• DIGITAL

    Asha’s story – week 2

    And so Asha’s story continues. On Tuesday Asha had her first English lesson with Bethany which resulted in post-its left all around the house – even on the dog! 😉 We also visited the Butler Centre – the school that invited Asha to study English through playwork. Later on, for a little bit of fun and relaxation, Dawid introduced Asha to an Xbox version of Fruit Ninja (games she likes to play on Ipad). Well, it was a lot of fun!

    On Wednesday I took Asha shopping – just for a little bit of ‘girl-time’, but also to involve her in celebration of Poppy’s Birthday. Poppy was four years old so we showered her with toys and tennis balls, of course.

    On Thursday Asha had another lesson, another visit to the Butler Centre, and a little bit of skateboarding – we managed to sneak out to Faringdon skatepark. We were so impressed with Asha’s skating skills!

    Knowing that Asha likes to dance (and remaining realistic about my own lack of dancing skills) I have ordered the Just Dance 2017 Xbox game for the kids. Asha rocked both Bollywood dances (something we were rubbish at!) and hardcore rock! Well, I tell you – we all had so much fun – our legs, hands and bellies (from a number of giggles) were hurting in the end and Poppy looked at us in amusement!

    On Friday Asha and I went to Oxford to check in with Prakhar – our friend who helps us translate to English. I just wanted to ensure that Asha is happy with us and all her needs are met. We fine tuned the ideas for food – both Indian and English and showed Asha around Oxford again – this time in the gloomy, almost rainy atmosphere.

    Our landlords are currently away so I was asked to water their plans – this gave me the opportunity to show Asha the main house which is actually full of Indian furniture and artwork – my landlords spent some time working as medics in India and always feel very attached to their memories of those times. I also found out that parrots are Asha’s favourite birds;)

    At the weekend we took Asha to Leicester to visit my best friend, Krysia, and her husband, Zoli. They are lovely, kind, warm people so I really wanted to show Asha a different part of the country. Leicester is more industrial and historically very familiar with Indian culture. Saturday was dedicated to shopping in Indian areas – Asha finally got to enjoy some really good food:) In the evening we wnet out to the More Indian Restaurant where Asha’s stay was celebrated with a complimentary non-alcoholic drink. It was such a nice gesture!

    Sunday was a real treat for Asha – turns out that Leicester is a key location for skateboarding in the UK! We took Asha for a few hours to the Broom Skatepark. I know that skateboarding, just like coding, comes with a certain collaborative, tolerant, inclusive and supportive culture, but it was so nice to see Chris Straw (as it happens one of the owners of the place!) stand next to Asha and help her skate down the higher platform – just when she was hesitating before that first jump. I tell you – that gesture of “hey, can I help, give me your hand and go!” moved all of us so deeply. It’s the simple things! Chris and his friends were really welcoming, told us a few facts about the place and the city. It was really lovely to see Chris recognise the fan page of Janwaar Castle! We quietly hope to be back there sometime! Asha was the only girl in the place and she rocked it!

    After our visit to the Broom Skatepark we took Asha around the centre of Leicester. We walked around the old and modern part of the city….

    …we ate very English food in a small, lovely, a family owned bar, and we talked a lot. We tried to keep Asha busy as it was the Mother’s Day in India (she sent me a lovely message over Messenger in the morning for which I am really grateful!) – we just worried that it might be a day when she would miss her parents more than ever. So we took her for longer walk and later on recorded a group greeting from us to her Mum.

    We came back to Wantage on Sunday evening exhausted! With a new week ahead we used most of the evening to do…nothing!

  • DIGITAL

    Asha’s story – week 1

    Asha is here. As I said in my previous post, it’s been a long journey for us, but much longer for her. The welcome at the airport on Sunday was very emotional and full of smiles. Asha and Ulrike were exhausted but put on a lovely smile for us. Our and Ulrike’s friends joined in the welcome – some appeared at the airport (thanks for the sign! I was so excited I forgot to make one!;)), others sent us photos in their Indian clothes (how very sweet of you!). Dawid, our star, instantly jumped on the skateboard and showed Asha around the house and their shared room. Linda and Bethany came to visit us and discuss the English lessons. Prahkar came from oxford to help us with initial chat – just to make sure that Asha is clear on all the little details of our life here and feels safe and welcome.

