Those of you who have followed my blog so far may have realised that I am slightly pre-occupied by food. That is something I could quite easily be guilty of, as for me, food is a huge source of pleasure –  to cook, to discover new foods, dishes or cuisines and to share meals with family and friends is definitely one of my simple pleasures. So naturally, food has become even more of an issue for me now that I am a mother and part of that is I really hope that my daughter shares my love of cooking and baking, and that she too will have a spirit of adventure when it comes to discovering new foods.
 
We are blessed to have friends and family from many different cultures and so already in her short life she has tried dishes from Poland, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Germany – and of course, Jamaica! Whilst she has already had a number of opportunities to experience Jamaican food at friends’ houses and functions, and of course from the takeaway food shop –  I didn’t want my daughter’s experiences of Jamaican food to have been exclusively out of the house. I wanted her to experience those foods and dishes in her home, to be the foods she has grown up with. For me, some of the most comforting foods are those that formed part of my childhood and I want her to have that similar memory and experience with foods form her Jamaican heritage.

Now, I can only cook ackee and saltfish well and although I have attempted other dishes, I was really happy when I saw a course advertised at a local adult education centre teaching Caribbean cookery. It is only on for 6 weeks, one evening per week, but I thought it would be fun if nothing else! So, last week I went along and I made my very own batch of patties!!
 
My daughter loved them – despite my Dad’s worries that they would be too spicy for her (secretly I think he wanted more for himself as he loved them too) – she gulped them down. Needless to say I have become very popular with friends and family all offering to help sample the goodies but I shall of course keep you updated on my progress….

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Our woman of the week is a woman that I have had the pleasure of knowing from childhood.

Kathleen Richards is a remarkably compassionate woman with great determination; she has made the decision to use her retirement, a time when most start to put their feet up and enjoy themselves, as a time to use her experience and skills to help others. 

Kathleen is a very experienced, passionate midwife who has worked with thousands of women and their babies across the Midlands over her 25 year career. Throughout her career, Kathy also raised four children of her own; now with all her brood having reached adulthood and recently retiring from her career, she started to think about her next steps. I was really excited to hear that she had made the decision to travel to Kenya and use her experience to volunteer with a medical and community project. Kathy raised the money for the trip herself, and with the help of her family, made and sold ceramic Christmas tree decorations and cakes, as well as organising – and taking part in – a gym triathlon. 

Earlier this year, in September, Kathy travelled to Limuru, just outside of Nairobi. Kathy worked in a community facility which housed a maternity unit and general medical care clinic. Those living in the community served by the clinic suffer extreme poverty and hardship; women accessing the service will need to save two weeks wages in order to afford a scan. Seven per cent of women in the village are diagnosed as HIV positive, and there are 7-10 women newly diagnosed each week. Despite the limited resources and difficult circumstances, Kathy was really impressed with the way in which the dedicated team of nurses, midwives and clinical officers manage this service, without any doctors, successfully delivering 60-80 babies each month.

 However, the service is extremely overcrowded; an average of 150 women will wait to be seen in a narrow corridor where women and their babies have to huddle together outside the treatment rooms; in these conditions, privacy is a luxury. Kathy was particularly shocked at the facilities for counselling sessions, which currently take place in an old shower cubicle. 

Seeing a large, empty courtyard that joined the buildings, Kathy realised the potential of this open space; if only it had a roof!  This set Kathy’s mind ticking and she started to discuss her plans with the project leaders, who thought she had hit on a great idea to use the unused space more effectively by providing a roof!

Since returning, Kathy has launched the ‘Raise a Roof for Karuri Campaign’. The project will not only provide the much-needed roof, but also fit and tile a floor and provide a waiting area with furnishings. In addition, the counselling room will be renovated and a new sink installed in the labour ward. Kathy is aiming to raise £9,000 to make this project a reality; she has suggested a ‘cup of kindness’ campaign; place a cup on your kitchen window and if you have any loose change, put it in the cup and give towards this much needed facility. If you would like to help Kathleen with her project and check out her progress towards her goal, you can visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/therichardsfamily

 This week we celebrate all the women that dedicate their working lives to help other women at such a crucial time in their life, the women that see opportunities and strive to make lives better for others. Good luck Kathy, I am confident that you will get there!

Our woman of the week for this week is an introduction to one of our directors, Sally Torpey; an incredible woman who has achieved so much for women in Ghana in her short working career.  

