults.

I was blown away by the fun we had and I was still being paid. This is crazy, right; who gets paid to have fun? It was a year before a manager tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was going on a course.

How exciting….so many questions I had; what was the course, why was I picked to go on it, was I not any good at my job that I needed training? Turns out it was a Team Leader Development workshop and when I returned I was made Supervisor. How proud I was. I had my little star to prove that I was good at my job. I still have that star. It reminds me that someone took a chance on me when many thought differently.”

Three people saw something and took a chance on me at that time; Dawn Hawkins, General Manager at Ember Inns, Jo Wright, Pre-Opening Training Manager at Mitchells and Butlers and my amazing man, now husband, Mark Hewitson. I will be forever indebted.

Without these three people, at that specific time, my life would most certainly have not taken the path it did. All the right people were in the right place at the right time.

The next struggle

Together, we learned that it would be almost impossible for me to have children *shakes fist at Endometriosis* and we accepted that. I still wanted to help children and, after a very lengthy discussion in 2007 we applied to become Foster Carers with our Local Authority.

 A week before the panel, who decide if we can be approved Foster Carers, I received a call from the Lead Social Worker explaining that she would like to explore my biological family (BF) in more detail. I asked why and she couldn’t answer well enough. I refused to allow her to do this. I was given an ultimatum; allow us to make contact with the BF or we could not go to panel. It required not even an ounce of thought. It was never going to happen. Our application was pulled, 12 months was wasted and I was devastated.

It took many years for me to get over that experience. I threw myself back into work obsessively, suppressing emotions, building barriers and, with hindsight, making myself quite unwell and most unpleasant. I didn’t see the crash until it happened. A summer supported by the Priory was awful but most definitely needed.

In 2012, I still had a burning need to help kids in the same way that I had been helped. I explored options and discovered that we could apply to become Foster Carers with a Private Agency. The process began again and on April 11th 2013 we became Foster Carers. I was so happy, I burst into tears at panel. We’d done it!

Over the next 14 months, we were referred 13 children to consider. Now, for reasons only known to the child’s social worker, we weren’t chosen. I really started to struggle with this. I mean, what was wrong with us? What were they looking for that we didn’t have? Our Social Worker thought it was a lack of experience. Really? After so much training, investigation and preparation, someone had to take a chance on us at some point, surely? Apparently not. And with that, we accepted that it wasn’t going to happen for us.

Back into obsessive work mode until I had my life light-bulb moment. People Stuff Matters. Then I saw Ian Pettigrew’s tweet, realised that I could still give back and applied.

On Tuesday 19th April 2016, I was selected to be a part of this awesome team. The opportunity of #ConnectingHRAfrica completes me.

The application

This is my application form that I submitted to Retrak:

Why would you like to participate in the Connecting HR Africa Programme?

This programme connects with me on a personal level. Retrak works to transform lives and provide positive futures for the world’s most vulnerable children who live, work and sleep on the streets and, after experiencing vulnerability first hand in the UK (I spent my teenage years as a looked after child in Foster Care) I have worked hard to make as best a life that was possible in the face of challenges, perception and barriers.

I want to help young people accept, embrace and overcome the challenges that they face.

What personal qualities would you bring to the trip?

I love to listen as much as I love engaging in conversation. I am curious, I enjoy solving problems, building stuff and making life fun.

I am an obsessive cook, compulsive gardener, keen reader and, hubby would say, very creative when it comes to “sourcing” i.e shopping. I have an enormous amount of compassion and seek to understand what I can do to help others.

What professional experience do you have that could be useful during the trip? (such as  working with young people, child protection, counselling, teaching, running talks and workshops)

I am an approved Foster Carer and have been through a deep level of learning to understand safeguarding, child protection, counselling skills and behaviours.

In my professional life, I have completed a 120hr online programme to teach English as second language, I write and deliver workshops, facilitate working groups to stimulate conversation, I have presented at conferences and have partnered, in prior employment, with Believe in Young People to help young people embark on a work experience programme within my industry of hospitality.

I have a C&G L3 Introduction to Teaching, I deliver many train the trainer programmes,

Have you ever travelled to, lived in or experienced other cultures? 

Yes, my husband and I are avid travellers. We have spent a lot of time in Asia, specifically Thailand and Vietnam as well as Australia, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya to name but a few. We have driven Route 66 and will be doing an EU road trip in June. When we are away, we do as much as we can with locals; experience first-hand their day to day.

Please tell us about any experience you have of working with children:

I don’t have any children of my own. I have contributed to the upbringing of children who suffer with mental health issues and I have worked with children when I was both in Foster Care as a looked after child (I was given the responsibility for one of the younger children to aid his development.

He came to us, aged 3, with limited speech ability after being neglected). I have actively supported care leavers and in 2013 became an approved Foster Carer with a  private agency to help other children who were in need of a safe, secure, loving, supportive and developmental environment.

Can you outline any practical skills you have, such as building maintenance, DIY, gardening?

I am a brilliant cook, gardener, driver and builder of stuff (not so hot at walls, but I learn quickly), I do all my own maintenance (even electrics) and I thoroughly enjoy it.

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Oh, and I’m doing the Autumn Wolf Run the week before #ConnectingHRAfrica – I have never ran in my life. Not even for a bus. This is a big deal for me, but not as much of how big a deal it is to smash my target.

If you are able to share this post, after you have read it, or help with donations / items for the children, please do contact me. I know that myself, Retrak and Team Margot Foundation are immensely grateful and thankful for every single penny raised. My Virgin Money Giving page is here or, to donate via phone, please text. An example message: CHRA50 £10 to 70070.

Thank you.

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