    Our approach to Asha’s stay with us is very British: we just carry on! Asha is here to learn English but also to experience the local way of living, so we have originally planned to basically treat her like our daughter and show her our weekly routine. We were planning a very quiet week of adjusting Asha to the local temperatures, food and weather but life – as always – is a bit different. We did not know until the last days just when Asha would travel so her first week coincided with my Polish family’s visit to the UK. They arrived on Tuesday and I think our week was actually quite intense, focussed on sightseeing. We tried to give Asha as much time to rest as possible but also make the most of our time with family and show her around major locations in the area. I think it was really nice to have my brother and his partner over because Asha got to meet more of our family too and the week was cheerful. Tuesday afternoon we walked around Wantage and had a meal with Ulrike, before dropping her off at the train station for London. After weekend rest we took Asha and our guests to Oxford.

    After the longer weekend of initial rest, on Wednesday we took Asha and our guests to Oxford.

    She’s wearing a hat but trust me – the weather was actually getting much better than the week before;) We have walked around the city, enjoyed some local food in the Covered Market and visited a few colleges. It was a quick walk but I think we have seen quite a lot. My family really wanted to see the UK from many angles, not just the typical tourist attractions. Asha seemed to like the architecture so we took plenty of photos of interesting buildings.

    On Thursday my family went to London, but Asha joined us in visiting Letcombe Regis (I work there twice a week) for the set up of Oxfordshire Exhibition – an exhibition of local artists. Asha went for a walk to see some of the beautiful green paths, and then on the way back had a quick look at some of the works prepared for the exhibition. She also got to meet some of my co-workers.

     

    In the afternoon, when Dawid got back from school, we took the kids to the Faringdon skatepark. I am so impressed with Asha’s skating skills and I hope Dawid will learn a bit from her – she already inspired him to get on the skateboard and experiment a bit!

    On Friday Asha came to London to spend some time with Ulrike and to go to the Southbank skatepark. Below are her photos from the trip, which was really tiring – we think we might have to make more time for London and take it easy. By Friday it did feel like a long week;)

    We rested on Saturday morning but in the afternoon we took our family (their last full day in the UK) and Asha to Blenheim Palace near Oxford. She was quite astonished when I told her that it is a house for one family, really. She really enjoyed the art displayed at the palace and the palace gardens.

    Sunday was a day of rest. Asha stayed at home and Dawid joined her for some time on the blanket, playing with dogs, relaxing. We were so lucky that the sunshine allowed us to come out of the house and enjoy the garden. We did nothing, finally:)

    On Monday I was feeling poorly so Dan stayed and worked from home. Asha spent time with us, with Dawid and Poppy in the garden and at lunch-time went to the skatepark again. We had our first English lesson in the house – we talked about the items in the room and just warmed up for more English to come. I had my own studies in the evening but Dan and Asha decided to cook Indian food, so I arrived back home to a lovely meal and kids in beds!

    The first week of Asha’s stay was busy with travels so I think she must be very overwhelmed but I like the fact that even if tired she is always smiling and gradually speaking up more and more. She has a good connection with Dawid and Poppy and probably thinks we (me and Dan) are a bit crazy. Well, we are just happy to have her over so I think we are a bit crazy indeed;)

    This week we will be back to our normal work/school routine with Dawid passing his SATs exams, so I hope Asha will see how our normal life looks like and will join in again.

  • DIGITAL

    Asha’s story – the beginnings

    Asha’s story started about two years ago, but for me and my family, it all started about a year ago – on 19 April 2016 when my friend, Ulrike Reinhard, email me about her. Ulrike sent me Asha’s photo (her and her parents) asking if I happen to know anyone who could host her for a few weeks here in the UK and support her in learning English. I do not think I had any doubts that it should be us and when I showed the email to my husband he simply said: “of course!”. My son – well he was just so moved and excited.

    Today Asha is almost 18. As I am typing this she is sitting on a plane from Delhi to London Heathrow. This afternoon she will be sitting in our living room! She will stay with us for a month learning English, making the most of her time here to go back and serve the school and community with her new language skills. She will stay with us for a month learning English, making the most of her time here to go back and serve the school and community with her new language skills.

