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TEDxBrighton 2016 Live Blog Pt Three: ‘The Art of Heroism’

Written by guest blogger Sophie Holgate 
Photo credit: @CliveAndrews

The auditorium is once again filling up, part three is titled ‘The Art of Heroism’ and the audience are buzzing for the next batch of speakers who include an activist, a social entrepreneur, The Bird Lady and an ex rock band member!

 Elaine Ortiz

Kicking off part three is Elaine Ortiz, a social and political activist from Manchester. It is clear that many members of today’s audience are keen to see her and listen to her story. Event director Toby comes on stage to address the audience – unfortunately Elaine cannot be with us today as she is still in Calais where hundreds of unaccompanied minors have been left behind after the eviction and demolition of the unofficial refugee camp – the ‘Calais Jungle’. It is clear that people are disappointed to miss out on hearing her speech, but never fear! Toby informs the audience that Elaine has recorded a video for TEDx to speak a bit about herself and The Hummingbird Project. 

The Hummingbird Project was started by Elaine in June 2015 to provide aid and support to refugees in Calais and Dunkirk, since then she has done some amazing things with her Hummingbird volunteers and we are incredibly fortunate to have her (virtually) with us today. 

 Elaine’s face is projected onto the screen on stage.

“Hello Brighton” she begins, and she’s off. 

Elaine explains calmly the current situation in Calais, that there are children who have had to sleep outside of containers on the floor with nothing but a blanket because the French authorities have put nothing in place to keep them safe. Young people have been queuing up all week since as early as 4am each day to be registered, some will be brought to the UK and others offered asylum in France. She speaks about how children were being turned away from registration with no explanation. 

 “The bulldozers have moved in” she says, explaining how her and her team have witnessed the camp ablaze over the last few days destroying the little shelter the refugees did have. 

 “It’s just not good enough” she urges, explaining how we must go above grassroots organisations and look to governments and international charities to act on behalf of these children. 

Elaine

 How Can You Help?

 Elaine offers some ways that the audience can help after they leave TEDxBrighton today. 

The first thing, write to your local MP.

The second, she wants people to be signing campaigns objecting to the treatment of children in Calais.

Finally, be wary of what is being reported in the media. Elaine reminds everyone that this is not always true of what is happening on the ground. She urges people to check The Hummingbird Project pages for accurate and up to date information. 

 “It’s your responsibility as human beings, as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers” she says, reminding us of the change Lord Alf Dubs made that has ensured hundreds of children have made it to the UK safely and legally. The Dubs Amendment was passed in March ensuring 3,000 children would be transported to the UK, the first were brought over a couple of weeks ago. 

Elaine finishes her talk with a story that has inspired her work and the work of many others in the Hummingbird Project and further afield – The Hummingbird and the Forest Fire.

A terrible fire broke out in a forest – huge woodlands was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream they stopped to watch the fire and they were feeling very discouraged and powerless. They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird.

This particular hummingbird decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire.” And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?” And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing what I can”

 Elaines video is over and the audience cheer and clap, hopefully everyone will go away today with a little piece of their mind reserved for the children of Calais who are maybe the biggest heroes of the story. 

 Whitney Iles

 No time to waste we are onto the second speaker, Whitney Iles. She greets everyone with a “How are we all doing today?” and then quickly encourages a more enthusiastic response. She is clearly a seasoned pro at holding an audiences attention and she enforces this when she mentions that this is her second TEDx. 

whitney

The screen behind her reads ‘Prison and the Greater Good’ and Whitney starts to explain ‘Project 507’ where she works with prisons on violence reduction in the community and prison setting. She mentions systemic change, which is something, that will feature heavily throughout her talk. 

“The prison system in 2016 isn’t really working the way we want it to” she tells us, speaking about the benefit of looking to prison systems all over the world to find the solution. She laughs, informing the audience that The Netherlands is closing down prisons because there aren’t enough criminals!

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein

 Laughing at herself, she admits to the audience that being from the ‘Instagram Generation’ that quote could be from anyone. Then she gets more serious, speaking about rehabilitated men with jobs waiting for them on the outside world sitting in prison cells costing the country £40,000 a year to keep them there. According to Whitney the political climate means that the public won’t accept changes until peoples opinions are changed. 

