It all started in 2007 when I decided to walk the Pennine Way from Edale to Scotland - approximate 270 miles. I did this to raise money to go and help the people of Mozambique. I managed to persuade a friend to complete the trek with me. We gained a lot of support. Many companies were very kind and donated all sorts of things we needed, and 16 of the B&B’s that we stayed in let us stay free because of what we were doing.
I have to say the Pennine Way walk was a gruelling challenge and the weather was really changeable. We experienced every kind of weather except snow. At the highest point on the Pennine Way, at almost 3000 feet, there is a place called Cross Fell and we found ourselves in a thunder storm- I even saw a tornado. A couple of weeks before we completed the walk in 2007 the area was flooded and it was water -logged to say the least.
At a B&B in Middleton in Teesdale the owner talked to us about some teddies she had given to a lady going to orphanages in Romania. The children loved them. The teddies were knitted by local women for a charitable organisation called 'Teddies for Tragedies'.
This was something I knew I could do for the children in Mozambique too. After we completed the Pennine Way, I called the B&B owner and went back to Middleton to collect 100 teddies to take to Mozambique.
I went to Mozambique with a group of young women to help an organisation called Quelimane Christian Assembly through Hope City Church based in Sheffield. The organisation had many different projects in the community such as a school that not only taught formal education to the children but also animal husbandry. They also taught farming and the school had land that produced different types of fruit and vegetables. It was a Christian-based organisation and they had a large church in the town which was the centre of what they were doing. The organisation also established an orphanage for boys found on the streets who were then given an education as well as a home. The same organisation ran a number of community projects throughout the area.
The trip to Mozambique changed my life. Coming back to England was very hard.
The following month I planned to go to India for a friend’s wedding where I was going to be a bridesmaid. One day shortly before I was due to fly out to India I came across an e-mail that had a little advert about sponsoring a child. I clicked on the link and found myself on a webpage about a group in India, the Dalits, who were treated as outcasts in their culture. I emailed the UK contact and mentioned that I would be soon travelling to India, and asked if there were any schools in the areas that I would be travelling to. The e-mail was forwarded to a few different people and I received an e-mail reply a few days later to say that there was a school for 280 Dalit children in Bangalore. As I only had three days until my flight to India I was a little dubious whether my friend and I could carry 280 teddies with us as I didn’t want to leave any of the children out. I decided to ask if the organisation had any smaller schools but received no reply, so I decided to just accept the challenge.
I was unable to contact the B&B owner in Middleton, but I had remembered a name in conversation we had had. I decided to try to call this person instead. I eventually tracked the phone number and spoke to another woman about the teddies. This woman had not been involved in Teddies for Tragedies for a number of years and so she gave me the number of another woman to contact in Scotland. By this time I was leaving for India the following day. I told the Scottish contact that I needed 280 teddies to take with me. I also told her that I was willing to drive and collect them from anywhere but the closer to London the better. Within 30 minutes she called me back and told me that there were 500 teddies waiting for me in Guildford. This was totally amazing! The only problem was fitting the teddies into our luggage—no small task.
The idea for ‘Teddies for Tragedies’ began in 1986 when a knitted teddy was added to a consignment of medicines going to a refugee camp in the Sudan. The doctors replied, ‘these teddies do more good than the medicines. They cheer the children up, give them hope, and soon they are on the road to recovery’, and so ‘teddy knitting’ began. A bag of teddies was added to each consignment of medicine, helping the children to recover and play. In 1991, ‘Teddies for Tragedies’ was formally established in Guildford, Surrey. There are now many branches throughout the UK. Each branch collects, checks and packs teddies, to send to locally supported aid groups and charities who work with children in tragic circumstances, and who would appreciate the gift of a teddy.
So, with 280 teddies, my friend and I set off to the airport. Both of us were bridesmaids at the wedding. In addition, I was supposed to do all the hair and make-up for the wedding party. Our backpacks were completely full already. In the end we both had large backpacks on our backs, another rucksack on our fronts, another bag each to carry then a massive hold-all of which we both took one handle each. With all the teddies squeezed into the bags we made our way to Heathrow to catch our flight. Knowing full well our luggage exceeded the limits and was also over-weight, we proceeded to the check-in desk. Incredibly, when we told our story, the Virgin check-in woman told us that she used to work at the ‘Teddy Factory’ of all places. She thought we were doing a wonderful thing and spoke to her boss about the ‘Teddies for Tragedies’ project. As a result, we were not charged for overweight or extra luggage.
When we arrived in Bangalore, we were met by someone from the Good Shepherd School who showed us all the organisation did for the Dalits. This included a medical centre where anyone could come and get advice and medicine at no cost. They also had a centre where they were helping women to learn trades like sewing and embroidery to become economically independent. The schools also provided uniforms and education for the children at no cost. There were a number of other projects the organisation planned or were in the process of setting up. One project was another training centre for women to learn to sew but that needed sewing machines to open.
After the tour, we went to the school to give the teddies to the children. It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. I have never seen so much joy! It was like it was the best day of their lives. We sang songs with them, and took pictures on digital cameras and showed them to the children. They were amazed to see themselves probably for the first time on a camera. There was one small girl in one of the classes that I remember in particular. She was only 5 or 6 years old and her mother had committed suicide just days before our visit. She and the other children touched my heart. I will never forget them. After returning from India I was unable to stop thinking about ways to help the children.
When I returned to England I knew that I wanted to continue what had already been started in some way. I didn’t know how but I knew in my heart that I desired to help the children in India. I continued to work at my old job but couldn’t stop thinking about the children and my work became meaningless.
At the end of 2008 I decided to give up my job and start afresh in the New Year. I worked as a temp for an agency as I searched my heart for the way forward. I knew I wanted to help the Dalit children and women in India but didn’t know how. I put together a DVD of our walk on the Pennine Way, our trip to Mozambique and to India as a way to say thank you to all the people who supported us and made it happen. I found making the DVD quite an emotional task as it brought all the memories flooding back. But the pictures on the DVD also showed me that it was possible to make a difference in other people’s lives, and so my journey began.