When aged just 16 and a senior secondary school pupil herself, Sally became concerned at her peers’ attitude towards their education demonstrated by the high drop-out rate amongst girls and their somewhat reckless respect for their sexual health in the high rates of teenage pregnancies. Realising the importance of women remaining in education and the power that lies within women to change the fate of the nation, Sally established the Millenium Ladies Club. With Sally as president and growing numbers, the club met regularly and was joined by experts to talk to the young women about a range of important issues such as personal hygiene, female reproductive health and the value of education.

When Sally left school in 2002, her ambitions and motivation grew to reach out to help more vulnerable women in Ghana. Sally registered Sympathy International as a non-governmental organisation that would support women in her local area, Cape Coast in Ghana’s Central Region. Since its inception ten years ago, Sally has worked tirelessly with young people, women and disadvantaged persons in the Central Region. Services offered by the organisation include HIV training and awareness, skills training for women, counselling, volunteer opportunities and training of peer educators.

In 2006, Sally diversified the work of the organisation when she established a women’s skills training project in Cape Coast to address the serious problem of women engaging in sexual promiscuity. Many women in the region find it hard to access stable and secure income because of lack of education, poor employment opportunities and family commitments. Seeing the plight of women engaging in sexual promiscuity as a means of financial stability, and the social ills that this bought with it, such as high rates of HIV and AIDs, Sally decided that action was needed. Sally set up skills training in gari production for women in the area. Gari is a foodstuff that is widely used in West Africa, derived from the cassava plant. A total of 38 women were involved in the project to manufacture and sell gari; the beneficiaries were provided with training in how to produce gari using specialised equipment and was sold at local markets, thus creating a sustainable income for the women and their families.

Ever the innovator, and never one to rest on her laurels, in 2010 Sally continued her work in social enterprise to empower women by creating a fabric project. Sally set up the project by founding a sister company, Salet Foundation. The trading arm of the project was registered as Oheemaa, meaning queen, and reinforces Sally’s belief in every woman’s regal potential. Forty three women are currently employed in producing batches of batik fabrics, which are hand stitched to create really unique fair trade clothing and gifts. The products are currently sold in Ghana as well as in USA with plans to commence trade in Europe. Early next year, Sally will travel to the US to showcase the designs at a fashion show.

In addition to her work with Sympathy International and Salet Foundation, Sally is a director of Sister Ukhana and is integral to the Ghana operation of our organisation; her expertise in social enterprise and women’s projects, shrewd business sense and motivation is key to the success of our organisation so far. Reaching beyond her formal work, Sally is a devoted daughter, sister and wife; she is mother to a beautiful daughter and yet still manages to achieve so much for other women less fortunate than herself. Sally has stated that although she has been blessed with a comfortable and stable upbringing, she is well aware that not everyone is so fortunate and feels that it is her calling to carry on helping others that desperately need support and encouragement to achieve their potential.  

Sally’s work with women has earned her the respect of her peers across the country. Sally is now in post as the National Secretary of Ghana Association of Women Entrepeneurs and has worked closely with a number of high profile organisations such as Ghana AIDS Commission and Ghana Police, who are impressed with Sally’s results in helping reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS in the Cape Coast area.

With Sally’s determination and innovative attitude, I am certain that she has not only earned your respect in reading this short dedication but that she will continue to make many further strides to champion the plight of women in Ghana. Today we celebrate the women that devote their lives to helping those less fortunate, that are not afraid to stand up and address the issues that others cower from and that continually look to new and fresh ways to make a difference.

This week I am celebrating the life of a woman who sadly is no longer with us. I have no personal connection with Betty but there is something about her story that has really touched me. Betty Yates was taken from us in January 2012; she was the victim of a brutal stabbing at her home in Bewdley at the age of 77. Since her death, there has been much media coverage about this well known and loved woman who had an impact on so many. As I have read and watched the local news I have been really moved by how influential this woman was and so have taken the decision to celebrate her legacy.

Betty Yates was a retired school teacher. She worked in primary schools in Bewdley, Kidderminster and Streetly. Since her death, an overwhelming amount of former pupils have described Betty as an inspiration, the best teacher they had, their favourite teacher… The tributes and praise has been incredible. Many former pupils have compared Betty to a second mother, such was her caring, compassionate and fun-loving nature. Betty organised a number of extra-curricular activities to ensure that the children she taught received a balanced and rounded education.

