CHARITY APPEAL ‘We’re all different in some way – and that’s a good thing’
*** CHANGING MINDS Ahead of Anti-bullying Week, Boudicca Fox-leonard learns about a charity helping children to look beneath the surface
Monday morning in New Eltham, south-east London, and years one, two and three file politely into the school assembly hall. “Good morning,” says Phyllida Swift. “Good morning,” chorus back the cross-legged students of Wyborne Primary.
Today’s is a special assembly. The colourful art displays around the hall hint that the theme isn’t an unfamiliar one to the young students. This term they’ve been studying Wonder, the bestselling book by R J Palacio about a boy born with a rare facial condition and what happens to him when he goes to school for the first time. But this will be the first time most of the children have met someone who has dealt with the issues raised by the book. Swift looks like any other 25-year-old, except she has a scar across her left cheek, eye and forehead.
In 2015, Swift, from Cheshire, travelled to Ghana and planned to spend the summer volunteering. On the first day of her trip, she was involved in a bus crash, which left her with a broken spine, hips and ribs – and a deep wound from her hairline to the side of her nose. Now as campaigns manager for Changing Faces, one of three charities represented in this year’s Telegraph Christmas Appeal, her message is that she is just like any other young woman.
The charity was founded in 1992 to support and represent children, young people and adults who have a visible difference to the face, hands or body, whether present from birth or caused by accident, injury, illness or medical episode.
“I want to live in a world where I don’t fear that my nieces, nephews and perhaps even my children might grow up to be scared of me because they’ve been exposed to the media’s archaic portrayals of disfigurement,” Swift says.
Her visit is timely. Next week is AntiBullying Week and more than half of people with a visible difference have directly experienced bullying. While the charity supports thousands of people of all ages, there are 86,000 children of school age in the UK today with a visible difference and it is often those undertaking the difficult transition to secondary school that will encounter bullying behaviour.
Research by Changing Faces has shown that only three in 10 young people say they would like to be friends with somebody who has a visible difference. Early intervention to stop harmful attitudes developing is vital, which is why Swift is here today.
“How many of you have birthmarks?” she asks the assembly. Hands shoot up.
“Don’t you think we’re all different in some way? We all have different coloured skin, hair and eyes, right?” Little heads nod. “Isn’t it good then to be different?” “Yes!” comes the answer.
The charity hopes that by getting children, aged from five upwards, to think about how they might react when they see someone who looks different they can change children’s reactions – and help educate their parents – and nip bullying in the bud.
So far the results have been positive. One school last year sent 60 letters to Changing Faces after a similar school assembly, many of which expressed how the children had never realised what it would be like to meet someone who looks different.
But for Swift there really shouldn’t be any difference between meeting someone with or without a visible condition. She wants to find the common ground; something she successfully does in a workshop with year six pupils where they watch a video featuring interviews with Changing Faces’ champions, and then problem-solve some case studies.
“I’ve been bullied a lot in the past,” says Zac, a 10-year-old with a sparky personality. “People don’t have the right to call other people weird.”
His classmate Aurora is reminded of the time their head teacher Mr Searjeant came into assembly eating a can of dog food. Except it was actually a can of peaches with the label changed. “People make assumptions. You can’t judge a book by its cover,” she says.
Swift is impressed by their responses. “They’ve done a great job of putting themselves in the shoes of others and hopefully now they’ll have a clearer idea of what to do if they are bullied, or encounter others being bullied. Ultimately, it’s about how we treat each other.” Sunday 11 November 2018
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THE ONE FOR FAMILIES: CASTLE CRAG, 951FT
Castle Crag is tiny in stature but gigantic in charm – the ideal mountain for an intrepid outing with the family. From the village of Grange, an easy stroll through woodland is followed by a little climb over scree to the summit, before a delightful riverside walk back to the start. This mountainin-miniature is an ideal training ground for adventurers – and, best of all, ice creams are available in the village.
THE ONE FOR BEGINNERS: GREY KNOTTS, 2,287FT
Lake District guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright described this walk as “mild exercise” on a route with a “gloomy start” but “an excellent finish”. From the top of Honister Pass, it takes less than two miles of hiking to get up and down Grey Knotts. But there is more than 1,000ft of ascent to contend with. The reward for your efforts? Glorious views across Lakeland from the grey
THE ONE FOR EXPERTS: GREAT GABLE, 2,949FT
Great Gable is unquestionably one of the great Lakeland fells. It is a towering, rugged mass of rock and crags and cliffs; an adventure paradise for hikers and climbers alike. Many believe the view from its Westmorland Cairn over Wast Water is the best panorama in all of the district. Climb Gable from Wasdale Head and it’s a sure bet for a fine day in the fells.
it could be a type of obsessive behaviour, linked to stress. Speak to your vet, aiming to get a specific diagnosis by ruling out one cause after another. You can only give effective treatment once the precise cause has been pinpointed.
My six-year-old female Cavalier King Charles spaniel has syringomyelia. She was on steroids but they just made her gain weight and didn’t help the problem, so we stopped giving them to her. How else can I help her?
Syringomyelia is a complex, painful condition caused by an inherited malformation of the back of the skull that obstructs the flow of fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Corrective surgery is possible but it is costly, with a success rate of less than 50 per cent. A referral to a neurological specialist is the best way to find the treatment protocol that’s most effective for her.
Bernie, below, is a young lurcher who was a frightened stray when he was rescued. Contact National Animal Welfare Trust Hertfordshire on 0208 950 0177 or visit nawt.org.uk.
To view outcomes of rescued pets, see petethevet.com/rescues.