    I cannot explain to you the overwhelming mix of emotions flooding me and my family today. Our friends are asking if we are ready (in full support, ready to help, offering social time with their children too – anything to help her learning) – but I do not think one can prepare for a moment like this. All we can do is just go with the flow. It’s moving, humbling, simple yet so very emotionally charged experience and at the end of the day I am really honoured to host Asha in our house. I admire her drive and determination to convince her parents, her country, the world really that she can do better than the place she was born to. I admire her mother for understanding the meaning of this opportunity and I really respect her father for understanding what’s best for his child. I can only imagine the amount of courage and trust it takes to send your child away so far and for so long if your world is your village and your social status is not too high.

    So that’s how I feel today but because we want to document Asha’s story – for her, for her parents, for Ulrike and every single person who contributed to it I am going to go back a little bit and tell you how we got here.

    I met Ulrike at the Global Voices Summa a few years ago, at a time when her vision for Janwaar Castle was shaping up and the very early work on the park was being initiated. We talked about her vision and my ideas that later shaped Wantage Pixel Club. I felt connected to Ulrike because I could see she wants to make a long-term impact on a community of children (and their families) that otherwise would be overlooked and she was planning to spend all her money, life experience and connections to make it happen. I was moved and infected by her determination and so I started following the Janwaar Castle blog, Facebook page, later on also Instagram feed. I sent a few books through our mutual friend and donated a little bit of money here and there thinking “this is the least we can do”.

    In April 2016 Ulrike messages me on Facebook asking if maybe I could help with ideas and asked me to check my email. I opened it and saw Asha’s family photo with a note: we are looking for a family that could have Asha over for a few weeks. I wrote back that we can have her over. Ulrike wrote back “Do I get you right? Do you really mean you can do it? Wow” – I suspect she did not expect it would be so fast and easy.

    Well, it wasn’t. I know it sounds like the biggest challenge, but actually, it was only a small step on Asha’s journey. You see, Asha comes from Adivasi which means her prospects are very limited. Her older sister was married off and she was facing the same prospects. Not a single person in her village had a passport or even knew what that means. Not many people travelled beyond the village itself. It was only Asha’s great English skills in her initial studies and ability to work with Ulrike and the team to make her parents understand the importance of this trip that led to her father’s promise that if she does manage to travel and study in the UK, she will not be married off and she will work at Janwaar Castle instead. You can read about this initial part of her journey here:

    It was a long, long difficult process. And one we started to think would never get anywhere. What kept us going was Asha’s strong will and persistence to explore. She used to say to her father, “I am too young to get married. I want to study. It’s important, because without good education I will end up working as a laborer, too. If I study, I can find a good job.” Asha’s mother understood much faster. She said, “ The villagers would ask us how we could think of sending our daughter abroad. Aren’t we scared? Yes, we are, but our daughter convinced us to let her go. She kept telling us: “Let me go. If I do well, I can achieve something in life!”

    Ulrike set up a crowdfunding campaign for her. The news of Asha’s travels spread fast and was celebrated in a good media coverage (here and here for example). She was featured in a video documentary about Janwaar Castle:

    Once we had the permission to travel and we had a home for Asha here in the UK both teams – Janwaar Castle in India and us here in the UK – started working hard on possibly the hardest bit: passport and visa. Spring 2016 was all about the passport application. Manaan posted his personal journal about the process here, here and here. Asha had to travel to the passport office twice and the journey was emotional for them all. (Honestly who likes to go to apply for passports, you know for us it’s fuss and bother but I remember the times of communism in Eastern Europe so I do know the feeling of fear, worry, complete submission when you face an official who is about to decide about your future, I really can relate to it and I am glad that there are kind, lovely people around the world who check papers and make our travels possible).

    Ulrike kept us informed on her Facebook profile. Mehmood visited London and met us to officially “vet us”. I spent entire fall talking about Asha in my community. My friends, fellow parents, members of the Chamber of Commerce and other local groups – everyone was really inspired by this story and pledged all the help they can give us once Asha is here. Remember that for the UK the fall of 2016 was a very difficult time – our society suddenly felt somewhat divided, confused, worried. Everyday conversations were hard. Listening to the news was, well….upsetting. Asha’s story already then felt like a sparkle of light to all of us here.

