January 2017

SI Central Birmingham



CENTRAL MATTERS                                JANUARY 2017



                                                Happy New Year, Everyone!



Dates For Your Diaries





Tues 7 Feb

Business meeting at QAC







Sat 4 March

Regional meeting at Wolston. See item below from Pat Kirby.



Other Clubs



Sat 11 Feb

SI Rugby are holding a Valentines-inspired Quiz Night, 7.30pm – 10.30pm at Dunchurch Village Hall. Tickets £10, including fish and chip supper. Contact Wendy on 01788 565378. In aid of the Hill Street Summer Scheme (Rugby) – for disadvantaged children.

Fri 24 Feb

SI Stourbridge & District is holding a Beetle Drive on Friday, at The Coach House, St Mary’s Church, Rectory Road, Stourbridge at 7pm. The cost is £7, including a fish and chip supper (or vege option). Those attending are welcome to bring their own drinks (soft or alcoholic). Will members wishing to attend please contact Pat Kirby.

Sat 18 March

SI Worcester & District is visiting The Pudding Club for lunch (12 noon for 12.30pm). There will be main course of either roast pork loin OR fillet of trout OR roasted vegetable risotto, before the parade of puddings. The venue is Three Ways Hotel, Mickleton, and the cost is £25 per head. SI Worcester need to know numbers before 4 March. Please let Pat Kirby know if you wish to attend.


Fri 24 March

SI Kenilworth Charter Dinner, 7pm for 7.30pm. At Stoneleigh Deer Park Golf Club, the Old Deer Park, Coventry Rd, Stoneleigh, Warks CV8 3DR. Cost is £30 per head, to include a three course meal plus tea/coffee. See item below from Pat Kirby.


The Next Club Meeting


The next Club business meeting will be on Tuesday 7 February 2017, 6.30pm for 7pm.



Federation Conference in Cardiff 2017


Conference in 2017 will be in Cardiff, from Thursday, 26 October to Saturday, 28 October.


I have a list of hotels near to the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay but need to have an idea of which members wish to attend before exploring bookings. Please get in touch with me as soon as possible if you wish to attend and will not be present at the next meeting on 7 February. Many thanks.


Pat Kirby


Midland Arden Region Study Day


The next Regional meeting is on Saturday, 4 March 2017 at Wolston, between Coventry and Rugby.   The topic for the day is The United Nations, and the main speaker will be June Muir, UKPAC representative for UNICEF. There will be other speakers who are yet to be confirmed.


Coffee/tea and registration is 9.30 – 10.00 am. There will be a prompt start at 10.00 am.    Lunch is at 1.00 pm. Cost is £16, to include lunch, and cheques should be made payable to “SI Midland Arden Region”.


There will be a board at the meeting on 7 February, but if you will not be present on that date please let me know if you wish to attend this event. Region have to know numbers and receive payment by 17 February.


Pat Kirby


SI Kenilworth Charter Dinner, 24 March


From 7.00 pm for 7.30 pm. Venue is Stoneleigh Deer Park Golf Club, The Old Deer Park, Coventry Road, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CV8 3DR. Cost is £30 per head to include a three course meal plus tea/coffee.  


There is a choice of menu, which has to be notified in advance. Starter: pate or vegetable soup; main course: chicken supreme or mushroom, brie and cranberry wellington; dessert is a selection of homemade sweets.


I am intending to go and would welcome company. SI Kenilworth need to know numbers before 13 March.  Please let me know if you wish a place to be booked for you.

Pat Kirby


Knit and Natter


In January, a small (but perfectly formed) group of us met at Jenny and Ian Saxby’s home. Much coffee/tea, biscuits and cake was consumed, we laughed a great deal, and a lot of knitting took place. It was a very enjoyable event and Jenny has said that she would be happy to host it again. So, if you would be interested in attending a repeat performance, please let Pat Kirby know and she will coordinate it.


Linda Curry





Please don’t forget to bring the following items for recycling to the February Business meeting:


•  Used postage stamps for St Mary’s Hospice

•  Used printer toner cartridges for St Mary’s Hospice

•  Unwanted spectacles for VisionAid


Many thanks. 

