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Regional AGM and Conference 16-18 June

As Daphne Dowsing, current Regional President, is a member of SI Tiverton, the AGM, Conference and friendship weekend was held there.

Members of SI Bristol
Members of SI Bristol

There were inspiring and impressive speakers including The Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, DBE, Bishop of Crediton in the diocese of Exeter, the first female Bishop in the West Country who was consecrated (alongside the Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek) as 4th female Bishop in July 2015.

She had started her working life as a nurse and rapidly rose to the heights of her profession, experiencing sexist attitudes along the way, especially when appointed Government Chief Nursing Officer for England. She was ordained in 2001, taking up full-time ministry in the C of E in 2004.

She experienced and commented on different styles of leadership between men and women with excellent stories to illustrate her point.   She is keen to find ways to encourage women to have confidence in their skills and experience;  we must find our own voice and way of doing things and give legitimacy to other styles of leadership.   There is a need to encourage women to ‘find their voice’.

Maureen Maguire, SIGBI President 2011 – 2012 represents SI Northern Ireland on the Government’s Department of Justice Human Trafficking Engagement Group and talked about trafficking ranging from forced labour (often involving farm work) to child exploitation (such as in Rotherham).

Over 1,000 face-to-face questionnaires were carried out with the general public  by Soroptimists in N Ireland on behalf of their Department of Justice to gauge public awareness of modern slavery.   SIGBI is hoping that Clubs on the mainland will follow this example.

Ann Hodgson, SIGBI President, talked about the SIGBI Strategic Plan whose big goal is to be the leading organisation for today’s women and now had 7,673 members with 79 Associate Members.

SIGBI is moving slowly to charitable status which must be right for us.   She talked of the Growth Plan and the advantage of the involvement of external experts.

10 members of SI Gouda, Tiverton’s friendship link told us about their Back to School initiative which provides access to education for Syrian children.   In 2014 there were 570k school-aged children 380k of whom had no access to education.

In 2014 – 2016 SI Gouda decided to build a school for Syrian refugee to provide 232 containers each containing 2 classrooms along with teachers and school kits for pupils.  For the first time since the onset of the Syrian conflict the number of children going to school exceeds those who don’t.

Ann Garvie, former International President updated us on the project she promoted during her  Presidency, See Solar, Cook Solar.   It was incredible to see pictures showing the size of solar cooking panels for large-scale catering in schools.   Elderly residents near schools are now also fed by school cooks with solar panels being used in Uganda, Nepal, Figi, Papua New Guinea and Mali – which is in a war zone.   Ann had been very frustrated by the blatant corruption in many countries requiring substantial bribes to release goods from customs.

SI Bristol's PA Display
SI Bristol’s PA Display

SI Bristol took a display of their Programme Action (PA) activity highlighting not only their Club Charity of the Year work for Off the Record but also many of their regular ongoing projects.  Bristol was in the top 5 clubs in the Region for consideration for the annual Ellen Brawn Award for Best Practice (named after a Jersey member passionate about PA who had been treasurer of UKPAC until shortly before her death several years ago).  Congratulations to SI Taunton won the award but well done SI Bristol too.

The afternoon finished with Irene Hockin (Regional Programme Action Officer) organising a Power Walk which graphically shows advantages possessed by those of us brought up in enlightened western communities compared to women in developing countries (or those who have been trafficked or are refugees).

As always the real fun was “The Friendship” weekend itself which ended with dinner on Saturday evening and a very interesting walk round Tiverton followed by an excellent lunch provided by Club members in the Guildhall in a brilliant heatwave.