    Then we saw this post in November 🙂

    I was ecstatic! Once we had the passport we had to apply for the visa. I had no idea that this is the hardest past of the process, really. The amount of paperwork we had to prepare! But it was all worth it. This is where our work became a little bit more crucial. We have secured Asha a place at our local school working according to playwork principles – something really aligned with the philosophy of Janwaar Castle. I have asked a local friend of Indian origin to advise us on what else we need to think of – Gurmukh was really supportive, offered help with food and more importantly, Asha’s spiritual needs. Our friend, Bethany, offered her English teaching skills. My friend, Linda, offered any support needed when our work, life gets in the way and Asha needs company. I have asked other mums to let me know if we can provide Asha with a lot of playtime with their daughters – I have an 11-year-old son, so it’s not the same. My landlords spent a lot of time serving as medical support in India and they also started asking: when is Asha coming? We would love to meet her. I started feeling a little bit excited at this stage. We live in a very connected world, India is not far away but the process can be frustrating. So at this stage, I started feeling even more invested in Asha’s story. Ulrike visited us in December and met all the people involved in Asha’s story in our town. We had a great time planning and learning about Asha’s needs and goals.

    We watched Asha’s dad with huge respect (video here and here):

    “I’m feeling very good that my daughter is going to England. I’m feeling so happy, so very very happy. Also because she will go on and learn to do good work, and also progress forwards.
    She is making everyone happy and proud. Boosting the confidence of the other kids, the village and herself. This makes me very happy.”

    We sent our visa paperwork and it was over to the team on the ground again. Applying for via took us months, few attempts and many, many people helping. Remember that for Asha every step of this process was new! Catching the train, catching the metro, filling out the paperwork! All of it! Visa applications (we needed to do it few times) took us all the way to this spring:

     

     

    In the meantime, Asha continued working even harder and inspiring the girls in Janwaar, across India and us too! I cannot even imagine how hard it must have been to wait for passport and so I am glad she made the most of her time, kept busy and helped Janwaar. She also developed her skateboarding skills. A lot has happened at the Park too – check out their fan page.

     

     

    Ulrike presented the ideas behind Janwaar Castle at TEDx:

    We waited. Waited a long time. Applied again and again. I was starting to worry that maybe we might need to invite Asha when is is over 18? But Ulrike and Manaan workedfiercelyy on getting the visa for Asha. I cannot even tell you how detemined they were. Our friends kept asking about Asha on a weekly basis.

    21 April 2017, almost exactly a year after our first email exchange, came the news:

     

     

    I cried. I think we all cried. I still cannot stop crying when looking at this update. We did it. And Asha’s journey did not stop. It continues.

    She packed and left her village:

    She prepared for skateboarding:

    And she boarded the plane:

    This afternoon a very new part of her journey begins and I cannot wait. I met Ulrike’s Indian friend based in Oxford, Prakhar, yesterday. He offered helping us with translation and anything we need here too.  We will be documenting her stay here as much as we can, but we will also do our best to give her time and privacy to study and rest. My family is going to treat Asha as if she was our daughter in May thinking of her wonderful parents back in India with huge respect. I have rearranged my son’s room to create space for Asha when we applied for the visa the last time almost in desperation – a part of me was thinking: maybe if I create this space now the universe will align itself and help us get her here? It worked!

    Of course the fact that Asha got her visa is a result of months of work and determination of Asha, a core group of people involved and many people who simply did something small but crucial for her: promised help, donated money, gave us all a word of support or really just believed in us, believed in Asha. It’s easy to think of one or two people but it’s usually all of us united, as a community who make a difference and every kind gesture matters.

    For me today is the end of a very emotional journey to get Asha to the UK and prepare to make her stay here truly meaningful to her and her family and community. This is why I wanted to write it all down in one post. Thank you for reading. I would like to use this opportunity to thank every single person who helped me and my family to help her. You are all so wonderful: your acts and words truly matter and show that those strange times are not even a test to our human kindness – they are a testimonial that humans can be really powerful and kind at the same time. We have already made a huge difference.