Margaret Cannadine


Birmingham Crisis Centre


In January, Jenny Saxby received the following letter from Claire Brooke at the BCC:


“Now that the Christmas decorations, glitter and glam is all but a distant memory and the grotto has been restored to its wintery resting place for another twelve months, the children are back at school, and mothers are busy planning for a new start, we have time to reflect on the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Central Birmingham Soroptimists for their wonderful support. Once again, Jenny, you have exceeded expectations and again turned your home into the ‘packing hub’ for the generous donations for our ladies staying with us at the Centre over the Christmas holidays.


This year, ladies, you certainly surpassed yourselves, in providing 23 beautiful boxes of gorgeousness for our ladies, together with oodles of bags full of knitted toys and goodies, and lots of toiletries which will indeed be welcomed by our future ladies and children. The additional boxes of items have been transferred to our storeroom and our housekeeping staff are leaving a little ‘welcome basket’ of special items for all our new families.


We also send special thanks to your usual team of ‘little helpers’: Celia Charlesworth, Pat Kirby, Margaret Cannadine and Ruth Gibson, for giving up their free time and sharing their handy skills with boxes, cellotape and wrapping paper. Of course, not forgetting hubby Ian, who we are sure shared his expertise, although we hope not just in a supervisory capacity!


We would ask that you send thanks to all your members who contributed financially, or otherwise, in providing these great items, and of course their time, all for the benefit of our residents here at the Centre.


Having such great friends and supporters like you all makes a whole world of difference to our residents and their children. On behalf of everyone at the Birmingham Crisis Centre we send every good wish to you all for a wonderful 2017.”





On the first Tuesday evening of December, Roxanne and I abandoned ship and took ourselves off to Carrs Lane Conference Centre for a meeting organised by ActionAid for representatives from local women’s organisations  to publicise the annual international campaign ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’. The overall theme for 2016 was ‘Raising Women’s Voices’, and ActionAid hoped that the campaign would encourage the Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, to do more for women’s issues.  The aim of the annual campaign is to galvanize action to end inequality against women. 


ActionAid has  been working for 40 years to ‘Raise Women’s Voices’,  and their strapline is to help, and, in turn, empower women and girls in poverty in 45 countries to claim their rights ‘changing lives, locally, nationally and internationally’. It is the work of such organisations over many decades who has made the most impact in raising awareness and helping to combat VAW and FGM. ActionAid’s website ishttps://www.actionaid.org.uk/, and on Facebook at ActionAidUK.


After a welcome session and light refreshments, we listened to four presentations, all of which were inspirational and thought-provoking.   An introductory briefing from the local representative from ActionAid, Amdeep Sanghera,  stressed that the key to gaining equality for women is education which, in turn, empowers and enables them to make choices and earn a living and educate their own children. 


The second speaker was a women’s rights activist, Jess Njui, who had recently flown in from Nairobi and spoke about international grassroots activism to improve the lives of women. She was an ambassador for the ‘Shecan Project’ whose goal is to increase safety, mobility, access to justice and improved gender-responsive public services for vulnerable women and girls in the community. It is a three-year project which started off in Nairobi and is due to finish in 2017.


Roxanne did us proud and talked about the event we held on 25 November 2015  on ‘Violence Against Women’, and the need for a sea change in attitude to the way it is managed in the community, and the continued  need for organisations to network in order to educate the public and tackle the issues associated with VAW.  


The final speaker was the inspirational Parveen Hassan who, as a relentless blogger and chair of the Conservative Association of the West Midlands, talked about the need to improve access to justice and gender-responsive public services for vulnerable women and girls in the community. 


Although the speakers were from different backgrounds they all spoke with one voice about the need for organisations and communities to work in partnership to eradicate VAW and to remove gender inequality.  


Sadly, the event was not particularly well attended but I was inspired to hear that a couple of the other attendees had actually heard of us via our Programme Action. 

Ruth Gibson



VSO – Second Letter from Sheila


Life and volunteering in Cambodia Part 2 … “do they know it’s Christmas time at all … and stories from the Pol Pot era.


This is now early January.


A couple of weeks ago, in my town of Kampong Chhang, I was beginning to hum “do they know it’s Christmas time at all” as there were no signs of Christmas, no Xmas trees, lights or santas about the place, which I was really glad about, as I really dislike the commercialisation which seems to begin in the UK earlier every year, and, given that this is not a Christian country, I didn’t expect there to be celebrations. Then I went to Phnom Penh for a weekend … cashiers in the supermarkets wearing santa hats, Xmas trees in lots of bars and restaurants, Xmas lights in the centralareas, blow up santas outside shops, and lots of little, children-sized santa outfits for sale (and they were still for sale on Christmas day – obviously, supply outstripped demand).


