Studying for a Maths degree, part-time, was my free-time occupation whilst looking after my three young children in the 1970s. Once they were old enough, I started my teaching career in Staffordshire. Over a period of twenty years, I was a maths teacher, advisory teacher and a primary school headteacher in three very different communities. In that role I became interested in community dynamics and supporting the most marginalised.
In 1998, my husband and I realised our dream and headed off to Namibia as VSO volunteers. VSO looked at my experience in education and sent me to work as a welding instructor in a former black township. Our two year stay extended to four years and I moved to work as an education officer for ‘boys in conflict with the law’. HIV&AIDS was a constant theme in our work. It became even more of an issue when we moved to Swaziland where I was involved with training community members to educate children affected by HIV.
After six years of volunteering, I secured a staff position in VSO Cambodia as the Technical Advisor on a large Inclusive Education project. Phnom Penh was a culture shock after the wide open spaces of Africa but we loved it. My husband volunteered with organisations for the disabled and we soon learned a lot about stigma as we socialised with people he worked with and people from the leprosy hospital where he taught English.
After a period working as a Country Director in Vietnam and for Theatre for a Change in Malawi, we returned to Leek in Staffordshire. Short-term projects in Rwanda, Papua New Guinea and Malawi followed. I still act as M&E advisor to a small charity which trains therapists and teachers in Africa to work with children with Cerebral Palsy.
Living overseas made me more aware of having to take responsibility for your own health. On arriving in Namibia we spent three months ‘in the bush’ building a school and we were given a suitcase of medical supplies and a book entitled ‘When there is no doctor’. We also learned about the health problems people face in LMICs and the stigma they face because of health issues.
When I retired, I wanted to help my own community and gravitated towards getting involved, as a lay person, with improving health. I started as a volunteer with Action on Hearing Loss and as a member of the GP Patient Participation Group. I became involved with knowledge mobilisation at Keele and have been a member of two NICE guidance committees. I have recently been appointed to a NIHR prioritisation committee.
When not in meetings I keep active: tennis, badminton, cycling, line dancing, tai chi and ballroom dancing are all favourite activities.
I am absolutely delighted to be a part of ECLIPSE. It brings together my experience in low- and middle-income countries and my recent learning about academia – and it is a fantastic opportunity to help numerous people who face stigma around the globe.