    As for Asha I am confident that everything she will learn and experience here with us will provide her with skills and even more determination to go back and serve her family, community, Janwaar Castle. And we will be there if needed. We will watch her and her park – I recommend you tune in too. Read their press coverage, find out more about them, check out their videos and other videos about them. Follow Asha’s story with us and afterwards, back with her family. I am confident she will be the one to watch and she will inspire many more kids, girls, to do something amazing too.

     

    When Ulrike agreed for us to have Asha over my first question was: what is the meaning of her name? Ulrike did not know and had to ask. We found out quickly that it means “hope”. I cannot help but wonder why her parents gave her this name, maybe one day I will find out. I know that names carry a huge meaning. For me today Asha indeed symbolises hope. She brings hope to her world and to ours – the world we all have to share. Every choice we make, ever word we type or say can unite and build us. It can inspire.

    As Ulrike said: “Nothing’s impossible” As my husband said: “Of course!” As my son said: “I cannot wait!”

    We cannot wait!

    I love the photo of Asha posted in January so I will leave you with it for now. Thank you for reading.

    ————–

    Asha’s goals in the UK are to learn English, meet local skateboarders, understand our culture and collected and document her experiences to help her community and Janwaar Castle. If you want to be a part of Asha’s story, help, get involved, tell it to others just email me on sylwia@sylwiakorsak.com

    (I am very emotional today so sorry for any typos etc)


     

    Update: Asha has landed and seems really happy about her place, new friends and new adventure. Here is our first meetup at the airport:

     

     

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    On Brexit and other demons

    Since Brexit referendum conversations started, I have decided to stop posting most of my negative feelings online – because there are loads of them and I worry that I might affect my online friends a bit too much. I share their fears and worries but I try to steer away from my own rambles. I leave those for my personal journal on paper. But today I wrote on paper something quite intense: “I hate this year, truly. It challenges me beyond belief!” and I did so mainly because of the political challenges the UK is facing, the current racist propaganda and the changing climate of my very own town. I wrote it because the people I trust the most, some of them, are showing their true colours and I am facing the need to make drastic cuts in my networks – it really is not a nice feeling at all. My life balance is really affected. I sleep badly at the moment. I worry a lot. And I need to motivate myself a lot to remain objective, sensible and focussed on clients, work, and studies.

    I write this because I need to make a note of this very difficult time in my life. I am now really appreciating the role that my trusted close friends play in my life. I really benefit from my self-care habits and from the love of my family. I find it really important to have a purpose and goals – even if I need to have a few versions of those. Gratitude, kindness, love of learning and deep understanding of my roots and values keep me going, keep me focused.

    I know that the times we live in the UK right now are going to get harder – I really don’t know which way the results of the EU vote for us will go, but the very fact we are facing it shows the crisis of our society. We are facing and will be facing, even more, identity crisis on an individual and collective level. Something tells me I will need to look into the identity’s role in mental health more because a lot of my work will be done around it. I hope for the best, but I am aware of the worst too. I plow through it with determination as I will make the most of this time for myself and for others. We will all do. I hope we will.

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    To selfie or not to selfie?

    A friend of mine from London is currently researching the impact of selfie photography on our behavior and asked me to participate. It was interesting to respond to her question but also consider what really is the impact of selfies on our lives. This line of research is not so new. There was a really good study published online back in 2014 and UWE in Bristol also work on it in their Centre of Appearance Research studies. Most of the findings I come across online indicate what the social media specialists would assume: the social media posts of our own image, selfies, tend to broaden, magnify and validate the initial feelings we have towards ourselves. So if we have negative feelings, we might experience even lower moods in reaction to comments on our selfie’s. If we are fairly confident, the online comments will boost that confidence more. Some studies, however, do show that posting selfies online tends to increase our confidence, even if our self-esteem levels are low. So yes, as a result of that, some people might fall into the trap of narcissism, but I am personally really fed up with media blowing out of proportions the negative consequences, instead of focusing on a balanced view (both positive and negative impact of selfies). I am saying this, because an average reader of major media outlets won’t even bother googling the studies, but will shape very uninformed options about this topic.

