A traveller was walking along a beach when he saw a woman scooping up starfish off the sand and tossing them into the waves. Curious, he asked her what she was doing. The woman replied “When the tide goes out it leaves these starfish stranded on the beach. They will dry up and die before the tide comes back in, so I am throwing them back into the sea where they can live.”The traveller then asked her “But this beach is miles long and there are hundreds of stranded starfish, many will die before you reach them – do you really think throwing back a few starfish is really going to make a difference?”The woman picked up a starfish and looked at it, then she threw it into the waves. “It makes a difference to this one” she said.L Eiseley’s “The Star Thrower”
It is one of the great pleasures of my life that I believe I have helped make a difference, maybe not on a grand scale, but, like the woman above, when it matters so vitally to an individual.
Coming from a family background that believed in social justice, the need for a fairer society and meaningful democracy, I started my career with the exuberance of wanting to change the world. I went into community social work – fighting for individual’s rights and wants against the darkening clouds of statutory cost cutting and target –setting. Needless to say I became disillusioned and looked for other ways to make a difference.
At the same time I met a remarkable woman who made a huge difference to me. One of those moments in life when the lightbulb goes on! I suddenly saw that instead of fighting against the odds, I should enable and empower people to fight their own battles. I moved into community education and had a wonderful few years developing skills of literacy and numeracy, citizenship, and assertiveness. The best thing was delivering Shakespeare to people with learning disabilities, despite the odds. You wouldn’t believe how many discouraging voices railed against the project, but we won through. It was great to see the difference in students who couldn’t speak out loud at the start, who, by the end, were swooning and weeping as the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet came home to them.
As chance would have it, we had a family move and I was forced to seek new employment and start again. That was not a chore, but an opportunity. I developed my work with people with a Learning Disability and took a job as an advocate, supporting people to express their individual wants and needs, particularly in planning for emergencies and end of life. That role changed my thinking. Through the training and the developing of my skills in advocacy, suddenly I saw I could help people not just to respond to life, but to shape their own image of life. What a difference that made!
How lucky was I to play a part of changing the ethos of doing unto passive, vulnerable people to a culture of actively working for the client who is the captain of their own destiny. A shift of significant proportions in providing personal services.
Eventually I moved on from that job, broadening my skills and shaping my experiences of working with people in various charities to support ‘disadvantaged’ groups. Believing that I can make a crucial difference. Bringing me up to today and this brilliant opportunity to make a difference.
When I came to write this blog I wanted to tell you something about me, about what I bring to the team. All our skills, our knowledge and our different experiences are going to be huge in making this project work. For me, I want to share with you a little bit of the drive I have to achieve change, but also the passion I hold that only the individual client can know what a difference that really makes.
I really look forward to working with you all.
Penny Beerling, Project Coordinator Age UK Oxfordshire