“Prisons can sometimes be like youth centres with pool tables and play stations. Prisons can sometimes be dangerous, people get killed and people kill themselves” Whitney works with some of the more high-risk prisoners – people dealing with pain, trauma, PTSD, sexual abuse and more. She is confident that if people change the way they think that the prison system can change, but at the moment people in prison are terrified of coming out and facing the public.  

“What if we took the punishment away?” Whitney asks, although she is quick to make it clear that she knows that sometimes long prison sentences are necessary she also proposes the idea of physiotherapy for the mind. She says that a lot of the time these people need healing, they need help and support not punishment. She also reminds us that often these are people who we have let down, the ones who have slipped through the net of other services and not been provided enough care. 

Whitney finishes her talk by telling the story of a homosexual prisoner who had his parole pushed back because he was unable to take part in the mandatory ‘Healthy Relationships’ programme. The reason he was unable to take part was because the programme was only for heterosexual relationships so this man was kept in prison longer because he wasn’t able to do a course that didn’t even exist! 

“Feel empowered, we can all create change” Whitney leaves the stage to raucous applaud that, with the encouragement of Mark, quickly turns into a standing ovation! 

Astacianna Hatcher 

With a quick handover we are onto our next speaker – a surprise addition to make up for Elaine not being able to be with us we have Astacianna Hatchet. Astacianna is known fondly as The Bird Lady and from the second she walks on stage she has the audience in the palm of her hand. 

Astacianna

“Close your eyes, now listen” she says. Instantly, as everyone settles into their seat, the auditorium is filled with the sound of hundreds of birds. It plays for a while and then quiets down again, when we open our eyes Astacianna is grinning out from the stage. 

“You just spent thirty seconds in my office” she tells us. She is clearly proud of this, and rightly so. Astacianna’s job is to listen to the soundscapes of wild places and document the birds present in those places. She has spent time all over the world – in swamps, in savannahs, even in the Cloud Forest in Ecuador – but more on that later. 

“Birds tell me great stories, they don’t tell jokes or talk about books. They don’t whisper secrets, but they do tell me very personal stories about their lives. What’s going on in their communities, what dangers are present and what might be threatening them” Astacianna explains that birds are bio-indicators, they are sensitive to environmental change so they can tell us what might be changing as they rely on every part of an eco system. If a stream is contaminated the birds will know, if there is an invasive plant the birds will be able to tell Astacianna about it. 

There are many other things in the world that are bio indicators – insects and fungi, but she laughs at the thought of spending hours in a forest listening to mushrooms. 

 Astacianna explains an ordinary part of her working day, giving us an insight into her unusual career. She says she’ll be standing somewhere; she has a piece of paper and a compass. She draws a bulls eye and then some circles around the bulls eye – every circle is ten metres away from her. With her piece of paper she stands for ten minutes and does a roll call of the birds in the area. She acts this out on stage, playing the birdcalls and naming them to the audience. It’s fun to watch and even more fun to imagine her doing it for real in the middle of a swamp somewhere. 

 Astacianna always wanted to go to Africa, and never come back! She tells us the story of her visit to the Cloud Forest in Ecuador where after noticing the absence of a native bird – the White Faced Nunbird – she worked with lots of locals and organisations and seven years later the bird is back where it belongs – in the Cloud Forest. 

 She ends her talk on a quote – “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth, finds reseves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts” and waits patiently on stage while the audience applaud. A true insight into something I’m sure no one in the audience knew much about before! 

 Paul Richards

 Onto our penultimate speaker of this section, Paul Richards walks confidently to the bullseye on the stage. 

 “Imagine if you had to leave every night at half past nine. This is the reality for may people with learning disabilities who require support to go out in the evening” he starts. Paul is the director of the Stay Up Late charity that helps support young people with learning disabilities, but more on that in a little while. 

Paul Richards 

Before Paul got into the charity world he was part of a punk band – ‘Heavy Load’ they got quite a lot of publicity and after Jerry Rochwell made a documentary about them they went on to play Glastonbury twice, perform in New York city and release three albums – impressive! They also got praise from THE Kylie who Paul refers to as the “real, actual goddess of pop” 

While they were performing they realised a fundamental flaw in social care systems, he explains, highlighting that three members of Heavy Load had learning disabilities themselves and therefore they became fed up of their audience having to leave the venue as they came on stage due to the 9.30pm curfew rule. 

