Ben

Can you introduce yourself?

I work for the United Nations . My formal title is UNICEF representative to Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

My job is about using diplomacy to convince and assist governments in fulfilling the human rights of children internationally – primarily in justice, health, education and social and child protection.

BEN IMAGE 1

I also work with parliaments and other institutions to ensure that those rights are properly promoted and monitored.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hhhmm.

Well I am just a normal middle aged guy . I have a daughter and two grandchildren. I am really passionate about my work, I am really driven by change and also by ideas. I love all of the stuff coming out from science now about child development and how it is informing policy and improving the lives of children, including those from care.

I have an MA in International relations from University of Kent and also have done a mid-career leadership programme with Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  I am also very much into sport. I used to play rugby and football and now do cycling, gym skiing etc…I am a Tottenham Hotspurs fan

I left care in the 80s …  In those days, coming from care and all of the emotional challenges that go with it were taboo

Overall, what was your experience of leaving care like?

I left care in the 80s aged 16 and lived independently in London. I did lots of jobs to get by and also worked with a group of care leavers to campaign for the rights of young people in care. In those days, coming from care and all of the emotional challenges that go with it were taboo. We were not really prepared for independent living at all. The idea of going to university or achieving anything was beyond our imagination. You simply did not do that if you were from care. I felt completely and totally alone.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

When you are from care you face many obstacles, Poverty and discrimination for example.

A normal part of coming from care is finding relationships and trust difficult, seeing danger and disrespect where it doesn’t exist and believing that we are just not good enough. You overcome poverty by working hard and being open to learning and growing. You overcome the emotional aspects of your care background-also by working through it through being self aware and sometimes meditation or pscyho-therapy are also helpful.

This teacher saw something she thought she could work with and I think she was probably the most influential person in my childhood

Who is your role model?

I had an amazing teacher when I was 15. I was on my fourth school, a school for kids who had been kicked out of all the other schools. But this teacher saw something she thought she could work with and I think she was probably the most influential person in my childhood-certainly the first person who had ever listened to me or given me a sense of hope. She instilled in me a lifelong passion for learning. After almost 30 years I tracked her down recently to tell her what I had done with my life and thank her for being a key person in making it happen.

For kids in care the only role models we had back then were athletes and sports persons-I did not know anyone who had been to university or who worked in an office.

Did you ever feel alone?

I feel that loneliness is a heart-breaking challenge for children from care.

There is a wonderful quote from Charles Dickens who spent part of his childhood in a Victorian version of care ….he was  talking about being married with children later in life….but often drifting into a state of momentary loneliness because no one will ever fully understand what he has seen and where he has been. “…….seeking but a moment’s rest among the long-forgotten haunts of childhood, and the resorts of yesterday; and dimly finding fear and horror everywhere….” – Charles Dickens  Martin Chuzzlewit  London,1843

I lived independently at 16 and looking back now, the loneliness was probably almost overwhelming. All you can do is get to know yourself better and build up solid loving bonds in high quality relationships.

What’s your message to children in care?

Firstly to recognise that if you harness the skills and strengths and resilience you have from childhood positively through learning and study and hard work-you can build a decent career.

Secondly, you may have to work on love and relationships -to question the mental models that you have from childhood and to work at really getting to know other people and building high quality relationships.

Thirdly, you may have low self esteem and a belief that you are not good enough, I am a diplomat with a masters degree and left care 30 years ago…but I still get this sometimes- I just tell myself it is a game in my head.

I would advise children from care to be aware of these things, you are as good as anyone, the effort you put in will determine what you get out of life.

you are as good as anyone, the effort you put in will determine what you get out of life.

What do you think about care now?

In the end I love being a care leaver because everything I have, loving relationships, a great career etc….well its all things that I would never take for granted. If someone always has electricity-turning on a light is normal. However, having worked in war zones, I know that for many in the world, turning on a light is something extraordinary.

When you get through a care background…everything else – even just normal things – can seem extraordinary too.

Is there something you’re most proud of?

Getting a masters degree gave a major sense of accomplishment because I think I was one of the first from care to get that. I engage with Prime Ministers, Ministers and Ambassadors a lot, and sometimes as a guy from a children’s home background I still cannot quite believe how lucky I am to be doing this.

Sometimes as a guy from a children’s home background I still cannot quite believe how lucky I am to be doing this.

Advertisements