Some local colleagues told me it’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has become popular, and popular mainly with young people in the capital … and it was definitely good business for some of the shops and bars!


I spent the Christmas weekend in Phnom Penh, having fruit juices in the morning at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) whilst listening to “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” and similar songs … the FCC, I think featured in the film, the Killing Fields, as its where the press used to hang out up until the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh and Cambodia in 1975. Later in the day, a group of VSO volunteers and staff set out on a boat for a sunset cruise, on the Tonle Sap and Mekong … again, singing Christmas songs … it was very beautiful seeing the city from the rivers, all lit up, although rather strange being in the heat (even when dark) singing the sorts of songs, you always associate with cold, snow and ice.


“Count down day” or New Year’s Eve seemed to be more popular across all ages … although in Cambodia they celebrate the new year in April, and also celebrate Chinese New Year, which seems also to fall around a similar time … and I gather these are really big celebrations. My young translator, Ra Ner, went to Siem Reap, where her home is, to celebrate “count down” with her friends from university … they had all agreed to meet at this time, as, within the next few years, they all anticipate being elsewhere, studying in other countries, working in other parts of the country, or maybe married, and so it might be the only chance to be together. She is hoping to get a scholarship to Thailand, to continue studying about the fish sector, and has long term ambitions to set up her own business.


I went to Battambang for the New Year weekend. It’s about 3 hours north, travelling by VIP bus – this just means it’s not like the larger buses which tend to make lots of stops, and so take more like 5-6 hours to get to Battambang. And very comfortable compared to travelling by mini-bus taxis in Uganda … you have a seat to yourself, there is air conditioning, you are given water, and they stop at nice places for comfort breaks!


Battambang is a really nice city … a slower pace of life to Phnom Penh, but definitely more up market than Kampong Chhang! There’s lots of nice eating places … and after weeks of only eating rice or noodles … I just tend to head for the western food when I can get it … so I’m probably missing some of the great Khmer food in Battambang!


The city is along the river, with tree-lined pedestrian spaces to walk along the river … and one side,  in the gardens it’s the height of activity late afternoons and early evening … Zumba classes out in the open, lots of people speed walking, and a sort of shuttlecock game, which people kick to each other. Battambang is also the “arts” centre of Cambodia, and there are lots of small galleries and other cultural activities – mainly run by Cambodians, and some ex-pats.


One of the highlights for me is the young people’s circus, Phare Ponleu Selpak. It’s an initiative which was started in the 1990s, using art, and, at the time, mainly drawing and painting to help young people deal with and heal from the traumas of the Khmer Rouge regime … so, although the regime was kicked out of the capital in 1979, it continued to operate in parts of the country, until the 1990s (and Battambang, and areas with the Thailand border were particularly affected). The circus is amazing … it’s in the style of Cirque de Soleil … and, in fact, when I first saw the circus, as part of a local arts festival in mid-November, one of the performers had a t-shirt with “Cirque de Cambodia … from the rice fields to the big times” … and another performer talked about having gone on to train with the Cirque de Soleil.


It’s the sheer enthusiasm of the young people who are in the shows, and they are obviously perceived as positive role models by other young people. The money from tickets goes to support the schooling and on-going education of young people … so, if you or friends are visiting Cambodia, it’s a “must do”!


Battambang was packed for New Years Eve … you could hardly move up the streets by the riverside, which were full of stalls selling everything from food to mattresses, wardrobes, clothes. it seemed like half of Cambodia was there buying. There were stages, and fireworks going off at different times of the night, paper lanterns with wishes being set off in the sky … and New Year’s Eve was brought in to the tune of “happy birthday to you”. And, whilst lots of people were sitting in bars or cafes drinking beer, there didn’t feel to be any sense of drunkenness or aggression … and it was probably the latest I’ve stayed up in all my time in Cambodia!