    In the UK there’s also a very dangerous habit of basing one’s opinions on that person’s pure experience, which obviously is not enough to back up a point in a conversation. So yes, I could say that I feel much better about myself if I post a selfie (I actually do!) and it took me a while to get used to that feeling. But I am not going to base my opinion on the value of selfies for my future clients purely on that very subjective experience.  Which is why I am glad I could participate in my friend’s study and I hope that we will see many more.  It’s still a new area and technology is changing so fast. We cannot change that. We can, however, change the sentiment of our discussions from demonising towards more balanced, informed ones.

  • DIGITAL

    On human skulls and stars

    starsinourheads

     

    Human skull, golden leaf and meteorite- ‘scales’ by Dorothy Cross

    “That is when I understood the magical meaning of the circle. If you go away from a row, you can still come back into it. A row is an open formation. But a circle closes up, and if you go away from it, there is no way back. It is not by chance that the planets move in circles and that a rock coming loose from one of them goes inexorably away, carried off by centrifugal force. Like a meteorite broken off from a planet, I left the circle and have not stopped falling. Some people are granted their death as they are whirling around, and others are smashed at the end of their fall. And these others (I am one of them) always retain a kind of faint yearning for that lost ring dance, because we are all inhabitants of a universe where everything turns in circles.”
    ― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

  • DIGITAL

    United in diversity – quick note on Brexit

    We are in the EU. Poland, country I come from and UK, country I live in. United, together, in diversity.

    What you hear on the news today is a very imbalanced view on EU membership of UK.

    First of all you see the distinction between us (UK) and them (EU) in media and political rhetorics, completely forgetting that UK is actually part of EU. EU is not some kind of monster dominating our country and wishing to take it over with aim of final destruction. That simply is not true. UK citizens worked really hard to form and develop EU, invest in the idea of stronger European Union of countries to allow UK stand stronger on the international arena. British citizen formed EU and remain at the core of it – not on the outside. EU is in our veins so when you decide to leave, please consider it as an act of simply giving up on a larger idea of peace and international dominance. You will not have the same powers on your own.

    Secondly there seems to be an assumption that EU’s aim is to diminish all that’s British. Well, actually, one of the core underlying principles of the Union is the idea of protection, education and amplification of national heritage. You might not feel is so much in the UK because of the language we all speak but just for a second think back to the time before EU membership – would you hear English in Poland or Germany? Would your city be crowned as European Capitol? Would your local museum receive EU funding in support of your local heritage? But it is because of EU regulations that within the UK we celebrate our local heritage to such extend and the impact of loosing that support would be immense. Diversity is at the core of EU set up so much so that it is featured in its motto: “United in diversity”.

    You will also hear the EU costs us money and limits our local, UK trade within Europe. This is simply not true. The Economist has a very informative piece on the topic featuring the exact numbers and from what I can tell, even though I am not a specialist, we are doing just fine. Check it out – we export over five times more than the import from EU. Surely it’s a good deal, right?

    Finally you will hear that Brexit is a reaction to the overwhelming burden of EU immigration on British economy. On one hand you are told that we, EU immigrants cost UK a lot. On the other hand clarification comes along that actually UK benefits from EU migration. Ultimately commons sense should tell you exactly what the well grounded news reports prove – if we loose EU immigration, yes, certain level of benefits will not be claimed, but many jobs will not get done and those who conduct them will not contribute to our UK economy. Those Polish, Romanian, Slovakian employees will move to another EU country to pay taxes there, hire services and do their shopping thus boosting economy. Isn’t this obvious? Why do we only talk about benefits? Why are we not talking about individuals who work hard, pay taxes and feed the economy? Why are these discussions so incomplete? Do you really think leaving EU will stop immigration all together? The moment your vote out your border with France will move to Dover and all those immigrants you are so worried about (so ‘neatly’ taken care of by the French) will land on your shore. What will you do then? Surely it’s not all that simple!

    The moment you vote out you ARE out and you need to work hard on your new trade agreements – because you are not EU member anymore. You become ‘them’ not ‘us’ – is this what you really want?

    Now all of this is analysis and study, but just let me take this post to a very personal level – and by ‘personal’ I do not mean mine, but simply a level of an individual. I am sure you have friends from both camps. I am sure you know both UK and EU citizens living in the UK. Some might be employed, others self-employed or running their own businesses. Some might claim benefits. You probably have friends who pay taxes, and those who avoid them (a British citizen mocked me once for paying taxes, I really had no words in response). You, probably just like me, might have witnessed corruption in both UK and EU immigrant camps. You have also witnessed honesty, citizenship and patriotism towards UK in both camps, in so many ways.