In fact, her impact as a school teacher lead to the creation of a facebook page entitled ‘RIP Betty Yates, the best teacher there was’. The page currently has 1,038 likes and is an outlet for pupils and friends to remember and share memories of this outstanding woman.

When she had finished her teaching career, Betty used her retirement to become involved in a huge number of activities. Betty was an active member of art, book reading and walking clubs. She also attended civic society meetings and volunteered her time at the annual Bewdley Festival and the Wyre Forest University of Third Age (an activity group of older people). Betty also took time out to go back to her old primary school and read with the pupils there.

Betty was extremely well known in the Bewdley community. People have recounted how Betty would be stopped several times whilst walking down the street by people that she knew; she had the time to speak to each one and had a real interest in others. Many have commented on her wit and great sense of humour that she would share whenever meeting friends in the street.

Just earlier this month, the Wyre Forest MP Mark Garnier welcomed Nick Clegg to join him in paying tribute to Betty in the House of Commons.

Betty was a remarkable woman who touched the lives of so many. I am certain that her legacy will continue to live on for many years. This week please join me in celebrating the women who are figureheads of our communities and positively influence the lives of others with love, compassion and humour.

Betty Yates RIP.

 

This week I am celebrating the women who turn a negative into a positive world of opportunities, who have a dream they refuse to give up on and who turn their passions into their livelihood.

Let me introduce you to Sheena; small, perfectly formed, and a power house of enthusiasm and energy. It is clear from meeting Sheena that she is full of life. However, what lies beneath that friendly, bubbly personality with an infectious laugh is huge ambition and steely determination.

Always entranced by the fashion world, Sheena was working as a fashion buyer in 2011 when she was suddenly made redundant. With bills still to pay, Sheena started to temp in dull admin jobs and spent her free time applying for jobs and attending interviews. Feeling disheartened, it was a conversation with a friend that made Sheena realise that she had always been passionate about fashion, and that maybe she should explore other areas of the fashion industry; her friend suggested blogging and this was the catalyst for Sheena’s world to change.

One evening in November 2011, Sheena set up her own blog… that evening ‘Just call me Shoena’ was born. (‘Shoena’ being a fitting nickname for the girl who is addicted to shoes and all things fashion!!) Sheena describes that more than a hobby, blogging became a form of escapism that she would indulge in 3 or 4 times a week; whilst working in a boring job, blogging gave her the buzz she needed to embrace a topic she was passionate about. Soon, Sheena had fallen in love with blogging – and as well as regularly posting on ‘Just call me Shoena’, she landed freelance blogger roles with style-card, Tha-One, Style nugget and Dose of vitamin F. This also provided Sheena with the opportunity to develop her writing further, as she started to adapt her style of writing to suit the different tones of each fashion site she contributes to.  Working part time as a brand manager and blogging endlessly, Sheena never gave up on her dream.

For Sheena, blogging was the springboard for her to pursue her different facets of the fashion world and after some thought she decided to pursue a career in Fashion Marketing or PR. Determined to make it a reality, for 6 months, Sheena worked 7 days a week, interning at 3 different companies in PR, Social media and fashion copywriting and marketing. Good things come to those that work hard and last week, Sheena clinched a full time job in PR. Many of us have dreams and ambitions, but Sheena is living proof that determination and ambition really pay off for those that are prepared to put in the work.

As if that wasn’t enough, Sheena’s ambitions to take over the fashion world are not over yet – and this is possibly her most exciting idea yet! One morning on the train to work, Sheena put her hand in her pocket and found a travel card dating back to 2005; realising that this was the last time that she had worn the jacket, Sheena thought long and hard about how she can pass on her hoards of unwanted items that she had collected over the years through her role as a fashion buyer plus as a certified shopaholic and vintage addict! House of Shoena was born.

House of Shoena is Sheena’s online shop, which is due to launch in 3 weeks time. The concept is to sell pre-owned, vintage and one off samples that will showcase products by new and emerging talents and brands. The photo shoot has been completed and so now all systems are go for the exciting launch!!

Sheena intends to pursue her career in PR and marketing in the fashion industry, at the same time as running House of Shoena. I have every belief that she will achieve this and more.

Sheena is an amazing example of a woman who, when life has given her lemons, has made lemonade – oh, and a lemon drizzle cake too! I love her tenacity and passion; I admire her unfailing ambition and determination against the odds; certifying Sheena as a real woman to celebrate.

 Check out Sheena’s blog at

http://justcallmeshoena.blogspot.co.uk/

This week I am celebrating a woman who has shown strength and ambition beyond measure and has taught me about the importance of planning for the futures that we want.

