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Poetry to share!

My last week teaching in Azadpur, Delhi starts tomorrow morning. I really like this poem and I’m going to use it in class, hopefully it will inspire the kids to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve their dreams.

Follow Your Dream by Amanda Bradley

Follow your dream.
Take one step at a time and don’t settle for less,
Just continue to climb.
Follow your dream.
If you stumble, don’t stop and lose sight of your goal
Press to the top.
For only on top can we see the whole view,
Can we see what we’ve done and what we can do;
Can we then have the vision to seek something new,
Press on.
Follow your dream.

Below is my grandfather’s favourite poem. From his first day of practice to his last, “If” by Rudyard Kipling hung on his surgery wall. I’ve always loved it too and I’d love to share it with the kids but it’s too complicated for them, so hopefully some of you can enjoy it instead.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Garment Workers in Gurgaon

Home from a distressing day.

Today we went to a slum area of Gurgaon to a community of garment factory workers. A few of my fellow Irish volunteers and I sat cramped in a hut with around 12 workers and an Indian lawyer who works for their garment workers union, he acted as translator for us. They told us that they work in a factory of 5,000 people making clothes for brands such as GAP, Next and Old Navy, other similar factories in the area produce for Nike and Marks & Spencers. They work nearly everyday of the week, often for 12-16 hours straight (overtime is still standard pay) and earn around 5,000 Rupees (64 euro) per month. They spend close to half of this on rent for a one-roomed hut that they share with their whole family. This man’s hut where we sat chatting consisted of two shelves, one bed, a fan and a few cooking utensils. His corrugated roof had holes in it and only a few metres from his front door was an open sewer. If any of you have experienced monsoon floods, then you can imagine what it’s like living in these conditions when it rains. The men told us how they lack access to clean water and suffer from skin diseases from bathing and cleaning clothes with the local water. They also told us about their awful working conditions: they are not provided with any sort of protective gear, TB and other lung-related diseases are prevalent and so are injuries from machines. Whenever big targets come in from the clothes companies, they are forced to work several days straight with practically no breaks (whatever breaks they take for food are deducted from their pay anyway), they may not be allowed toilet breaks and will be tortured and beaten if they don’t hit the targets.

In preparation for factory inspections, the factory is cleaned up, they put soap in the bathrooms, provide masks and gloves to the workers and they train them to say sentences that will paint a happy picture of working there. If anyone dares put a foot out of line or complain about the environment, they risk being beaten or worse, fired. As soon as the inspectors leave, the owner, the management and the factory environment return to their disgraceful normal ways.

These men told us they have no bargaining power at all and they are completely voiceless in society. There is only one garment workers union in Delhi state consisting of approx. 500 members, but they are petrified to raise any issues as they’ll simply lose their jobs and their livelihoods. Furthermore, as most of them are migrants in Delhi and don’t have permanent residency here, they find it very difficult to get their children into schools.

At the end of our conversation, they apologised for not having presents to give us and they explained that they are very poor, but then in true generous Indian style, they pulled out a big bottle of Pepsi and a few packets of biscuits for us to share and they insisted that we dig in.

Then they asked us if there was any way that we could improve their situation. I sat there feeling completely helpless and so guilty for the life that I have been born into and the luxuries that I have been afforded. I promised them that I would go home and raise awareness for their cause. So, I apologise for the extremely lengthy post but if you’ve read this far, maybe you’ll think twice about where you buy your clothes next time you shop. If any of you know anyone of influence in these industries, then maybe you could pass on their story.

When I read about the factory collapse in Bangladesh a few months ago, I felt sorry for the people affected but it all seemed like a distant world and I’m ashamed to say that I forgot about it quite soon after. Little did I know that a few months later I’d be sitting talking to people like this in their own homes.

Cycle Against Suicide

Over the past two weeks, the Cycle Against Suicide has made it’s way along the perimeter of Ireland, covering 1,400km and touching the hearts of tens of thousands of people along the way.

Credit: Cycle Against Suicide

Credit: Cycle Against Suicide

The aim of the cycle is threefold: firstly, to raise awareness of suicide and depression, secondly, to spread the message that “it’s ok not to feel ok” and “it’s more than ok to ask for help”, thirdly, to direct people towards the many local and national organisations that can help people who are suffering.

The idea for the cycle originated with entrepreneur Jim Breen, after visiting a suicide awareness group in Dublin as part of the RTE TV documentary “The Secret Millionaire” last summer. Meeting these volunteers and experiencing the amazing work that they carry out had a profound effect on Jim and he made a long-term vow to help them in their battle against suicide in Ireland….thus, the cycle was born!

I met Jim Breen last October 2012 at the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. I was instantly struck by Jim’s energy and passion for his project and I said that I would love to get involved. Several months later, as fate would have it, Jim and I ended up on RTE’s “The Late Late Show” on the same night! Jim was speaking about the cycle alongside radio DJ Colm Hayes, model Roz Purcell and Will Lynch whilst I performed with my band “Perfect Friction”. After the show, Jim and I discussed how I could officially get involved with the cycle and we (Jim!!) decided that I would be the perfect person to organise the halfway-cycle party in County Galway! Jim’s brother Tim and nephew Aidan soon joined me on the organisational team and together we spent the next few weeks arranging the big bash for April 27th in Galway city.

