Saluting our unsung heroines
© Daily Mirror, 8 March 2010 http://www.mirror.co.uk
Part of ‘Your Life’ pullout supplement, back page article
Life changed forever for Mandi Boyle, partner Paul and the rest of her family, when her seven-year-old daughter Mollie was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, a type of kidney cancer. That was a year ago, and thankfully, after months of chemotherapy and an operation, Mollie is recovering well. Since then, Mandi has raised almost £12,000 for the Make-A-Wish foundation and a hospital. Mollie has a twin sister, Maisie, and two grown-up brothers.
“Your life changes in that five minutes when your child is diagnosed with cancer, you feel just like you’ve been bashed by a bat.” Mandi says. “When Mollie’s hair started falling out because of the chemo, my main thought was I knew she would be stared at and I didn’t her to be stared at alone. I made a flippant remark to someone about shaving my own hair, then of course I just had to do it, didn’t I? I held a head-shaving evening at our local rugby club to try and raise money, and lost my lovely long brown locks. But it was worth it.”
Not realising how generous people would be, it was a pleasant surprise to find that she’d have to find a deserving home for a cool £8000!
“My first thought was to find a charity that dealt with Wilms’ tumour specifically. But the larger cancer charities are fairly well supported, and I really wanted my bit of money to actually make a difference to someone. Make-A-Wish don’t get lottery funds, their income comes solely from donations. It’s for parents of children with terminal illnesses, such as cancers or motor neurone. Sometimes its touch-and-go – you might have to grant a child’s wishes really quickly. There’s a wide variety of different bits and pieces they do, from giving small gifts to large special treats. Of course when your child is seriously ill no amount of money can help, but with all the horrible times you have to endure, you need to have time off together, to go out as a family, to forget about the cancer and just enjoy yourself. I could afford that but some families can’t – that’s why I wanted to help people I’m never going to meet. Make-A-Wish helps children to achieve their dreams.
“Once you get on the cancer conveyor belt it’s like a rollercoaster – you just can’t get off, you ricochet from one emotion to another. Life is a series of crises, once you’re in there you have to deal with it every day and nobody realises just how hard it is. I’d have given anything to take the cancer from Mollie and have it myself, but all I could do was stand there powerless. The thing I found most heartwarming is you can never underestimate your child’s strength – she never once complained or had a tantrum, she’d gone through the worst of the treatment and she just accepted it – she gave me strength. The reality of your child having cancer isn’t a case or ‘Why her?’, or ‘Why me?’, it’s more a case of ‘Why not?’ You just have to get on with it, you’ve got to look forward and face practicalities. Making out the cheque for Make-A-Wish was absolutely fantastic. I savoured every single nought I wrote down!”
After the hair-shaving event Mandi went on to organise a quiz night, a garden party and a sponsored climb with friends up Scafell Pike, raising more money – practically another £4000, £1500 of which went to Princess Royal University Hospital, the remainder to Make-A-Wish. During Mollie’s treatment, it was doubly hard for twin sister Maisie, as her mum had to desert her to spend so much time at the hospital.
“We’ve met some really special people,” Mandi concludes. “For instance the Play Therapist at the Princess Royal University Hospital was absolutely wonderful, singing and dancing with Mollie when she went for her chemo, and she phoned me out of hours, a truly kind, loving person, she made all the difference in the world – hence the reason part of the money went to her hospital. At the moment the only fund-raising I’m doing is for the breast cancer charity, Race for Life, but if an idea crops up I’ll probably run with it – I’ve definitely got the money-raising bug.”
Faiza Zaman is the team leader of Refuge, part of Gateway Housing Association, an organisation that provides temporary housing and support for Asian women and their children who are escaping from domestic violence. Faiza is the mother of five children, a grandmother and foster carer, who also works many evenings as a telephone advisor for Refuge.
“The women we are helping have particular problems,” Faiza explains. “Typically they might be escaping from a forced marriage or honour-based violence – this means pressure from the women’s family to give up a relationship with a man they might consider unsuitable, normally someone who does not belong to their cultural or religious background, and therefore a union with him would bring dishonour on them all. This pressure can be physical or psychological, either from their own family or their extended family. And it’s not only the men: mothers and sisters can also be involved. There have been cases where the woman is actually murdered.”
For obvious reasons the Refuge address is secret, but a usual route to entry might be via police or social worker contacts, who are aware of advertised vacancies (there are Refuge centres around the country). Faiza and her colleagues speak the major Asian dialects, so are in a position to help the women with practical matters, relating to claiming benefits, learning English through ESOL classes, and eventually moving on to their own permanent home. The Refuge relies on donations from charities, such as the National Lottery and Children in Need.
“I think Faiza is a Superwoman,” says one of her colleagues enthusiastically. “We respect her tremendously. She constantly works overtime and always supports us all the way – not only that, but she’s never stressed and is always calm and collected.”
“My role is to overlook the project, ensure that things run smoothly there are no voids, and to help and support the women here, and to make sure that everyone is treated fairly,” Faiza continues, pleased and bemused by her ‘superwoman’ status. “Women might have been brought over to this country and abused by husbands and extended families, so of course they’re going to lack confidence. We help them to rebuild their lives and do wheat we call ‘frontline’ work, which means moving the woman in here, supporting her, then resettling her by helping her to make housing applications and viewing new places to live, which are of course right away from where their family might find them. And actually going with them, moving them and their belongings into the new property. It can be quite scary to leave a place like this, where there are so many others who are in similar circumstances. It’s hard for them to go out on their own, they feel as if this is their home, but we’re a crisis centre, so it can only ever be a temporary refuge.”
Many of the women residents do not know their rights, and were previously unaware that places such as Refuge existed.
“We get the whole range of abuses: physical, mental and financial – even sexual abuse, they fall into a wide range of categories. Understandably a lot of our women lack confidence, and we run workshops to try and rebuild their self esteem. They may have brothers, mothers and sisters in their spouses family ranged against them. Once we had a woman whose children had been born here, but she could not get a visa to stay in Britain because her passport had run out, and she couldn’t renew her passport without a visa. I wrote a letter to the High Commissioner of Pakistan and got a passport within a day, then that unlocked the visa. That’s the kind of difficult situation that can be hard to resolve.”
“My mission in life is to help and protect vulnerable people, and encourage them to be independent. Am I cynical about men’s behaviour towards their wives? Not at all – I know that only a small proportion of men are bad.”