Paul explains that it was this realization that prompted the campaign called ‘Stay Up Late’ which challenged this issue that people with disabilities had to forfeit seeing their favourite band or getting to the end of a film when they were at the cinema. He laughs, telling us it’s a ‘Punk Charity’ – it’s purpose is to campaign against the rigid systems and rotas. 

 “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being of unloved” – Mother Theresa 

Paul goes in with some hard hitting statistics, explaining how when a group of people with learning disabilities were surveyed the results showed that 47% spent most of their time at home, 51% feel lonely and 72% don’t go out in the evenings. He explains that for a person with learning disabilities often they can miss out on having lots people in their lives and tend to have a more limited circle including family, people who are paid to be in your life and people you know but not by name. 

According to Paul, the desire to be active in the community by people with learning disabilities is incredibly high. It was this desire that prompted him to start Gig Buddies – the aim of Gig Buddies is to match up eople with learning disabilities to a volunteer with the same music/cultural interests. These two people go together. 

 “Volunteering made easier” Paul says that if you can turn what people are already doing into a volunteering opportunity then it’s more accessible. 

So far there are 80 pairs of Gig Buddies in the UK, they have helped support an organisation in Sydney to set up something similar. 

Paul, already an enormous hit with the audience, ends his talk with this 

“We can all be heroes, and not just for one day” 

Mark calls him back onstage to witness the standing ovation from everyone in the auditorium! 

Rachel Mortimer

Rounding off this section is Rachel Mortimer, she comes onstage and waits patiently for her slides to appear behind her. 

 “Imagine if we had invited you here today, sat you down, given you a cup of tea and then left” she says and then she laughs. 

Rachel

“You’d probably want your money back” but then she sobers. This is, she tells us, the unfortunate reality of people in care with dementia. These people have roughly two minutes of meaningful interaction every six hours. She pauses and the room is silent as the audiences take this in. 

After a conversation with her Nan, Rachel decided to offer art workshops in care homes. She rang round and found somewhere to start and then she turned up with her paints, ready to go. She says that when she arrived, the reception was an assault on her senses but that the living room space was simply armchair after armchair of people sat in silence. 

After one of the residents of the home came over and asked Rachel if she was her mother she discovered that the sign out from that read EMI stood for ‘Elderly and Infirm’ and meant that the residents of that particular home were suffering from dementia. 

Rachel is quick to stick up for the carers, telling us that they do some of the hardest jobs in society on the lowest pay. She explains how after that first visit she went home and barely slept for three days while she Googled everything in order to find out as much as possible about dementia. 

“If I put my dog in a kennel, I’d be angry if it didn’t get walked at least once a day. If you put an elderly relative into a care home it’s possible they’ll never step outside again” 

Rachel explains that although she was there to teach painting, very little painting happened. She discovered people wanted to talk, sometimes she understood, sometimes she didn’t. She tried lots of different communication tools, but after 100 hours of listening, talking and paying attention to the residents of the care homes she worked in she had a programme to facilitate communication and conversation with dementia sufferers. She explains that with the right tools and knowledge people’s anxiety levels dropped and the conversation flowed. 

She moves away from her story to focus on those of the residents she has worked with. She turned up one day to find George, a resident, in the reception. He was distressed and trying every door to get out. Rachel invited him to sit down with her and explore some art with the group. She put a picture up and immediately he was engaged, he told them exactly what was happening in the painting and then went on to talk about his life as a steamtrain driver. The carers were agog, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. 

She moves on, speaking fondly of a lady called Margaret who “had no words” until one painting at the end of a long session. “When I look at that piece, the mood and colours move straight through me” Rachel displays the picture that had this affect on Margaret. It might not mean something to everyone in the room, but it meant something to Margaret and everyone can feel that. 

Rachel set up and Engage and Create and wants to train carers to be able to facilitate sessions themselves in order to have meaningful conversations with dementia patients. It is really inspiring to listen to her story and experience and the journey she has been on with the patients she has worked with. 

To finish, she tells us that they have recently moved her Nan into a carehome. Her talk comes full circle with that information and she explains that she doesn’t want her Nan to become another invisible person sitting in an armchair. 

“We need to get away from this them and us, because they are us in a few years” 

 So, that’s about it for this section! We’ll be back shortly for the fourth and final group of speakers.