School talk in Wexford. Credit: Pictureboots

School talk in Wexford. Credit: Pictureboots

April 22nd soon arrived and the cycle took off with great excitement from the RTE studios in Dublin. Over the next 14 days, the cycle travelled 1,400km through many adventures, punctures, tumbles, rain and strong winds, stopping in 28 different towns around the country. In each of these 28 towns, the CAS team hosted informative sessions on mental health and suicide in local schools and universities. These sessions also involved powerful talks from guest speakers such as “The Voice” judge Bressie, model Roz Purcell and Sand2Snow adventurer Maghnus Collins, all spreading the message that “it’s ok not to feel ok and it’s more than ok to ask for help”.

Nicky Cleere and I at the Galway Halfway party. I'm signing a photo scrapbook that Nicky made for Jim!

Nicky Cleere and I at the Galway Halfway party. I’m signing a photo scrapbook that Nicky made for Jim! Credit: Cycle Against Suicide

Our halfway party in Galway was a roaring success and we were delighted to treat several hundred tired and thirsty cyclists to a wonderful night of entertainment. We had five fantastic bands for the night: KeyWest, Frankie Gavin, Hozier, Babylon Sisters and Cotton Ball Three (yes, I sang too!). The wonderful Amanda Fennelly from RTE took on responsbility for the finish line party in Dublin on May 5th and this also turned out to be fantastic night with performances from Róísín Ó, Gavin Glass, The Heathers and Taken. All of the musicians involved in both Galway and Dublin gave their time for free and acted as such wonderful ambassadors for the campaign. Thank you all very much for sharing your talents with us.

 

Cyclists listen to Jim speaking before last leg of cycle home to Dublin. Credit: Colm Hayes

Cyclists listen to Jim speaking before last leg of cycle home to Dublin. Credit: Colm Hayes

So now, the cycle has come to an end. Unfortunately, I could only join in for two days of cycling as prior work engagements prevented me from leaving Dublin. However, two days was still enough to give me a taste of the infectious energy of the cycle and I’m finding it nearly impossible to put into words the incredible sense of community that I felt during those two short days. The sheer number of people who lined the streets in cheer to show their support for the cycle as it passed through towns and villages is a testament in itself. Not to mention all of the wonderful people who opened their homes up to host cyclists every evening and all of those who catered snack breaks and lunches for every pitstop along the way! I know that this is the start of a very special movement in Ireland and I have no doubt that the Cycle Against Suicide will make it’s way to an international stage in the near future too. I am delighted that here in Ireland, we as a nation have come together to tackle the issue of mental health and suicide, a subject which has been stigmatised for far too long.

Missing a minor part of my bike...but I won't let that stop me! :)

Missing a minor part of my bike…but I won’t let that stop me!

So, a huge congratulations to Jim Breen, Dee McMahon, the 5,000 cyclists who took part and all of the volunteers from across the country for delivering a very powerful message to the people of Ireland. Here’s to the adventures, the new friendships and to the many amazing people who shared their stories along the way…..I am so privileged to have been apart of this experience and I feel very inspired by you all.

“Together, shoulder to shoulder, we can break the cycle of suicide in Ireland”

P.S. Next year I promise to cycle the whole trip!

 

The Late Late Show

With Perfect Friction backstage before performing on The Late Late Show, RTE, January 2013

With Perfect Friction backstage before performing on The Late Late Show, RTE, January 2013

Friday 18th January was a very exciting day for myself and my band “Perfect Friction”. We performed live on RTE’s “The Late Late Show”, Ireland’s most watched TV programme broadcast weekly to approximately 650,000 viewers!

We performed a medley starting with a cover of “Valerie” by The Zutons running into a lively trad set. The whole audience clapped and danced along throughout and erupted in cheer as we ended our last tune. We all left the stage on a complete high and returned to the Green Room where we watched the rest of the show, each with a well-deserved glass of wine in hand! Also performing on the night were singer/songwriter Gavin James and English tenor of Les Misérables fame, Alfie Boe. They both gave stunning performances and joined us in the Green Room for the rest of the night. Gavin and Alfie are both lovely guys as well as phenomenal musicans, it was such a pleasure to enjoy their company for the evening.

Backstage at RTE, January 2013

Backstage at RTE, January 2013

We also got to chat at length with Ryan Tubridy, presenter of the show and perhaps the most popular TV personality in Ireland! Ryan came into our dressing room for 20 minutes before the show to hang out and listen to our music. He is so talented yet down-to-earth at the same time, no wonder the Irish people love him!

Another highlight of the night for me was meeting Jim Breen and his team at “Cycle Against Suicide” who were speaking on the show about mental health and suicide awareness. I had been following the progress of this great initiative for several months, so I was delighted to meet Jim again and talk about how I could help. I have been involved with the organisation ever since and I will share more about this in my next blog post.