My first impression of Maxine was that she was probably the hardest working woman that I knew. At the time, she was working in a salon during the week and then worked evenings and weekends with private clients in her home. At home, she had 3 children which she cared for single handedly; as if that wasn’t enough, she had also embarked on a college course.

Every time that I visited Maxine, she had a new item of furniture or a new piece of equipment; it was clear to me that Maxine was not wasteful with her money and her hard work was to achieve the things that she wanted. She shared with me a story that she had visited a Doctor in Harley Street who had a beautiful leather chair. Maxine had commented on the chair and had pledged to herself that she would have the same in her own home; now it is hers, proudly sitting in her living room.

Maxine continues to work hard, that I cannot deny. Despite her children being older, she is still working in the day time and sees private clients at the weekends and evenings, as well as still studying at college.

Maxine has taught me so much about how to manage my money; although she has bought a lot of luxury articles for her home, she certainly knows how to save and how to plan for the future. Maxine is never thinking about the next year or the next month, she is always looking to her long term goals and has really taught me how to plan for the life that I want. Maxine has prepared herself and her children for their future and has shown me the ways in which she has taught her own children the value of money.

As time went on and I got to know Maxine more, I realised that there was much more to this hard working and opinionated woman than met the eyes. For she is absolutely one of the most caring, generous and thoughtful people that I know. Maxine is full of energy and love wherever she goes; she can make a friend of anyone. She embraces life and new experiences; always open minded and eager to hear about other people’s stories. Maxine has passionately shared with me her Jamaican food and shown me how to cook a number of dishes; in turn, I have shared with her how to cook a roast and traditional English puddings; I love this aspect of our friendship.

This week I celebrate all the women who are raising children without a partner, who work hard to realise their goals in the long and short term and who embrace the diversity of our rich planet.

 

This week I am celebrating a very dear friend of mine who is an inspirational role model in her personal and professional lives; she does a wonderful job of juggling both – and making it look easy!

Natasha has been a close friend of mine for over two decades now. For me, one of the greatest things that I wanted to celebrate was the love and companionship that female friendships provide. Natasha has been a constant source of love, support, encouragement, fun and advice over the years. In no doubt of the real meaning of ‘thick and thin’, one of the things that I appreciate most about Natasha is that I can call her at any time and know that she is bound to have the words to say to make me feel comforted, to offer sensible and well-thought out advice, and most importantly to have me raising a smile (and usually a couple of belly laughs) by the end of the conversation.

One of the most striking things about Natasha is her warmth. Something that you feel whenever she steps into a room or enters a group of people; her love and energy can be felt by all. She is a living version of the phrase ‘full of life’ and is sure to inject zest into whatever she is doing, personally or professionally.

If Natasha brings warmth and love wherever she goes, then it goes without saying that you will feel this even more so in Natasha’s home. For it really is a home and not a house; somewhere that you really experience Natasha’s great hosting, her wonderful cooking skills and her amazing ability to make anyone feel comfortable and at ease.

Natasha has done a fantastic job of raising her son into a well-mannered, confident and well-rounded young man who also shares Natasha’s zest and love for life. It is easy to see why Natasha has so many Godchildren as to see her around the younger generation is an absolute joy; her generosity knows no bounds in terms of the time, love and passion that she extends to the children in her life.  

If there is a cause that needs supporting or a friend or family member that needs help, Natasha is the first one there, rounding up the troops. Whether it’s the school fete or a charitable event at church, Natasha makes sure that she gives her support as wholeheartedly as she possibly can.

From pretty much the day we got our National Insurance numbers at the tender age of 16, I can remember Natasha working, throughout her studies and beyond; she certainly hasn’t stopped since! She has achieved so much in her career to date and she continues to move from strength to strength, continually pursuing the high professional standards that she sets for herself. Beyond her paid professional life, Natasha doesn’t stop – she can be seen helping out at church meetings or PTA committees; another example of Natasha’s unwavering energy and commitment to others.

It is often that you will call Natasha and she’s working late into the evening; juggling motherhood with work and being a constant support for her friends and her family. But she is never too tired or too busy to listen, as she values her friends and family so highly.

I feel blessed to have had such a strong force in my life for such a continued length of time. Today I celebrate the power of female friendships, the amazing ability of women such as Natasha to juggle a successful professional career with a prominent place in the community, family and circle of friends with an unending amount of love and energy.