Today is 7 January, and a public holiday, as this is the date in 1979 when Vietnamese troops pushed Pol Pot and his regime out of power. During the Khmer Rouge era, about 1.5 million of a population of 7-8 million died. I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum a few weeks earlier. It used to be a school, but was turned into a torture prison, S 21, by the Khmer Rouge, and over 17,000 people were held here. The overwhelming majority, after torture, were dumped in mass graves in one of the killing fields, just outside Phnom Penh. When Vietnamese troops liberated the city, only 7 prisoners were left alive. The Museum is pretty gruesome, you can see evidence of the types of torture used, and the Khmer Rouge also photographed all prisoners. So, you see some of the many individuals who were held and tortured here, which puts a human face and story to the statistics. It’s a chilling reminder of what horrors humankind can inflict on each other.


But, one of the astonishing things I heard at the museum was that the international community, through the UN, USA, and UK (amongst others), continued to officially recognise the Pol Pot regime, as the official government of Cambodia, until the early 1990s. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge continued to operate in exile, and, as I said earlier, continued to terrorise parts of the country until the early 1990s. However, they were given the Cambodian seat in the UN. As a result, there was an embargo on any UN aid going to Cambodia, despite the situation in the country at the time, whilst at the same time, evidence of the UK and others, supplying arms and land mines to the Khmer Rouge. There are still vast areas of the countryside, where you are advised to take care if walking and only go with local guides, as many areas are yet to be cleared. As a result of landmines, there is a really high proportion of the population missing limbs … many when they were young children playing in fields. And I think the UK still continues to be a main exporter of land mines to many countries, despite the long term impact on civilian population.


Local colleagues sometimes talk of the impact of the Khmer Rouge era on their families … with fathers or mothers having no siblings left alive by the end of the Khmer Rouge rule, or older brothers or sisters who died because of starvation, and one of the lasting impacts, another colleague said, is the breakdown of trust … as, during the Khmer Rouge era, you could not trust anyone, as people were encouraged to denounce others with the promise of a few more grains of rice.


It’s been a busy time in my placement. Some of this has been very much office based, supporting the Project Manager and other senior managers to develop a project plan and monitoring frameworks. It’s been hard work, partly because my translator is quite young and inexperienced (so it is difficult to sometimes convey my suggestions or receive comments back), and partly because it seems like the organisation has not really developed detailed project plans before, so it is a new experience for them – and they are on a steep learning curve, as any project which is EU-funded has tight deadlines and clear deliverables. So, I can see this is going to be a challenge as the project develops, but I will have a more experienced translator who will be working with me, as a Project Assistant, from now on.


You may, or may not, be aware but, with the reduction in UK Government funding to VSO, VSO has changed the way it operates. In the past, volunteers were placed with organisations or government bodies, and this was largely funded by the UK Government and through private fundraising. Now, VSO funds professional volunteer placements as a result of successful funding proposals, which might have been submitted to the EU, or other major donors. This places much stricter demands on deliverables (ie what needs to be achieved) from partner organisations, which I think is a good thing, but also throws up the challenges, where organisations have limited capacity, as the one I am placed with.


There has also been a lot of field work to collect baseline data, which will inform some of the project activities, and also provide data for measuring progress. This has also been a challenge, as it seems to be a new activity for the field staff, and so an area for future training. It has meant I have been out to the field a few times, visiting different fishing communities, which helps put what I am doing into context. For half the year, many of the communities are surrounded by water, and those who have animals, move them to a different site; roads no longer exist, and the only ways in and out are by boat; and then, for the other half of the year, as the waters subside, land emerges for growing rice and other crops, animals return, you can travel to other villages by bike or motorbike. But, as with other parts of the world, climate change means changes in the weather patterns, which disrupts traditional times for planting or fishing – and with no new pattern set, it can have serious impacts on livelihoods.


We are in the dry season now, but a week before Christmas there were really heavy rains. This meant that meetings in the communities had to be cancelled, and again tonight we have had heavy rains. All unusual for this time of the year.  have yet to fully understand the impact, and implications for the work I am doing, but one aspect of the project is to build resilience against climate change, which might mean encouraging growing different crops or different types of rice, or at different times of the year.


I will finish now, as it’s dark. I’m sitting on my balcony as it’s the coolest place to be, but the mozzies are out enjoying the rain as well … so I need to get covered up.


So again, if there are particular aspects you want to hear more or less about, please let me know.