    So how do you decide this week? I would like to suggest something different. Put aside the entire immigration discussion – it really is a small chunk of the entire EU idea, a very little piece of the puzzle you are about to leave or stay in. Think about it on two levels – as a citizen of UK and as a citizen of Europe.

    As a UK citizen you have a moral obligation to go and vote – otherwise you will live in a country shaped by others and really for the near future you will have no right to express any opinions about it. As a UK citizen you are now deciding about the governance of your country. Do you want your own, UK government to be in charge of all your policies? If so, many of the EU policies (renewables, cultural heritage, gender equality and more) are in danger. And unless you are very naive you know that work on those has just begun! Do you want your UK government to be free to decide about your country knowing that it also means that UK politicians are in practice not regulated by any other authority – obviously they are not accountable in practice to you. We all know that our democracies are not that effective just yet. Consider for a second a country in which your government does not have to be accountable to any other EU member states. Is this really a better way forward? Is your national heritage going to be as celebrated as when you were within EU? Can your economy negotiate with global powers on its own or will you end up like Switzerland – allowing bigger trade partners utilise your market for 15 years before you can trade in theirs simply because your territory is small? Can your government promise you freedom and peace without the support of EU member states? If yes, then vote out.

    As a EU citizen I would like you to think about other countries and what it means to be in the EU in practice. Are you OK with your families having to stand in that longer cue at every single border from Calais onward? Do you want your kids currently employed in EU to come back home because living outside of UK, in the EU is not worth it? Do you want to pay the costs of German hospital treatment after a small skiing accident because you are not legible for EU Health Insurance Card? Do you want your parents to pay higher taxes for their Spanish villa rentals during summer holidays because they property ownership is not from within the EU anymore? If yes, than vote out.

    I was born in a country outside of EU. I saw the process of assimilation and I saw my country grow in tolerance and respect towards diversity. I remember my first road trip from Warsaw to Paris during which I did not have to stop a single time to show my passport and the way I could identify countries was my road markings in all local languages, architecture and heritage signage across Europe. I have learned so much about our EU countries since we have joined. Poland became more proud of Polish heritage during its years in the EU. UK became more assertive and open about its national heritage too.

    I moved to the UK not because it was a promised land. I moved here because it was EASIER, nice, prettier place to live than Hungary, and secondly because it was the land of Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare. Land of everyday political correctness and fair employment rights for all. It was the land of free speech – something that we are currently suffering from, but it is still a very precious gift. Land I really wanted to contribute to with my skills, my earned money and my free time.

    UK is a country of dialogue, but we need to learn to speak it without individual, biased emotions, but with passion for common human values. UK is currently in crisis because of EU heritage, because of the diversity so developed and promoted by those new European values and because of the general lack of civic engagement.

    Many of us, EU immigrants, do fear Brexit – probably more as a sign of times and changes to come in many other countries too. We witness is as a test to UK society in times where political correctness, lack of civic engagement (‘why do we have to vote, why can MP’s not make that choice for us?’) and fear of open discussions about political views combined lead to silence. Silence allows one sided interpretation of historical events. You have no words to point fingers and showcase those who incentivise hate and inspire division. Your still young political correctness is not mature enough to talk about its own flip side: freedom to spread hate and racism. It’s that lack of language, that silence that allows for intolerance and often leads to violence. Sometimes allows for reverting to more traditional and less tolerant structures.

    Is this what you want? Go back or move ahead?

    Do you want to see violence in your country or would you rather engage in political discussions and take a stand? Would you rather allow others to decide about the future of your country, knowing that most of those ‘others’ are your fellow citizens who often do not represent your values or would you study the reasons for the referendum and make an informed choice?

    I cannot vote, but you can. Whether you go to vote or note you are about to choose your side of history. You are about to decide or allow others decide about the future of EU with or without you and about the future of UK with or without EU.

    So which is it going to be?

    Your home-grown threat of violence or European promise of peace? “Alone & divided in silence” or “United in diversity“?

