This is the theme for International Women’s Day 2019; a day to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the world.
Today we hear from an incredible woman who embodies innovation and has created change for the better for the mothers and babies in Snowdrop’s care. One of our wonderful volunteers Helen Jones received a Points of Light award from the Prime Minister as recognition of her phenomenal contribution to the community. Helen is an instrumental part of Snowdrop. She set up a mother and baby group for the clients as a place where women can find friendship and community, and children can learn English and other skills which will prepare them for nursery. Snowdrop met with Helen to chat about what drives her, how she keeps going when things get tough and to collect some pearls of wisdom.
Snowdrop: Let’s start with a few quick fire questions. Least favourite food? Helen: Red Bean Soup (a Chinese delicacy) Snowdrop: Favourite book? Helen: Definitely the Bible – my hope for life and my future is there. Snowdrop: A country you have always wanted to travel to? Helen: Probably the USA but I wouldn’t look forward to the long flight. Snowdrop: Any hidden talents? Helen: Sadly I don’t think I have any but I have sung a solo in the Royal Albert Hall!
Snowdrop: Why are you so passionate about Snowdrop and supporting survivors of trafficking? Helen: I’m passionate about supporting survivors of trafficking because it was obvious to me that they needed long-term support after leaving the safe house. Many years ago before Snowdrop started I had phone calls from survivors needing help with doctors’ appointments, reading letters and other mundane things which we all take for granted. Once a survivor rang and asked me if I had a rug. I said I would drop it round when I had the time. A few days later she called again saying she needed it soon. When I asked why, she said she was sleeping on the concrete with some blankets. Another reason I’m passionate about Snowdrop is that they are a charity which has integrity and really care for the clients they support.
I’m passionate about supporting people who have experienced being trafficked because they are vulnerable and have been through unimaginable suffering, pain and mental torture. They have often been separated from their family. To be really honest I am passionate about helping women whether they are trafficked, asylum seekers, refugees or just in need of help. It can make a huge difference in their lives to have someone who will come alongside them who cares. It is a privilege to be able to support them and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do that.
Snowdrop: What motivated you to set up the mother and toddler group for Snowdrop clients? What was the main need that you saw? Helen: There are two reasons I set up the Toddler Group, the first being Snowdrop Project had several children starting nursery who were finding it difficult to settle in. Some even needed extra support. The second was that some of the mothers were begging me to teach their children English. Since starting the group we have found that the children are settling into nursery without major problems.
Snowdrop: How did you turn those observations into innovation? Helen: Well, I asked others to help me. I got a couple of the mums to go and ask the CEO if it would be possible. Much to my surprise, they did! This was something I had wanted to do for over ten years because I had worked in Hong Kong teaching English as a second language in Kindergarten and Primary School. Learning English is always made fun for the children e.g. find the blue ball, throw it in the box, count the apples, put the apple in the blue box, and of course, every child goes home with an apple!
Snowdrop: You do so much for Snowdrop and for others.Do you ever run out of energy?! Or experience compassion fatigue? Helen: Haha! I never used to but now I’m in my 60’s yes, sometimes I find it exhausting. Thankfully, I never completely run out of energy.
Compassion fatigue is an interesting one. Ten years ago when I was volunteering in a safe house, I did, yes! If I had been to police interviews, court cases, or Home Office interviews and had had to listen to harrowing events I wouldn’t be able to sleep for nights. However, I never get so tired or stressed with the problems that it stops me helping or listening to our clients. Nowadays I’m pleased to say I don’t so much, and if I do there are caseworkers at Snowdrop who I can offload on.
Snowdrop: What keeps you going when things get tough? Helen: Definitely the grace of God! By God’s grace it isn’t my daughter in that situation and if it were I would want her to be treated with love and the care I give our clients. Sometimes I feel I have to just keep going the extra mile to help someone because the need is so great.
Snowdrop: What is the most rewarding part of volunteering? Helen: There are big things that have huge consequences like when you fight the establishment and win. For example, when you have fought for someone to get leave to remain and after many years of fighting, they finally get it. There are many little things: a child at Toddler Group calls my name for the first time, a child who has been destructive at Toddler group and plays with a toy appropriately for the first time, or a client who says thank you for believing in her.
Snowdrop: What advice would you give your younger self? Helen: It would most likely be to stand up and speak out for something that is important to me. I’m pretty good at that now, some might say too outspoken.
Snowdrop: How did it feel to receive Points of Light? Helen: Oh goodness, I was embarrassed when I first heard. I thought ‘oh dear’. However, it has made so many people happy including me. My 96-year-old father who is in a care home spent the whole day emailing everyone he could think of. The mums in Toddler Group were so happy they were hugging me so hard I could hardly breathe. We have been offered a free Baby & Toddler Sensory Session for our babies because of it. It was a bit weird when someone in the park said, “Are you that women who is all over Facebook for the volunteering work you have done!”
Snowdrop: What would you say to others volunteering with survivors of trafficking? Helen: Be committed, don’t give up because it is difficult. Our clients find it extremely hard to trust anybody – it can take a long time and hard work to build up a relationship with them. At first, they don’t really believe you want to or can help them but if you hang in there and be consistent you will make a difference and reap the rewards.