    (title image from here)

    (some copy updated as the original post was written at midnight and I was a bit tired)

  • DIGITAL

    Club #1134 for FashionRevolution in Wantage

    Over a year ago Emma, another mum from my son’s school, approached me to chat about starting a fashion blog. Today, I am really enjoying her posts over on her crispy new blog here but I am also getting drawn into her passion for upcycling and sustainable fashion. I am yet to blog about our trip to London for Vogue UK’s Birthday photo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (post on the way), but today I would like to write up my quick notes from Friday night. Emma starts a #1134 club in our town to promote sustainable fashion and to support Fashion Revolution, a movement born out of the tragedy in Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1134 innocent people died back then due to our need for cheap clothes – and we are all responsible so we better learn to respect what we wear and who is making our clothes.

    2016-05-22_22-56-10

    This is why I was so excited to join Emma’s club – even though my own sewing skills are ridiculous – I hope to get inspired by all the other amazing women who know just so much about making their own clothes, upcycling and fixing clothing for their family. I know what you will say – a feminist like you should rage – but this is different. Here we are talking about basic skills to repair clothes instead of throwing them away and getting a new, very cheap piece produced by ‘someone somewhere far away in conditions we choose not to think, nor care about’.

    So I have visited Emma’s #1134 club’s first session last Friday and helped with live-tweeting the projects and general ideas from the night. I came home inspired, moved and even more motivated to think about what I wear. I spent over two years studying minimalism so I am at the point where what I do store in my house and wear is what I care for the most. I wonder how I can take this trend to the next level by learning to make my own corrections and maybe one day even my own clothes.

    Below tweets from the night. I find them all fascinating as I grew up with boys and sewing is not ‘my thing’ but I truly believe that we can all learn anything so why not this if I am surrounded by specialists?;) Wish me luck and them patience – they’re up for a challenge but I suspect they have no idea what awaits them!

  • DIGITAL

    ‘The Quality of Silence’ – book review

    A good book can be summarised in one sentence – Rosamund Luption’s ‘The Quality of Silence’ is very good. It concludes with its summary:

    I can feel my fingers again and I have a voice.

    I wish I had a little bit more time to read but at the moment I make really poor choices when it comes to my free time and so I read only in desperation and huge guilt. So I grabbed this book when visiting one of our local libraries simply to kill the feeling of despair (‘I really must read something now!’). I did not expect this story to be so relevant to my life and work though, so I am still recovering from its astonishing relevance.

    It’s a well written story of a family at the verge of collapse with three main characters (mum, dad, daughter) isolated in their own way of living and in their own boundaries. I know that mother’s relationship with daughter is never easy so this plot was quite known to me. So was the cold and fear of lonely hours of driving through snow and wind in Alaska to find their dad. So was the idea of dangers related to oil drilling. But I did not expect the technology to play such powerful role in the little girls childhood and this particular ‘adventure’ and I really like that it was woven into the plot so smoothly that it almost goes unnoticed.

    This time I am not going to tell you what I mean – you really need to read the book to understand. All I can say is that I am extremely happy to see the conclusion of the book presented so easily, so obviously when on a daily basis I talk to people and work with people who do not understand the power of social media for voicing our opinions, finding a way out of loneliness and solitude or simply for finding someone who truly listens.

    You see, people who are the closest to us sometimes simply do not stop and ask questions. Many make their own judgements.

    While on the social web we get to put our thoughts and feelings out there in front of millions of people – many of whom read, listen, care, ask, respond, wait for you to explain, learn to discuss and share. It feels more right than the sharp, blunt and often boring reality – because it is equally really and more functional. On the social web we connect with similarly people. In the real offline world we bump into so many people who are almost incompatible, distant or simply unengaged. In the real world what we want to say comes out wrong and we simply hurt others. Sometimes our problems are not the issues we talk about but how we share them, and this becomes so much clearer when we do it online because we have to frame the context, explain the meaning and position it in the right way in front of our friends. Offline world communication is a bit dysfunctional from that point of view. We feel awkward, so uneasy to just sit and talk:

    So on a day when many panic about their hacked LinkedIn accounts and consider leaving their social media presences, I celebrate the social web. Because they give us voice we never had before, never in the history of human communication. We should celebrate it and use it well, if possible take our learnings offline too.